DOD EMALL’s pivotal role in the Haitian relief effort

According to recent reports from the Defense Logistics Information Service:
DOD EMALL has been instrumental in the Haitian relief effort by providing a purchase venue for much needed relief material.  Many organizations, primarily the US Navy, has utilized the DOD EMALL Disaster Relief Corridor to procure relief items.

While most purchased items were medical in nature, other items included maps, clothing, and aircraft accessories, along with food and water.

To date, more than $2.25 million in disaster relief materials have been purchased through DOD EMALL for Haiti.  During the height of the relief effort, sales averaged $300,000 daily.  DOD EMALL remains at the vanguard of support as DLA’s premier eCommerce logistics support tool . . . ” DLIS-L (Logistics Systems, May 2010)
As the original developer and current operator of the DOD EMALL, Partnet takes great satisfaction in knowing its Government eCommerce solutions are helping the Haitian people in their time of need.  Further, we applaud the Armed Servcies, as well as the Defense Logistics Agency, for leveraging  eCommerce innovations  in support of the DOD’s international, humanitarian mission.

Does Data Quality Influence Government eCommerce Sales?

The simple answer is, “absolutely.”

eCommerce data quality relates to both invalid data and incomplete data.  Potential customers may find its difficult to recognize what they’re buying without an image or thorough description. Data analysis on the DOD EMALL shows that vendors providing robust data descriptions and product images sell much higher volumes then vendors providing minimal data.  Not surprisingly, the absence of a product image is often the most common catalog characteristic affecting sales.

Partnet engineers are working to improve master data verification and ensure the most complete, accurate data is available to DOD EMALL customers.  In addition, Partnet’s distributed architecture and vendor management system allows vendors to maintain and update their own product data through real-time connections, which has proven to be a faster, more efficient model than caching data with a third-party host.

Good data is also portable–that is, standardized in a way that makes it consumable to external applications and systems. Toward this end, Partnet is working to improve the quality and portability of data on the DOD EMALL, in accordance with Electronic Commerce Code Management Association (ECCMA) guidelines and ISO 8000-110:2009.

Robust data can’t be achieved overnight–it requires a sustained process and thorough commitment to data integrity. Enterprises willing to make that commitment, however, will find it translates into increased sales and satisfied customers.

Around And Around With Rounding We Go . . .

No, it’s not the latest Dr. Seuss book.  It’s dealing with rounding of numbers, and in this case currency within  eCommerce websites.

Rounding has been part of computer languages as early as FORTRAN and C, which started back in the 1950s.  Unfortunately for developers during those times, various forms of rounding had to be coded specifically for each instance.  Since then, however, more modern programming languages allow for various rounding options in much easier fashions.

eCommerce sites often integrate with multiple downstream systems.  The DOD EMALL — the largest Government eCommerce site for federal buyers — is no different.  Recent efforts within DOD EMALL have been to compare all uses of currency within the application, as well as to review their uses in downstream systems.

How many versions of rounding can there be?  Well, there are numerous forms of rounding, including round-up, round-down, round-ceiling, round-floor, round-half-even, round-half-up, and round-half-down.  It really depends on how complex you want (or need) things to be.  Software developers may be wondering why their code isn’t acting as expected, and will be seeking answers. As a DOD-contracted IT-provider for the DOD EMALL, Partnet has used several rounding functions, but here are a couple of examples:

The first example is the one you probably learned when you were a child. Round-Half-Up goes to the nearest neighbor —  less than 5 rounds down, equal to or greater than 5 rounds up.

Round-Half-Up Examples

Initial Value
2 Digits of Precision





Round-Half-Even is different, as it rounds to the nearest neighbor value (less than 5 rounds down, greater than 5 rounds up), but if it is 5, then it rounds to the nearest even number (either by staying or going up).

Round-Half-Even Examples

Initial Value
4 Digits of Precision




So why is rounding a big deal?  If you […]

Market Forces in Government eCommerce

Last week I wrote about the success the Department of Defense is having in leveraging Government eCommerce for the strategic sourcing of its office supplies.  What I didn’t mention was the side effect its having on the pricing structures of  office supply vendors on the DOD EMALL.

In 2004, when the Army was establishing their strategic sourcing policy, they did a market-basket analysis of office supply prices on GSA Federal Supply Schedule Contracts.  In establishing their blanket purchase agreements with 20 office supply holders, they negotiated a 15% GSA  price reduction and mandated the use of those contracts.

