California takes e-buy plunge

California is the latest state to unveil an electronic procurement system

to save time and money among its more than 200 agencies.

The Web-based CAL-Buy (www.pd.dgs.ca.gov) will be implemented in phases

and is being developed by Accenture, a management and technology consulting

group, and the state Department of General Services (DGS).

Three state agencies — DGS, the Department of Transportation and the

California Highway Patrol — are the first to begin buying electronically.

The site also includes 180 fixed-price statewide commodity contracts, including

items from asphalt to upholstery.

"Our first phase is larger than many states' total e-procurement would

be," said CAL-Buy project manager Terese Butler. Beyond adding state agencies

to the system, she said that local municipalities and school districts would

be welcomed within a year.

It costs suppliers and vendors nothing to register for the site, Butler

said, but she added that eventually, the state likely would charge some

transaction fees to recoup investments.

Audrey Harrell, associate partner with Accenture, said the challenge

with California is its sheer size. The state buys nearly $6 billion worth

of goods and services a year.

"The number of suppliers is right up there with the largest government

systems," she said, adding that California wanted the site to be flexible

and tailored to agency needs, such as using small businesses and recycled

products. Accenture also developed e-procurement systems for North Carolina

and Michigan.

Harrell said the site eventually would include master contracts, electronic

quoting, sealed bidding, reverse auctions and better communications with

vendors.

In 1999, the state looked at an e-procurement system, but was sidetracked

when a new governor came to office and the Year 2000 date-change issue loomed.

The contract was put on hold. Last spring, the state looked at resurrecting

the project and conducted a due diligence report, which confirmed that it

made sense to move forward, Butler said.

Things got going last October. Harrell and Butler said they were pleased

that it took only five months to launch the site, which debuted March 7.

Butler said they're also looking at the cost of using an application

service provider, where a third party would manage the site from a central

data center.

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