I spent the last 16 years of my US Government career commuting two hours a day on top of my requisite “40 hours.” Needless to say, when I got home at the end of the day only dire circumstances (What?! Out of milk again?) would spur me on to another 30 minutes away from hearth and home to run a brick-and-mortar errand. Now I work from home and find the gravitational pull of said hearth and home to be even more powerful. Why put on street clothes, fix my hair and makeup when I am just a Point. Click. Ship. away from my every desire? I think of it also as lessening my carbon footprint: no CO2 emissions from my vehicle, less laundry to process, and I definitely recycle all those cardboard boxes in which my shipments arrive.

I have found that, as a private consumer, there is very little I cannot acquire online and yet there are perceived barriers for Government eCommerce that have caused the pace of growth to level off on Government owned and operated, built for Government’s purpose eCommerce websites like DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage.

I’d like to take a moment to explore some of these perceived barriers and their solutions. I’ll present this as A thought about a possible barrier, followed by

  • How we should respond.

I tend to think that time spent on the Internet is less productive.

  • Like any office activity, the time spent completing it is a strict coefficient of Dawdle. Compare the time spent browsing the shelves in a hardware store to searching for a product online. Add to that the time it takes to travel to the brick and mortar location and back again and the Internet wins.

I want to use suppliers with whom I’m familiar.

  • This is an understandable human tendency. But Government buyers have a fiduciary responsibility to do two things: ensure prices paid are fair and reasonable (FAR 12.2), and not favor any specific source of supplies (FAR Part 31).

I’m afraid that prices might be higher.

  • In some cases they might be right now. But if the contracting folks could guarantee all the Government’s business to a strategically selected small group of trusted contractors, there would be no lower prices on Earth. What this means is you have to do your part.

What I want is not there.

  • It’s probably easier during the course of a busy day to just look somewhere else. If DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage had a place where you could ask for certain items to be carried (see the point about strategic sourcing above) would you use it?

I don’t want to learn how to use another system.

  • I don’t blame you, particularly when the Department of Defense sponsors multiple versions of the same functionality. It’s time to merge all of the eCommerce capability into one system for this reason and to create an environment where strategic sourcing works.

I never saw a memo from my policy makers about a mandate to use DOD EMALL, GSA Advantage or some other eCommerce platform.

  • The Department of Defense has spent millions on developing eCommerce capabilities and then shies away from making it mandatory to use them. By not mandating their use, analysis of Business Intelligence that could further strengthen the Department’s position in negotiating prices is a lost opportunity. (See my related blog post, Has the Time for a Mandate Finally Arrived?)

I just use it for research and let my supply officer make the purchases.

  • At the ground level it’s hard to focus on overall cost to perform a business function. Let’s pretend this is you running your business for a minute. Would you find it acceptable for one employee to spend 15 minutes doing part of a job and then handing it off to another employee who will spend another 15 minutes completing the job, when the whole thing could have been accomplished by one person in 20 minutes? Multiply that times 52 weeks in a year and hundreds of products to be ordered and the waste adds up.

I thought it was just for office and cleaning supplies; I didn’t know you could get weapon system parts.

  • For every person who makes this statement, you can find one who thinks it’s for another specific commodity of some kind. And yet the information about the scope and depth of things available on both DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage is staring out at us from their home pages. Not only are there everyday business supplies and repair parts for vehicles, but there are services of various kinds. You can never know if you don’t look. And, as long as the current method for doing things goes unchanged, a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders, users won’t look unless they are made to.

Let’s begin a serious discussion about breaking down these barriers. DOD needs to focus on “how” instead of “why not.” Refocusing our buying habits to Government purpose built eCommerce tools can leverage buying power in unprecedented ways, providing the control needed to ensure a fair and reasonable business process with strategically formed partnerships that save real money.