Each of the Armed Services followed suit — negotiating their own office supply contracts and mandatory online purchase policies.  As a result,  DOD EMALL quickly became a magnet for office supply vendors, large and small. The number of office supplies vendors on DOD EMALL skyrocketed to over 500.  So when the Army redid their initial market basket analysis two years later, their 15% pricing advantage had vanished.

What happened?

Market forces brought down the prices of the competing catalogs.  By mandating the use of Government eCommerce for office supplies, the Army had saved millions of dollars on their own office supplies and created a savings environment for the whole Department of Defense.

Defense Acquisition Reform: Closer Than You May Think

The Department of Defense recently got an earful from the Defense Acquisition Reform Panel (DARP) over its “outdated” acquisition and contracting policies.  The panel’s criticisms centered largely on ill-suited “cultural issues” preventing the DOD from moving towards more IT-focused procurement methods.  Amber Corrin’s Inside DOD blog from Federal Computer Week gives a nice, high-level overview of this argument.

Recommendations made by the panel included:

Improved process for developing contract requirements
Performance-incentives for DOD’s acquisition workforce
Getting more value from the industrial base.

I can’t imagine the recommendations are anything the DOD hasn’t already realized.  As one of many DOD-contracted IT-providers, Partnet recognizes the changes DOD is implementing towards modernizing their IT-capabilities, particularly around acquisition.  The potential cost savings to taxpayers in finding smarter, faster ways to supply and equip our Warfighters is enormous.  And few know that better than the DOD.

However, the DARP report seems to imply that the DOD is sitting on its hands, meanwhile, letting old-fashioned acquisition protocol dictate the Department’s future.

Again, I’m pretty sure the DOD knows exactly what needs to done, and in many instance, is taking strong initiative to correct so-called “cultural issues”.  Government eCommerce, for instance, is one area where the DOD is making tremendous strides.

Debra Fryar has written a number of excellent posts on this blog illustrating exactly how the DOD is leveraging information technology towards streamlined acquisition and purchasing.  And DOD EMALL (which Partnet proudly built and operates, I might add) is a concrete example of the Department’s success so far.

Not to mention the DOD is also looking to technology for OCONUS souring and contracting solutions–specifically, the potential for web applications to optimize contingency contracts and purchasing from global vendors and local markets.

None of this is to say the DOD should […]

Strategic Sourcing on the DOD EMALL

In 2006, the Office of the Secretary of Defense added Strategic Sourcing to the Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy’s (DPAP) list of standing initiatives.  According to DPAP, strategic sourcing is defined as:
. . . a proven best practice [representing] how the DoD will acquire goods and services moving forward. It is the collaborative and structured process of analyzing an organization’s spend and using the information to make business decisions about acquiring commodities and services more effectively and efficiently.”
Though the government continues to struggle with strategic sourcing as a practical matter, there are success stories that can help inform guidelines for a future, government-wide strategic sourcing policy.

Take Government eCommerce, for instance.

In 2004, the US Army established 20 blanket purchase agreements for office supplies on DOD EMALL, and subsequently issued a Service-wide policy that all office supplies were to be purchased online through these established contracts.  By negotiating their own strategic contracts, the Army saved 15% on office supplies, while ensuring that all online purchases were compliant with Ability One, the Buy American Act, and other procurement regulations.  In addition, the DOD EMALL provided Level 3 processing data on all of its office supply purchases.

Over the next two years, the Navy, Air Force, and Department of Homeland Security implemented similar strategic sourcing contracts for online office supply purchases.

The potential for strategic sourcing through online applications, like the DOD EMALL, is virtually limitless.  If the DOD was able to save 15% on the cost of buying office supplies, consider the savings of implementing similar measures for all commodities  throughout the Federal government . . .

The Practical Value of Government eCommerce? -Ask NAVFAC.

A few years ago, a Naval Commander arrived in port at Norfolk, VA needing some repair work done on his ship.  It took the Naval Facilities Command (NAVFAC) 14 days to arrange for the required services.  The Commander thought this was completely unsatisfactory — why would it take so long to make arrangements for something that takes place on base all the time?

The Commander had a point.  Why did it take so long?  NAVFAC turned to Government eCommerce for a solution.

NAVFAC needed a way to support collaborative eCommerce between the facility manager, vendor, and base financial office. And so,  NAVFAC attempted a pilot buy using DOD EMALL .  Pre-negotiated service contacts were placed on DOD EMALL, so that when the facilities manager needed a repair done, he went online and ordered it.

