U.S. Air Force officials claim they will save millions of dollars
through the use of an online “IT Superstore,” an electronic
commerce exchange where service members can purchase computer products.
The so-called “Superstore”—located at www.itsuperstore.af.mil—is
operated by the Air Force Standard Systems Group’s Commercial
IT, Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), at Maxwell Air Force Base,
in Alabama. The directorate is the Air Force’s lone computer-purchasing
The CIT-PAD site generates annual sales of $500 million, officials
said. Most of its sales come from existing information-technology
contracts or blanket-purchase agreements. Vendors looking for business
opportunities with CIT-PAD can click on the “BIZOPS”
link at the Web site.
Air Force officials claim that they save money by buying systems
in bulk. In other words, as the Air Force’s single computer
buyer, CIT-PAD guarantees multiple sales to its vendors. This allows
them to negotiate prices that are significantly lower than those
on the General Services Administration schedule, officials said.
In fact, officials said the Air Force saved more than $200 million
One of the site’s newest features allows users to view side-by-side
comparisons of products. This can be achieved through the use of—Version
3.0 e-procurement software—offered by NIC Commerce.
“We are please to provide [the Standard Systems Group] with
our solution to support their move to online government purchasing,”
said Rob Main, president of NIC Commerce. “This partnership
is a good example of how government and industry can work together
with a proven product and enhance the functionality of it to meet
the new demands that buyers are looking for. With NIC Commerce solutions
driving the Superstore, Air Force buyers will now have the tools
they need to simplify the purchasing process and streamline costs.”
In the past, buyers would have to visit individual company Web
sites to search for purchasing opportunities. For example, they
may have visited Dell or Gateway’s Web sites to inquire about
computer prices and features. At the Air Force’s new store,
they can do all of their research in one place, and they have the
option of linking directly to company sites as well.
At the site’s main page, users will find links to features
such as Product Search, Order Status, Contracts, Product Compare
and Cart History. Web navigators can search for a product by part
number of vendor by clicking on Product Search. But the site’s
bread and butter is its “Product Compare” option. Right
now the site offers comparisons of desktop computer systems, notebooks
When “Product Compare” is activated, users get the
option to choose from a list of desktop, notebook and server systems,
which are sorted by processor speed (in megahertz or MHz).
For curiosity’s sake, I clicked on a desktop computer with
933 MHz—the highest capability available on the site. The
site then told me that there were nine systems available from vendors
Gateway, Dell and Micron. The first results gave me three computers
with a detailed report of their features.
I learned that Gateway was offering the least expensive model,
but it was not as stacked as some of the other systems. The details
included type of processor, memory, drives, floppy drive, monitors,
video cards, CD ROM/DVD drives, sound cards, speakers, network interface
cards, operating systems, keypads, mouse and warranty. I scanned
through each system to compare them. As I moved from left to right
and screen to screen to view all nine of my options, the prices
increased, but so did the features.
Users also are given the option to customize their computers, or
they can buy a model on the spot. When I clicked on “Customize,”
I could fool around with the computer’s features. I could
change processors, monitors and even warranties.
Of course, this is the growing trend in electronic commerce. Vendors
are making it easy for consumers to customize systems—so that
they get the same product as they would if they had gone to CompUSA
and told the store clerk exactly what they wanted.
NIC Commerce’s electronic procurement technology is designed
to integrate existing government contract management systems and
back-end financial systems. This allows buyers to purchase goods
and services from multiple contracts and vendors.
Version 3.0, which was released in April, allows buyers to create
customized systems or upgrade existing ones. It basically operates
like a standard e-commerce device, where vendors and buyers communicate
until all of the transactions are completed. Buyers can keep track
of their orders.
The main difference is that this electronic commerce technology
is specifically designed for the government. So far, NIC Commerce
has delivered the system to 12 government agencies, including NASA
and the Justice Department.
Recently, a Government Computer News panel of independent judges
named the IT Superstore the best online buying site for government
Founded in 1993 as eFed Inc., the Reston, Va.-based NIC Commerce
specifically targets the public sector for its line of Web-based
procurement information system. The company is a subsidiary of NIC,
which acquired eFed in September 1999, and thus changed its name
to NIC Commerce this past April.