Massachusetts and New York seem likely to be the first formal users of the Multi-State Emall when the governmental purchasing site emerges from its pilot phase on September 30. The two states, home to about 9% of the U.S. population, will continue to use the pilot system until a full-scale version of the site is completed in the second quarter of next year.
"The whole point of this is to realize economies of scale, and that's what we have shown we can do here," says John G. Harrison, supplier coordinator with EMall for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
EMall uses Open Buying on the Internet (OBI) standards to connect buyers and sellers using disparate systems. One major success for the project has been its relationship with Dell Computers, which made its manufacturing systems OBI-accessible in response to an EMall request.
The project has also demonstrated the difficulty of putting diverse governments on a single purchasing platform. Three other states have participated in the pilot, including Texas, which lacks the central purchasing processes to fully utilize EMall, Idaho, and Utah. Washington dropped out in the early stages of the project because of commerce restrictions in its state law, and South Dakota bailed when it couldn't bring on board a major supplier that met the site's requirements.
More than 20 other states have been observing the EMall pilot, and while several have made inquiries, none have yet committed to the concept. "For a state to really do this, they have to have the top people on board from finance, purchasing, and information systems," says Harrison. "It's an enormous and daunting commitment in terms of the business process."