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by Richard Bray

A Win-Win for Virginians

When the Commonwealth of Virginia decided to implement electronic procurement, the goal was a complete, statewide, end-to-end Web-based system, serving school districts, universities and municipalities as well as state agencies. Launched on March 1, 2001, eVa processed almost 3,000 orders worth more than $17 million by year’s end. More than 150 state agencies and 3,500 vendors were registered on the system to order and provide almost two million products and services.

According to Ron Bell, director of the Division of Purchases and Supply for the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of General Services, educating the vendor community is a priority.

“In our supplier community, a lot are doing business electronically but there is an awful lot that aren’t,” Bell says. “Really, folks are just coming into the Internet age and suppliers are just learning their way through this.”

A lot of learning was needed on the government side as well. “It’s a major change in culture. People are finding their way, and you have to have strong support,” Bell says. “We got it from the governor’s office. He issued an executive order that strongly encourages the use of our solution and anything that we needed. He helped us to get the resources to get it done.”

The eVa system is built around an online gateway, offering single window registration for vendors, a single point for posting solicitations, and an electronic mall with both catalogue shopping and statewide contracts. The system also has online reporting on the delivery status of ordered items, online receiving and order receipt. Vendors can receive orders by email, fax, XML or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Email ‘push’ technology alerts vendors to relevant opportunities.

American Management Systems (AMS) is the major supplier for the eVa project under a five-year contract. Gary Lambert is AMS general manager for state and local e-procurement solutions. “You really have to create strong incentives for people to use something new because it is unfamiliar,” he says, “and you may have to even mandate its use.”

On December 1, eVa became mandatory for all statewide contracts. “When that message came out,” Lambert says, “what we saw from an AMS perspective was an immediate ramp-up in system usage in anticipation of the mandate going into effect – for us that’s a wonderful thing. The way the contract is structured, our revenue is primarily derived from the utilization of the system in the form of supplier fees.”

By the end of 2001, Virginia had gone online with catalogue shopping and ordering and was rolling out eVa Lite, a stripped-down version of the solution for local governments, school boards and universities, requiring only Internet access for a wide range of functionality. And, more than 40 local governments had registered and were using eVA Lite to purchase goods and services. A data warehouse captures all transactions so buying power can be combined automatically across levels of government.

Next on the list, says Lambert, will be bid-solicitation and contract management functions. “Everything from simple solicitation distribution to complex RFP distribution, receipt of responses, evaluation tools and contract management and performance tools,” he says.

Even though the target is a comprehensive solution, Lambert recommends an incremental approach. “Get one thing right and use that as your leverage and success story to move to the next component,” he advises, “so that you always have victories as opposed to people asking ‘is it done yet?’”

eVa is simple and inexpensive for vendors. After consultations, the system was designed to be self-financing through a transaction fee of one percent, to a maximum of $500. “As far as I know, it s still the lowest fee in the nation,” says Ron Bell. “We’re also seeing more competition. Where we used to get 12 or 15 bids, we now get 40 to 80, so it’s really helping companies get access to more business.”

Companies like Forrester Research rank Virginia’s e-procurement system as one of the best in the United States, with the potential to generate millions of dollars in savings through more efficient administration and aggregated spending.

As Ron Bell puts it, ““I hate to say that we are number one, but I do I feel like we are at the very front of the pack.” But in a race like this, the Virginia tax-payer always wins.

Richard Bray is an Ottawa-based freelance writer specializing in the IT sector. He has been published in magazines and newspapers in Australia, the US and Canada. Before freelancing, he worked as a producer, reporter and senior writer for CBC in Toronto.




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