Mobile App Verses Responsive Design – How to Make the Decision?

Lately, I have been looking at the best way to bring our products into the mobile environment. There are many decisions to make when deciding what the right way to go is. One of those decisions is whether to develop a dedicated mobile application for your site or to update the site with a responsive design. Here is a synopsis of what I have learned.

According to Wikipedia, “Responsive Web Design (RWD) is an approach to web design in which a site is crafted to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).” This means the site content automatically adjusts size so it is easy to read no matter what device you are using. It is great for sites that have a lot of content, such as company sites, restaurant sites, or blogs.

Often, the biggest mistake is to make an app that duplicates your entire site. An app should have unique features and content not found on your site. Your mobile responsive site does not have to include every page and piece of your full site. You should create a mobile specific menu to give mobile users just what they need.

Reading lots of content on a phone is often difficult. With a dedicated mobile application, you can strip down the original website to just the basic functions you want to perform. You can give the user just what they need and leave the details on the original website. This is better for websites functioning as applications. This includes eCommerce sites where carts are created and orders are placed, and government sites that performs services like […]

DOD Getting the Message on Reverse Auctions

As with all of government, the Department of Defense is facing slimmer budgets and looking at ways to save money. Basically as Ashton Carter, Deputy Secretary, Department of Defense, put it: “To do more, without more.”

In December 2010, John Young, a senior fellow at Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a former U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics wrote an article for Defense News encouraging the Department of Defense to use reverse auctions to save money. Young stated in his article,”There is constant debate about acquisition practices, with simple and obvious steps frequently overlooked. Reverse auctioning can save money, increase competition, cut contract officer workload, reduce procurement complexity, provide transparency, and help prevent fraud and graft. Reverse auction tools should be added to the DoD and defense industry acquisition tool kit and used whenever possible to get maximum value for each taxpayer dollar.”

In October 2011, David C. Wyld, Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana, published a report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government titled “Reverse Auctioning: Saving Money and Increasing Transparency.” In this report, Dr. Wyld recommends that the government  adopt an auction first policy. Wyld estimates that the federal government could save  $8.9 billion by increasing use of reverse auctions. He estimates that the Department of defense alone could save over $6 billion. In addition to increased savings, his report indicates that there is increased transparency of the acquisition transactions. A case study of the Department of State found that increased use of reverse auctions also increased the competition among suppliers, and dramatically reduced the acquisition contract time for department staff.

Over the last decade the DOD has made a few attempts at using reverse auctioning, but has […]

eCommerce Support of Procurement Models

Acuity (Consultants) Ltd Executive Interm Manager and ACUITY Director, Tony Colwell’s Blog post this week titled 5 Models for Procurement Organisation, discusses the differences in the definition between Procurement and Purchasing. It also outlines the different types of procurement models. There are three basic models for procurement, any others being a combination of these three:

Local – All activity, decision making and control is performed locally and is autonomous.

Central – Decision making and procurement activity is centralized. (There may be local activity and controls outside the scope of procurement, for example, calling off supply under a centrally negotiated contract.)

Networked – Activity is co-ordinated across local units. Decision making is not independent but is controlled in some way by a node, or nodes, on the network

Being a great advocate of eCommerce, I was struck by how eCommerce was compatible with each of the models.

In a Centralized system, Company/Agency wide contracts can be offered and easily used by anyone with ordering capability. Rules and workflows can be put in place to facility large buys and prevent rogue purchases. Consolidated purchasing data is collected which can be used for strategic sourcing and other business analysis.
In a Localized system, a centralized eCommerce site can still be used. Rules can be put in place to display local contracts only to local users. These users can receive regional pricing. Each local buying group will have the feel and control of a local system, but the company can still gather the consolidated purchasing data for business analysis.
A Networked system can show both the Centralized and Local contracts and include business rules for specific items.  It could allow unrestricted purchasing for certain dollar thresholds and workflows for higher priced items or items whose […]

Online Shopping: Nine Benefits to the Government Buyer

As is the case with commercial shoppers, government buyers can also benefit in a number of ways from shopping online.

1. Convenience and time saving

From the Contracting Officer’s perspective – writing a general purpose contract one time and letting buyers make purchase orders against that contract saves a lot of time. A number of federal agencies have used this strategy to save both time and contracting dollars.
From the Buyers perspective – A buyer does not have to travel to a store site or adjust his schedule around the store’s hours. No longer does the buyer have to wait on hold for a customer service representative to answer the phone. Without leaving the office, government buyers can access thousands of websites, or their own agency specific website, to research products, and purchase items which have been approved and made available through agency wide contracts.

2. Broader selection – By writing broad based contracts for vendor catalogs, the contracting officer can make more items available to the buyers without knowing the exact requirements. This prevents the contracting officer from having to go back and amend contracts. This policy is especially good for consumable products like office supplies and building supplies where the requirements vary greatly from day to day.

3. Global choice – While the federal government is restricted to multiple procurement regulations, online shopping can make Buy American Act products more easily available overseas. It can also give government personnel access to locally approved vendors worldwide.

4. Better information – Access to a fuller range of information about product availability, descriptions, reviews and pricing.

5. Lower prices – By writing multiple broad based contracts, the government can take advantage of their buying power and negotiate better prices […]

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 […]

DARPA creating enthusiasm for math and science through high-school outreach

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced this week a new initiative to “reignite a passion for exploration among our nation’s youth”. The program is called the Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (MENTOR) initiative.

