EDS opens Internet mall to serve federal buyers

Electronic Data Systems Corp. today formally opened an Internet-based "mall" that allows federal customers to shop the company's product-oriented contracts.

EDS' Government Online Mall covers the company's PC and networking contracts: the Navy's PC LAN+, the Air Force's Unified Local-Area Network Architecture II, the Army's PC-1 and the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store. The on-line service also includes the company's General Services Administration Schedule B/C contract.

Before the Government Online Mall, EDS provided product and pricing information on World Wide Web home pages representing individual contracts. The new service, however, allows users to search for products across all the contracts, generate quotes and create draft delivery orders. In addition, the Government Online Mall will eventually allow customers to make purchases with government credit cards.

In keeping with the shopping mall analogy, customers browsing the on-line mall can create "shopping carts" of items they would like to purchase and consult an electronic "sales assistant" for context-sensitive help.

"We wanted to use a metaphor that customers already understood and make [the on-line service] point-and-click simple," said Kim Luke, vice president of EDS Military Systems.

Customers entering the Government Online Mall at http://www.eds-ms.com are exhorted to 'Shop 'til you drag and drop!" EDS' contracts are listed in a "Directory of Stores." Each contract "store" lists broad classes of products - desktops, modems, monitors, etc. From those categories, users can drill down to individual contract line items and add them to their shopping carts.

Rick Hemsing, technical director of end-user computer services at EDS Military Systems, said the mall is designed to minimize the number of key strokes a customer has to make to find an item. "We limited the number of levels to go down," he said.

The mall is optimized for use with Netscape Communications Corp.'s Netscape Navigator 2.0 and the beta 3.0 version and Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer.

On the Web server side, the Government Online Mall is hosted on an Everex Systems Inc. 90 MHz Pentium PC that is linked to the Internet via a T-1 line. The server is fed the latest contract product and pricing information maintained on a central Lotus Development Corp. Notes database. The Notes database, called the Product Information Database, creates an extract that is loaded into Microsoft Access, which in turn keeps the mall up to date.

EDS hopes the mall will help customers navigate the contracts, but company officials said the on-line service will also help EDS. For example, sales people on the road will be able to tap into current product and pricing information from wherever they happen to be.

And the service will also provide an additional outlet for generating quotes during the government's annual buying frenzy at the end of the fiscal year, Hemsing said.

Despite the ordering capabilities of the mall, EDS said it will maintain its traditional telephone-based customer support for price quotes and other services.

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