SSG, vendors eye ordering off Net

The Air Force Standard Systems Group (SSG) and its contractors anticipate speeding up orders and possibly payment by using Internet-based electronic commerce for the Desktop V PC contract this year.

How much electronic ordering and credit card payment will be used for Desktop V a $1 billion contract that supplies desktop PCs and portables to the Air Force depends upon a number of factors including policy considerations service and industry officials said. "We want to move towards what the commercial market is doing establishing ordering over the Internet " said Lt. Andrew Gilmore director of contracting at SSG which administers the Desktop V contract. "But we want to walk before we run."

Maj. Charles Harris SSG's Desktop V division chief said the electronic commerce program "will take a lot of creativity and hard work to get moving but it has tremendous potential." Gilmore said SSG intends to consider commercial Internet services as the core of its program not electronic commerce/electronic data interchange a technology on which the Federal Acquisition Computer Network is based. FACNET is a government-inspired network intended to present government agencies as a "single face to industry" by having electronic transactions to and from vendors go through designated network entry points.

Late last year SSG conducted electronic-ordering tests with Desktop V contractors Hughes Data Systems Inc. and Zenith Data Systems. Using standard PC configurations PC-savvy users can place an order in about 12 minutes Harris said while it took less-savvy users slightly more than two hours. Using paper to process orders takes weeks.

"The biggest part of the delay is before the order reaches the contractor " said Tom Buchsbaum formerly ZDS' executive vice president. "The length of time it takes to fulfill an order is a tiny fraction of the order cycle."

To speed up the ordering and payment process more Gilmore said he would prefer to use the International Merchant Purchasing Authorization Card for payment on electronic orders. Top Pentagon management already has expressed a desire to transfer as many small-purchase payments as possible to the credit card.

Because many Air Force commands purchase PCs in bulk SSG is working with the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force to raise the limit on credit card purchases above the current $100 000 cap Gilmore said.

Gilmore doubts SSG can put in place this year electronic ordering for Desktop V PCs throughout Air Force. But he expects "that we will be far enough along in testing that we will have some major sites up.... The key is how quickly the contractors can come up."

ZDS officials believe they can be ready this year. "I am convinced that we will have electronic-ordering capability for DT V by this spring " Buchsbaum said.

While details still have to be worked out Buchsbaum envisions ZDS and Hughes setting up World Wide Web pages on the Internet to handle the orders with security provided through commercial products such as Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer which is already in widespread use in the Air Force.

But Tom Walters vice president and Desktop V program manager at Hughes said "a number of significant issues and processes...need to be addressed and resolved contractually" before electronic commerce can become fully operable.

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