EC program presents 'single face'

An electronic commerce service provider has kicked off an effort to create a "single face to industry" for government EC, a plan that would compete with similar government programs.

Loren Data Corp., a value-added network, announced this month in the Commerce Business Daily that it is looking for industry partners to help integrate systems such as the Defense Logistics Agency's Electronic Mall, which is an online catalog of products, and the General Services Administration's online electronic ordering system, GSA Advantage. Loren Data provides companies with access to the mall and GSA Advantage.

Loren Data officials said the integration effort will create the "common face to industry" for EC that Congress called for in the fiscal 1998 Defense Authorization Act. The single face to industry, as the requirement is also called, would give companies doing business with the government one standard point of entry to conduct EC with all federal agencies. The single face will prevent agencies from creating dozens of different standards for EC.

Loren Data, which was the first company to provide free access to the complete CBD via the World Wide Web, plans to use the Federal Acquisition Computer Network as the backbone for exchanging EC documents, such as purchase orders and invoices, with the government. The Web will act as a front end for vendors and agencies to communicate. The federally developed FACNET architecture was once the required network for EC, but Congress last year passed legislation that removed the requirement.

"We want to use and [build] on the existing infrastructure," said Todd Gould, president of Loren Data. "There should be a common look and feel. The idea is: Let's bring it all together in one place."

While many efforts are under way in government and in industry to create the single face, Gould said the government should not build something that industry can provide. For example, the Commerce Department, NASA, GSA and the Government Printing Office have teamed to create a single online entry point for industry to access governmentwide procurement opportunities. The effort builds on the existing CBDNet, a free listing of government contracting and procurement opportunities. "We're saying stop and look; some of these things already exist," Gould said.

Loren Data's World-Wide EDI system interfaces with FACNET and other systems, such as the DLA e-mall. Several hundred companies use the system to do business with the government, Gould said.

Although FACNET has been criticized primarily because its architecture was considered too restrictive, Gould said it is reliable, redundant and established. "There is no other [electronic data interchange] system out there that is as large-scale a system as FACNET," he said. "The failure of FACNET was that companies weren't providing a front end."

Tony Trenkle, co-chairman of GSA's EC Program Management Office, said his office "encourages vendors to come up with innovative solutions." However, the office will not endorse one vendor's solution over another. "We want everything to interoperate, but we don't want one agency or company to decide" what that single face will look like.

Although agencies are not required to use FACNET and are free to use new technologies, interoperability is essential, Trenkle said. "We encourage [agencies] to use the best tools to fit the problem, but [the tools] need to be interoperable," he said. "We already tried the one-solution-fits-all approach with FACNET, and that doesn't work."

Loren Data should work with the government and other industry groups, such as the Industry Advisory Council, that are already working on the same issue, said Howard Stern, chairman of the IAC Buying and Paying Task Force and now with onehealthbank.com. The IAC group issued a report earlier this year recommending the government use open standards for EC that will support a single face to industry and ensure interoperability.

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