Procurement -- The Cyberspace Way
In response to concerns from NIH researchers that the process of ordering supplies was too complex and time-consuming, the NIH intramural reinvention working group (IRWG) has introduced an electronic shopping mall exclusively for NIH employees.
The "IntraMall" is designed to allow for a more rapid, convenient and less expensive process of procuring supplies, services, and equipment, as well as maximizing use of the government international merchant purchase authorization card (IMPAC) credit card.
No more scouring catalogs for the lowest price on pipette tips for the lab or phoning vendors to get the best deal for slidemaking. As soon as early fall, NIH employees may be able to place orders via computer by accessing a secured World Wide Web site, entering the items they wish to purchase and selecting the company from which to buy. Researchers can create a shopping cart of requested items and send it online to be filled. Vendors will confirm the order and delivery of the items via email.
The IRWG initiated the IntraMall to "eliminate administrative roadblocks to research and streamline operations," said cochair MaryAnn Guerra, NCI associate director for intramural management and co-principal investigator, along with Alan Graeff on the IntraMall project; Graeff is director of the Clinical Center's information systems department.
Guerra, with the help of the Office of Financial Management and the Office of Human Resource Management, inaugurated the IntraMall on July 22 by purchasing a training class, thereby becoming the first employee to use the new system.
The IntraMall project team is collaborating with Cybersystems Technologies, Inc., a company that was awarded a 2-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to design, implement, and maintain this electronic form of procurement. NCI will pilot test the IntraMall for about 3 weeks with in-house participants before 10 other institutes begin their online procurement. After "working out any glitches," Guerra hopes to have this technology "quickly rolled out to all of NIH no later than October."
Speed and convenience are two features of the IntraMall that should be immediately evident, said Guerra. Employees will be able to get quotes from several companies for a particular item, allowing for competition among vendors and equal access to NIH acquisitions.
Employees should be able to connect directly to any of the vendor catalogs, and, if buying from a single vendor, the user's shopping list can be automatically delivered to that vendor's electronic mailbox. "Another advantage this system will offer is that a user can shop from multiple vendors in one session and have all orders electronically placed with just one click of the mouse," Guerra explained.
The transfer of purchases under $2,500 to this Web-based system should lead to decreased costs for both buyers and sellers because the IntraMall will act as an information utility bringing both sides together. Once a small purchase has been placed, a list of all items, prices, and quantities will be automatically generated for easy delivery confirmation and reconciliation of monthly credit card statements.
For procurement requests requiring prior approval, a "built-in intelligence" system will automatically forward the order to a designated ICD purchasing agent for clearance. "Currently, only authorized IMPAC users will be able to send orders electronically through the IntraMall system; however, any NIH employee may order baskets of goods for purchase by the cardholders," explained Jeff Weiner, program analyst, Office of Intramural Management.
In addition to the IntraMall, NIH intends, by the end of summer, to announce the availability of the new USA credit card, developed by the Department of Treasury and NationsBank. It is to be used for government-to-government and internal purchasing only.
Guerra has been issued the first card in the federal government. "The exciting thing about this card," she emphasized, "is that we are also automating procurement for the scientific staff in order to expedite internal transactions."
According to IRWG, the purpose of the electronic shopping mall, coupled with credit cards, is to provide scientists with the best technological advances to fill their procurement needs. NIH will be the first HHS operating division to employ these new benefits.
Ultimately, IRWG expects that concerns about purchasing will be minimized and NIH'ers may focus their time and effort on research. For more information, contact Weiner at 6-7058.
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