Buying boom leaves users in lurch

Federal buyers looking for high-end notebook computers may find them in short supply as peak end-of-year product demand tests manufacturers' capabilities.Some federal resellers are reporting order-to-delivery lags of up to 120 days on some notebook models. But availability varies by the type of notebook and manufacturer although top-of-the-line 133 MHz machines appear to be in shortest supply.

The situation has led federal resellers and integrators to make special efforts to secure popular notebook products. Obtaining priority shipping status from product suppliers has become a key pursuit among contractors.

"The notebook is one of the market's hotter products...and demand is difficult to satisfy " said Mark Zelinger director of product sales at BTG Inc. Zelinger said contractors are expending considerable resources in "tracking down products from every possible source."

Industry executives attribute several factors to the notebook shortage. Demand for the most recent crop of high-performance notebooks has grown as many agencies are considering portable machines as desktop replacements. And on the supply side poor yields in active-matrix TFT displays and shortages of lithium-ion batteries have slowed production and put a crimp in availability executives said.

"When someone makes a commitment...they want it in 30 to 60 days " said Don Fernandez a vice president with Telos Systems Integration adding that delivery can take 90 to 120 days.

One federal reseller who requested anonymity said two-month lead times are common on some high-end products. He attributed some of the lag to TFT screen yields although he added that product vendors are working to perfect the manufacturing process.

A spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service which obtains notebooks through the Treasury Department Acquisition said "We are experiencing the same problems they are having everywhere else." She said TDA managers have been "put on notice that active-matrix screens are on back order. There is a holdup."

Roman Ferrer team leader for marketing at Government Technology Services Inc. said notebook availability varies by manufacturer. In anticipation of peak-season demand GTSI sent a letter to its suppliers earlier this summer asking for priority allocation status. Ferrer said most suppliers agreed.As a result GTSI has more than 500 Compaq Computer Corp. Armada notebooks in stock and more than 1 000 notebooks from Panasonic. GTSI carries the Armada 4110 notebook on its Army Portable-1 contract and is the exclusive General Services Administration schedule holder for Panasonic's product.

On Portable-1 "we have [Compaq Armada's] in the warehouse and have more coming in " said Patty Bortz the Portable-1 program manager with GTSI. "We have no delivery issues at all."

Ferrer added that GTSI has some IBM Corp. notebooks in stock and others on order. The availability of Apple Computer Inc. notebooks however is "not so hot" due to product-line transitions at the company he said.GTSI meanwhile has not been able to stock notebooks from Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. But Ferrer added that Toshiba is fulfilling orders. Jan O'HARA Toshiba's area manager for government sales said the company "is doing quite well with the government right now. We are honoring all GSA orders on our GSA schedule [within 30 days]." O'HARA also said Toshiba is providing the same terms to its GSA schedule resellers as well.

Other manufacturers have had trouble getting notebook components she said but Toshiba because of its size has access to components.

"But obviously that's not to kid anybody that there are notebooks sitting on anybody's shelves " she added.Scott Davis the program manager for the Navy's New Technology for Office and Portable Systems at Cordant Inc. said the company has experienced no notebook supply problems on the contract. The company offers 100 MHz and 133 MHz Pentium notebooks from Everex Systems Inc.

Chris O'Connor a program manager at International Data Products Corp. said he is aware of the notebook delivery problems but added that his company has "plenty of inventory." The company manufactures its own line of notebook computers which it provides through the GSA schedule Portable-1 and the Justice Laptop contract.

O'Connor said basic notebook components such as processors and liquid-crystal displays "are readily available." The only supply problems seem to be with lithium-ion batteries although he pointed out that IDP notebooks use nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

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