SEWP buying site put on back burner
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jul 31, 2000
Instead of trying to fit a square block into a round hole, NASA is taking
a step back from its plan to build a World Wide Web-based ordering site
in order to study the best model for its customers.
For the past four years, NASA's Science and Engineering Workstation
Procurement II program has been working with NIC Commerce to design an e-commerce
site for the contract. SEWP II serves as one of the government's main sources
for Unix and Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based workstations, peripherals
and network equipment.
NASA has found that the site succeeds when smaller orders are placed
using purchase cards, but the model doesn't work as well for large-scale
delivery orders, traditionally done on paper with an agency procurement
officer. While most Web-based federal purchasing systems focus on the credit
card orders under $2,500, the average SEWP II order is $40,000.
NIC had been hosting a pilot site using its eFed software to allow customers
to view SEWP II's high-end products and buy them using a purchase card or
paper delivery order, said Russell Oechsner, SEWP II project manager for
NIC. Efed is also used by the Air Force Standard Systems Group's IT superstore
and the Navy's ITEC-Direct.
The software worked well, but NASA wanted a much higher level of integration
with external systems within NASA, with the SEWP vendors and with other
agency systems, such as the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System,
SEWP II halted the program this month to study whether it is approaching
online ordering correctly, said Joanne Woytek, NASA SEWP manager. Next month
the agency will hire a consultant to look at the commercial options available,
whether the Web is useful for larger-order contracts like SEWP and what
processes federal agencies use to purchase from large-order contracts, Woytek
Mark Amtower, founding partner of Amtower & Co., a direct market
specialist and manager of several federal credit card databases, is trying
to tackle the same question.
"Is the Web really the viable method for the
super-large procurement?" Amtower said. "I think the jury's still out. My
gut reaction is no."
The Web needs more safeguards against fraud and mistakes before large-order
contracts can be executed safely or intelligently via the Internet, he said.
"There has to be some human intervention on larger orders to safeguard
what in fact is a critical purchase," Amtower said.
NASA should be lauded for "recognizing at least in the near term that
the Web is better as a micropurchase tool than a macropurchase tool," Amtower