CAL-Buy upgraded, expanded

California's e-procurement system is adding suppliers and variable-price items

California has moved to the second phase of its new e-procurement program, adding some 90 suppliers and more than 2,500 variable-price items, just three months after the March launch of the California Buying Network, CAL-Buy.

Government buyers throughout the state now have online access to more than 270 suppliers and more than 5,000 products.

The first phase provided fixed-price items for the program. A third phase will give buyers the ability to purchase non-priced items such as services, but the schedule for phase three has not been decided. It's also up in the air whether that part of CAL-Buy will be hosted internally or outsourced to an application service provider, said Arun Baheti, California's director of e-government.

CAL-Buy automates the state's procurement order and approval process, while using the Internet to link buyers to existing state government contracts. Baheti said only three or four government departments are online with CAL-Buy, but the intention is to move all departments away from the current paper-based procurement process and toward using only CAL-Buy.

Small businesses are given special prominence on CAL-Buy Web sites, giving them what Baheti called "access to eyeballs" in the competition to sell goods to government. With small businesses making up nearly 98 percent of all business in the state and employing more than 50 percent of the workforce, state agencies are under an executive mandate from Gov. Gray Davis to "pursue aggressively" an annual 25 percent small business participation in state contracting.

At some point, Baheti added, the CAL-Buy service will be offered to local governments and schools.

The CAL-Buy program was built from start to launch in just five months, according to Audrey Harrell, who heads the California state government practice for Accenture, which oversaw the development of the program. The approach was structured to be expandable, starting with just a small number of agencies, contractors and goods, but ready to grow when necessary.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

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