Air Force launches technology 'superstore'

The Air Force brought online last month its Information Technology Superstore, which offers Defense Department buyers access to about 70,000 items from about 10 different technology vendors.

The online shopping site uses NIC Commerce's eFed Version 3.0 e-procurement software. It enables users to conduct side-by-side comparisons of products across multiple vendors and contracts, to order directly from the site without having to visit vendors' individual sites and to check order status. Currently, buyers can compare only processor speeds, but other features will be added in the coming month.

Previously, a vendor would host a page where buyers would go to place an order, said Marvin Griffin, chief information officer at the Air Force's Commercial Information Technology-Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), which operates the site. "We lacked all the demographics associated with what customers were searching for and buying online," Griffin said. "We're getting that information now. We consolidated the function of online ordering into a single government Web site."

The demographic information is important for looking at how contracts are performing and determining what awards the CIT-PAD needs to make in the future, Griffin said. "It benefits customers as well because now [they] don't have to shop around at five different Web sites," he said. "The solution allows for those items to be loaded into a single cart."

The system will automatically divide multiple orders and send them to the appropriate vendor when the buyer is ready to check out.

The eFed software also makes it easier for vendors to keep their product data up-to-date, Griffin said. Vendors can enter updated product information, such as prices, into an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is then converted into an Extensible Markup Language document and uploaded into an Oracle Corp. database.

"This is right up there with sliced bread," Griffin said. The feature makes it easy for vendors to change their pricing information on the fly. "The whole purpose was to allow vendors to feed my site directly from their ERP [enterprise resource planning] or order-fulfillment systems," he added.

So far, the ability to request a vendor quote online has been the most popular feature, Griffin said. Soon, all 127,000 items across all CIT-PAD contracts will be searchable on the IT Superstore site.

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