As part of MENTOR, DARPA will contract multiple organizations to deploy a variety of programmable manufacturing equipment—such as 3D printers—to high schools throughout the country and orchestrate a series of prize-based challenges.  High schoolers will compete and collaborate as teams to design and build cyber-electro-mechanical systems. “The systems will be of moderate complexity,” said Paul Eremenko, DARPA program manager. “Challenges will involve the design and building of things like go-carts, mobile robots and small unmanned aircraft. And we’ll encourage collaboration during the challenges through the use of social media and social networking applications.”

The program encourages students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Such skills are critical for careers in systems design and manufacturing, and a strong manufacturing base is essential to maintaining a well-built defense. DARPA will expand the program to over 1000 high schools over the next three years.

Partnet is no stranger to DARPA research projects or to students with great ideas. In 1992—at the dawn of the Internet Age and long before anyone had heard the term eCommerce—Dr. Don Brown’s engineering students presented a unique, yet simple question:  Could you connect databases together over the internet to find repair parts?

Don Brown, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Utah, thought that the military might be interested in such a capability. He made a video documenting how it would work and sent it to DARPA.

DARPA was so impressed with the idea of a distributed architecture that could search for spare parts from multiple, remote databases, they decided […]

Avoiding Pitfalls – Strategies for Large Enterprise Projects

Organizations have been using large enterprise systems for decades to improve business intelligence and processes.  These systems—when correctly designed and implemented—provide organizations with important strategic advantages, including improved efficiency and reduced costs. However, implementing the wrong system or implementing it the wrong way can have the opposite effect—making an organization less efficient and ultimately more expensive to operate.

According to a recent report, 70 percent of large-scale government software projects fail to achieve their stated business objectives, are delivered late, or are substantially over budget. In August of this year, White House officials identified 26 high-risk programs within the federal government that are experiencing significant cost increases and schedule delays. These projects, which span 15 departments and would cost $30 billion for completion, are all mission-critical programs that are being put through a fast-paced reassessment process to move them forward, possibly in modified forms.

Below are three strategies organizations can take to avoid these pitfalls. These proposed strategies are based on nearly two decades of research, experience, and lessons learned by Partnet in developing and implementing large-scale Government web applications.

Strategy 1: Use Custom Code and Open Standard Technologies to Increase Interoperability of COTS Products

When introducing a new enterprise system, it is important to recognize COTS products can be difficult to integrate. While COTS products normally work fine independently, combining them together so that they function seamlessly is the real challenge.

One key to interoperability is understanding when to use custom code as a means to more tightly integrate COTS components. It is important to determine when custom code is called for, and when an existing tool will work best. Using open commercial standards like XML helps to balance the costs and risks associated […]

PKI Security Made Simple

What’s better:  having a lock on your door, or having a lock on your door AND a guy standing there making sure it’s you unlocking the door?

Obviously, the more security you have the better, which is why more Government eCommerce systems are moving towards PKI.   So, what does PKI mean? The acronym stands for Public Key Infrastructure and it refers to the use of hardware and software-based “keys”, or certificates, to verify a user’s identity and credentials online.

In order to get a key/certificate, you need to contact a Certificate Authority (CA). There are several CAs available, but the Defense Logistics Agency only recognizes Verisign, Identrust, and ORC as approved CAs on DOD EMALL.  And when it comes to establishing user identity, CAs don’t take the process lightly.  Getting a certificate issued generally requires paperwork, several forms of identification, a notary signature, and on occasion, an in-person visit.

After your identify is verified, the certificate is issued in one of two ways:

1) A software-based certificate installed directly to the user’s computer.

2) A portable, hardware-based certificate that the user physically carries with them (often in the form of a smart card or USB stick).

These certificates also include a user-associated PIN.  This is called two-factor authentication, and is why PKI is significantly more secure than the traditional username/password model. It’s more than just what you know (i.e., a password); it’s what you have and what you know.

So, now that you have a certificate, what can you do?

Some sites, such as the DOD EMALL, require users to present a certificate for accessing and using the site. Additionally, certificates enable users to send digitally-signed emails that provide proof of data integrity and origin, while also enabling receipt of encrypted email.

Users […]

By |September 2nd, 2010|DOD EMALL, Government eCommerce|Comments Off on PKI Security Made Simple|

DLA Support for Performance Based Logistics Contracts

The Performance Based Logistics 2010 Conference was held last week in Arlington, VA. It made me think about how much defense logistics has changed over the last ten years.

Performance Based Logistics (PBL) goes beyond traditional acquisition of contractor good and services.  PBL guarantees contractor performance and system capability based on declared performance-based agreements between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the contractor.

Before PBL, defense contractors simply provided a product or service.  A contractor would develop a weapons system, for instance, and DOD would subsequently assume complete responsibility for its storage and maintenance.

DOD advocated PBL in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review and called for the evaluation of a PBL approach for all new acquisition programs and systems.

As a result, a defense contractor awarded a PBL contract for aviation services, for instance, is required to provide more than just an aircraft, but all the services, support, and maintenance required to keep that aircraft mission-ready for a specified period of time.

In many cases, however,  DLA’s bulk purchasing capability allows it to acquire common repair parts at a lower cost than individual PBL contractors.

With the advent of PBL support contracts, DOD needed a way to allow defense contractors to purchase parts from DLA under PBL contracts.  The easiest way to support this capability was to enable PBL contractors with access to DOD EMALL.  Using DOD EMALL, contractors can purchase repair parts directly from the DLA and at lower cost to the government.

Today, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, and dozens of other defense contractors s are participating in this DLA program.

As the primary developer of the DOD EMALL, Partnet is pleased to support this innovative strategic sourcing initiative.

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