Washington state government is changing the way it does business with a new e-commerce-based purchasing system that will affect South Sound businesses and all others who sell to this huge customer.

Ultimate Purchasing System is being designed to allow hundreds of customers – state agencies, cities, counties, school districts, non-profit organizations and others who currently buy under state contracts – to purchase their goods and services online. Once up and running, the system would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It would be similar to other operations where customers select items, place them in a digital shopping cart and pay for them electronically. Orders would be sent directly to vendors, speeding confirmations and deliveries.

Department of General Administration signed a contract to use Buysense, an electronic commerce service developed by American Management Systems, a Virginia-based firm. Internet-based, the project will handle the $1 billion in goods and services the state buys annually.

Steve Valandra, spokesman for the Department, says the state is testing the program this summer.

“The schedule calls for using it in November,” Valandra says.

Mike Waters, branch manager at Familian Northwest in Olympia, is one of the recruited test subjects for the project. But it’s so new he hasn’t really had a chance to get into it yet, he said recently.

“They sent me information on it, but we haven’t downloaded anything yet,” he reported as of press deadline. “I hope to get to it within the next week or two.”

Familian is a state-approved vendor for pipe and valve fittings, Waters says.

“General Administration’s new online purchasing system shows how applying the rules of a ‘dot-com’ economy to the ‘dot-gov’ world is changing the way government agencies do business with one another,” says Gov. Gary Locke. “It will save customers a substantial amount of time and money by mining costs out of routine processes. Ultimately, that’s good news for Washington taxpayers.”

Efficiency and cost-savings are the goals of this whole effort, as is often the case with investments in new technology.

System features include:

Internet browser shopping for contract and non-contract items. Reports that would allow the system to track what customers buy most often. This would allow General Administration to seek lower prices through volume discounts.

Online buying available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Programs with tools and support to allow smaller businesses that are not yet ready for electronic commerce to create electronic catalogs which would become part of the Ultimate Purchasing System.

AMS will develop the system and house it at facilities on Staten Island in New York. This saves state government the expenses of hardware and technical staff necessary to manage the operation. AMS will earn revenue from purchase-order fees from buyers and sellers.

Work to configure the system to support the Washington state purchasing and accounting practices began this month. Pilot agencies General Administration and the Department of Corrections will begin processing orders and payment in September on a limited basis. Other state agencies and political subdivisions will be invited to participate in November 2000.

More information is available at http://www.ga.wa.gov/.

General Administration is the business agent for the state. It is the main buyer of supplies, equipment and services. The department also manages the state motor pool, a mail system and surplus property, as well as overseeing $300 million in annual public works projects.

More information is available at http://www.ga.wa.gov/.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff