SB2G – Using Simplified Acquisition to Raise Small Business Goals

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Part 13, lays out a variety of purchasing methods collectively known as simplified acquisition to facilitate Government buyers in acquiring supplies and services.

Purchasing GFM and CFM from DLA Stock using DOD EMALL

In my last post, I discussed how DOD EMALL is being used by Performance Based Logistics (PBL) and Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) contractors as a price research tool for Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) inventory. Today we are going to discuss how DOD EMALL is being used to purchase that DLA inventory.

DOD EMALL as a Price Analysis and DLA Inventory Level Research Tool

DOD EMALL is a valuable tool used by prime contractors and responsible Government officials to perform market research, price analyses and researching inventory levels of these repair parts within DLA. Of the 1,600 parts on the follow-on contract which had sufficient DLA inventory to cover the annual requirement, over 50% of the DLA prices were lower for a potential savings to the government of $8M.

Simplified Acquisition and the DOD EMALL

With over a thousand vendors and 30+M items, the DOD EMALL provides ample competition and meets each of the FAR simplified acquisition stated goals.

Creating Our Own Search Engine

Shortly after the first web search engine appeared in 1993, Partnet began investigating the use of the Internet to help engineers locate parts they needed for designs. The results of this investigation were the basis for the most valuable single software patent in history. Partnet sold the patent but Partnet SearchExec™, under agreement with the license holder, is immune from intellectual property infringement for this patent (US Patent #6094649) which states how search engines may interact with databases. Partnet was granted such rights due to it being the original patent holder.

Today, Partnet is the primary contractor on DOD EMALL and we have become experts in the field of Information Retrieval (IR). DOD EMALL has at times contained nearly 70 million government and commercial items. In an effort to find a search engine capable of efficiently indexing and searching such a large volume of data, Partnet evaluated nearly every major search engine. In the end, none of these search engines was capable of satisfying the high-volume demands of DOD EMALL. This led Partnet to develop SearchExec™—a high-performance search engine designed to quickly search large data sets to identify and retrieve both unique government data elements and commercial content and present them in a unified view to the user. Partnet’s Distributed Internet Commerce™ technology enables SearchExec™ to simultaneously search multiple remote catalog databases and return the search results (including price and availability) in real-time to the customer.

The History of Partnet

I wanted the first blog post of the year to give a little history of Partnet. We are a small business housed on the campus of the University of Utah, in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. The University of Utah is home to one of the first Computer Science Departments and ranks among the world’s top 20 academic programs.  The University of Utah was also one of the initial five sites for DARPANET—the predecessor of the Internet.

I’m not going to say we “Invented the Internet” or anything, but Partnet was there at the beginning. Before Netscape, Internet Explorer, or even Mosaic were around, Partnet developed its own web client to allow engineers to use the Internet to source parts located in remote databases. Partnet obtained a patent for searching distributed databases over the Internet. Today this patent is widely used by nearly all Internet companies that crawl the Web (this includes Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and many others).

In 1992, Dr. Don Brown was so impressed with the ideas of his students that he made a video of the capabilities and sent it to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies that have had a major effect on the world.

Impressed with the idea of a distributed architecture that could search for spare parts from multiple databases, DARPA eagerly funded the project. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) soon joined the project. DLA provides supplies to the military services and supports their acquisition of weapon system repair parts and other materiel. DLA saw […]

Transforming Government Supply Chain Management

While re-arranging my office space, I came across a book on government supply chain management. In 2004, the Honorable Jacques S. Gansler, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Robert E. Luby Jr., Vice President, Supply Chain Management at IBM published a book titled: Transforming Government Supply Chain Management. In the book, among other things, they document two government eCommerce initiatives; DLA’s Medical eCAT and the DOD EMALL.

They state in the book that the Medical eCAT program, which at that time allowed web-based ordering of 650,000 medical items, “saved the DOD customers over 25 % of the product and handling costs  involved in obtaining the items through other means like local purchase.”

In Chapter 15, they document the benefits of the DOD EMALL in the following way.

Customer Benefits:

Assurance of ordering against establish contractual vehicles and compliance with federal regulations
Desktop access to product information and availability
Single point of entry , search and ordering across all electronic sources
Convenient payment mechanisms
Increased buying office productivity
Security

They conclude that web based ordering from commercial distributors using standard eCommerce transactions allows customers to receive products in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost.

Though this book was published some years ago, the benefits and cost savings are still true today. In fact, both of these systems still exist and are saving the government money every day. It just goes to show that there are ways for the government to save money and every little bit helps.

Keeping Credit Card Data Safe

Having your credit card stolen is a major concern for any cardholder. Combine that with the responsibility of buying supplies for the government and it is enough to lose sleep over.  Attacks on payment card processing systems are on the rise. Organized internet thieves target all sizes of on-line merchants. According to a study by the University of Michigan, 76 per cent of websites from 214 US financial institutions suffer from at least one security design flaw that prevents secure usage (you can find the full report at http://cups.cs.cmu.edu/soups/2008/proceedings/p117Falk.pdf).

No one is completely safe.

Fortunately, there’s a clear path of action for merchants that can help prevent compromise of payment card data. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is the authorized program of goals and associated security controls and processes that keep payment card data safe from exploitation. The standard is often called by its acronym PCI DSS or PCI.

This standard was created to help payment card industry organizations that process card payments prevent credit card fraud through increased controls around data and its exposure to compromise. The standard applies to all organizations that hold, process, or exchange cardholder information from any card branded with the logo of one of the card brands. This includes deploying multiple firewalls within the  ecommerce  system and separating the credit card database from other system processes.

As principle developer of the DOD EMALL eCommerce site, Partnet recognized the vulnerabilities of the system. In 2008, when the Defense Logistics Agency mandated that DOD EMALL be moved into a DISA enterprise data center, Partnet recommended that the ecommerce system network be redesigned to move toward PCI compliance. This was the first time the Department of Defense dealt with this commercial standard. Partnet […]

Government IT: Looking forward to 2011

A number of predictions are being made about the direction of government IT for 2011. The Obama administration is taking a look at the effectiveness of the “grand design approach.” These costly, massive IT projects aim for sweeping reinvention of agency computer systems and business processes. Unfortunately, these large-scale projects are frequently plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays.

Government watchdogs say there are two critical elements that will make or break the effort to end the grand-design era: the ability to embrace agile development techniques and the creation of a well-trained acquisition and project management corps to oversee the new rapid delivery style.

Nearly 20 years ago, the General Services Administration advocated that government avoid giant, multiyear IT modernization projects and instead deliver new systems in small chunks and solicit user feedback to identify problems early and facilitate frequent course corrections. Few government agencies have taken that advice, but tighter IT budgets in the foreseeable future may cause them to re-think the idea.

In addition, OMB is calling for a number of IT Acquisition reforms including increased training for government IT program managers and increased oversight of IT products with better defined milestones and the use of agile development.

Over the last 10 years, Partnet has been the major developer of the Defense Logistics Agency’s DOD EMALL. Partnet has stressed the importance of agile development within the DOD EMALL program. The DOD EMALL PMO has an outstanding record of continual system improvement over the system life cycle.  Due to the use of agile development, projects have been able to stay within a tightly controlled budget and on schedule.  We hope the rest of the government will embrace the use of agile development as recommended by OMB.

Future-Proofing Enterprise IT with SOA

Continuing our discussion of Service Oriented Architecture, let’s look at some of the chief benefits.

SOA is designed to eliminate dependencies on a particular implementation technology. When services are accessed through a common interface, the underlying implementation can change without changing the systems that build upon them. The implementation of the service can change for many reasons, such as:

Replacement of aging hardware
Changes to operating systems or application servers driven by security policy or cost considerations
Selection of a more productive software development platform

One or more of these components can change without impacting any of the dependent processes if implemented within a proper architecture.

This is valuable when trying to leverage legacy systems for new applications. Perhaps there are many potential clients for the legacy system, but the respective clients might use different software development platforms. Hand-writing the software necessary to integrate with a system of moderate complexity can take several weeks.

Rather than asking each client to duplicate this effort, the legacy system can provide a web service adapter with a machine-readable description. Then, each client or business process can automatically integrate with the service—skipping the time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone process of manual integration.

Reliability is enhanced as well, since there is only one piece of software to be tested (the web service adaptation layer) rather than an integration layer within each client.

There are cases when an entirely new system is being designed, and an architect might have the power to mandate a particular implementation technology. Even then, accessing the constituent services through a standard interface is a wise choice for two reasons:

1)       It provides a measure of “future-proofing” to the system. As new implementation technologies emerge, they can be adopted piece-meal by different services and their dependent processes.

2)     […]

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