The vendor received the request, provided the service, and notified the facilities manager.  Then, after inspecting the provided service, the facilities manager went back to DOD EMALL and notified the financial office to pay the vendor.

The result?

Regular services were arranged within 3 days (11 days fewer than the previous standard).  Consequently, NAVFAC has instituted use of DOD EMALL for services in 110 naval bases worldwide.

Another instance where Government eCommerce (specifically, DOD EMALL) has helped save time and taxpayer money.

Why Government eCommerce Over Traditional Procurement?

There are several good reasons.

It has long been known that traditional procurement processes, whether public or private, are often arduous and time consuming. By establishing long-term purchasing contracts with strategic companies and letting junior buyers place delivery orders against those contacts from an online marketplace, senior acquisition professionals are freed to work on major acquisitions. Government eCommerce is also much more economical because online ordering is quick and easy once those contracts are enabled, and establishing multiple contracts for a given commodity also ensures competition and price competitiveness.

Government eCommerce also provides potential visibility into vendor inventories. Using a distributed architecture, online marketplaces can communicate directly with vendors using application integration tools. This allows secure, reliable messaging and data transmission; including elements like order status, back-order information, stock-on-hand, and stock-out data.

The DOD EMALL is an example of Government eCommerce in action. The Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) distributed architecture system allows Department of Defense and other Federal Agencies to house long-term contracts and leverage the government’s buying power. DOD EMALL currently maintains over 2000 individual contracts to support more that 60 million items—helping DOD EMALL to exceed $800 million in FY09.

As the world becomes more integrated online, its only logical that governments take proactive measures to keep pace with the private sector. Government eCommerce ensures that Federal, state, and local purchasing stays ahead of the curve.

IT Software Strategies for Reduced Supply Chain Inventory Management Budgets

IT budgets for Supply Chain Inventory Management investments have shrunk considerably during the most recent economic downturn.  This is true of both Government and commercial enterprises.   Industry research shows that appetites for large scale projects have all but disappeared as enterprises look for targeted and cost-effective solutions that will provide immediate value.  Instead of throwing large amounts of money up front at expensive and often excessive SCMS and ERP systems, enterprises are now looking at alternative methods to solve their most pressing supply chain challenges.

One alternative strategy that is receiving a lot of attention is Software as a Service (SaaS).  While this software model provides some benefits, including the reduction of upfront costs, it also has some disadvantages that enterprises should consider.  These include the loss of control over data, limited customization options, and an inability to integrate with additional services.  Furthermore, this delivery model requires ongoing payments for the service, often times prolonging the budget shortfall by committing future IT dollars to an unproven solution.

A second strategy being taken by enterprises is to purchase lightweight and highly targeted off-the-shelf applications that can be easily plugged in and configured to address a specific Supply Chain Inventory Management problem. This class of application normally incorporates Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) principles, thereby enabling them to be extended, scaled, and incorporated into a larger IT vision at some point in the future—once more funding is made available.

Partnet sees great potential in leveraging this second strategy.  Government, as well as commercial enterprises, need to look at smarter IT solutions—not necessarily larger, more comprehensive ones.  Simple integration tools—targeting critical data sets within the supply chain—often bring more value than cumbersome enterprise systems.

DOD EMALL, which currently employs an enterprise integration […]

Government eCommerce — What is it good for?

Some discussion has arisen on Government eCommerce this winter and we are glad to see renewed interest in one of our favorite topics. President Obama’s 2011 Federal Budget states that . . .
“OMB will work with agencies to expand the use of online eMalls for Federal purchases in 2010 and monitor these efforts for further expansion in 2011 and beyond based on lessons learned.”
—2011 FY Budget (Special Topics, Information Technology)
As the primary developer of the DOD EMALL—DOD’s largest online marketplace—we are well aware of the savings potential government ecommerce provides.

Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, recently announced an Federal IT consolidation plan that strongly backs remote or cloud computing; consolidation of 1,100 data centers throughout government; and pushes the use Federal EMALLS for supply acquisition and purchasing.

Partnet had the opportunity to comment on this plan in a article this past January.

Partnet has been supporting Government eCommerce for over 15 years. Further, Partnet’s application of distributed architecture in its systems has made it possible to catalog the 60+ millions items (yes, it really is 60 million, and growing) DOD EMALL offers its DOD, Federal agency, and state government users.

Partnet believes the Federal IT consolidation plan is a step in the right direction, and hopes that its savings potential will lead to expanded use of government eCommerce websites.