Phase Two of CommerceNet's online catalog project begins

Agencies and vendors last week kicked off the second phase of a pilot project that aims to demonstrate how government online catalogs operate together and to lay the groundwork for widespread federal use of electronic commerce.

Through the Catalog Interoperability Pilot, a group of Internet vendors and agencies hope to enable users to easily search, order and pay for products using multiple online catalogs - something not available at most agencies now.

The project's first phase, which concluded late last year, showed that users can securely search across multiple catalogs from a single user interface.

Phase Two primarily focuses on back-end processes, including ordering, payment and securing end-to-end transactions.

Specifically, the second phase will test registry services, which ensure that data stored in vendor catalogs is kept up to date and standardized; business processes that need to be in place to allow interoperability across the government; security services for buyers and sellers, such as token-based certificates; and payment processing.

The Catalog Interoperability Pilot is sponsored by CommerceNet, an industry consortium of Internet and e-commerce vendors, the General Services Administration, NASA, the Defense Department, the National Institute of Science and Technology and other agencies.

In addition to changing online catalog purchasing, the pilot could drive the creation of a unified e-commerce environment for the government, said David Temoshok, a GSA employee and director of Access America, which is involved in the catalog pilot program. "I think this should migrate to widespread use of electronic commerce in government," he said.

More agencies use government purchase cards to buy products and want to purchase products over the Internet, Temoshok said. "We're trying to create an operating environment the government can use," he said.

Plans are under way to form a Federal Catalog Pilot Steering Committee, which would help guarantee buy-in and support from agencies involved in the effort, Temoshok said. The committee would also work with other groups, including the CIO Council.

With e-commerce, the government should follow industry's lead, said Ron Parsons, director of Alliance Management Services and Eastern Region Operations at CommerceNet. "Industry must lead," he said. "We don't want to [relive] FACNET, where the government threw a party and no one showed up to dance." The Federal Acquisition Computer Network, mandated by Congress, was designed to give agencies a standard method for buying goods and services from vendors electronically.

Robert Sturm, a senior partner with Electric Press Inc., said the company will provide its eFed product and other tools for the pilot's second phase. Among other features, eFed supports searches across multiple catalogs and provides a unified view to buyers. The company also hosts catalogs for other agencies, including NASA. "There is a lot of content that we can bring to the equation," he said.

Phase Two will be finished by the end of September, with the results released in October.

A Phase Three is possible, but one is not scheduled now.


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