'My GSA Advantage' coming this summer

Attention, government shoppers! The General Services Administration's online

shopping site is getting personal starting Aug. 1.

Agency customers will be able to turn GSA Advantage into "My GSA Advantage,"

creating customized versions of the site that display the information they

choose so they can quickly find the products they need to buy.

For example, an Air Force user may see an Air Force screen when logging

on and immediately have access to Air Force content, such as aircraft-related

products or agency-specific purchasing policies, said Bob Ardrey, program

manager for the project at Computer Technology Associates Inc. (CTA), which

is adding the customization feature.

"Rather than having the user click on all the buttons to see what's

new, the system will know as soon as they log on they are an Air Force user,"

Ardrey said.

In addition, the site will suggest related products buyers may be interested

in purchasing, based on either past buying habits or the current buying

session. A user who plans to buy a printer, for example, may be directed

to printer ribbons that are also available on the site.

The new features are similar to what is offered on commercial sites

such as Yahoo and Amazon.com, but they are more detailed, said Dewey Carr,

a program manager in GSA's office of the chief information officer.

"We will have a system where users can come in and not just get a hit

of 10 thousand items, but a specific grouping," he said. "The user will

have total control over if they want to use certain aspects" of the search.

"We're careful not to tangle them in Web screens that are not user-friendly."

The site will cater to both civilian and defense agencies and to specific

users' needs, Carr said. "We have some people that want [only] office products,"

he said. "Primarily we're doing this so they don't have to waste their time."

GSA has been working on a new search engine for some time, Carr said.

Eventually, the new engine will allow a user to search for an item such

as a pen by immediately breaking down the search into different categories

such as ball point pens and fountain pens. "You will be able to go exactly

where you want to go," Carr said. "If it takes more than 10 seconds and

more than two screens [for buyers to find what they want] you've already

lost your customer."

CTA will build a system "that's more user-friendly and attractive,"

said Tom Velez, chief executive officer and chairman of CTA. The more the

government buys online, the more money it can save, Velez said. "The Federal

Supply Service sells electronically only a small percentage of what" is

available for sale to agencies, he said. "We hope that percentage will go

up substantially."

CTA, which designed the original GSA Advantage site, teamed up on this

project with four other firms.

GSA plans to constantly develop new features for GSA Advantage, Carr

said. "When we're finished, we will probably have the most powerful electronic

commerce system in the world," Carr said. "If you're not developing something

all the time, you're behind the game."

Personalization is a trend that is catching on in government as a way

to deliver services electronically, said Ron Parsons, director of Public

Sector Alliances at industry consortium CommerceNet. The group is working

with the Social Security Administration to help it deliver integrated and

personalized electronic services to citizens.

There is a trade-off between protecting privacy and delivering services

that agencies must learn to balance, Parsons said. "If you want better services,

you have to give up a little bit of information," he said. Agencies must

have the right policies and security infrastructure in place to ensure that

the services are delivered appropriately.

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