Lowest Bidders Don't Have To Be Losers

Sept. 1, 2001
This issue tells how some public-sector entities are investing your tax dollars. It's the application of new-technology material handling that will improve the public sector in years to come.

Lowest Bidders Don’t Have To Be Losers

After reading this issue of MHM, you’ll be impressed with how well some public-sector entities are investing our tax dollars in material handling technology. But as I read some of the news reports that cross my desk and computer screen lately, taxpayers might have reason for concern about government spending on information systems — at least at the local level.

According to a recent Computerworld story, Los Angeles city government has been struggling with the implemetation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) program because employees are populating its fields with bad data. The article cites inadequate end-user training and poor help desk support, resulting in billing problems, late payments to suppliers and inventory shortages. In one case, warehouse workers in the General Services Department priced police citation books at $1,649 apiece when they entered the inventory data into the new system. They should have keyed in $16.49.

Would better training have made a difference? Would a help desk have helped?

“Public-sector ERP projects can be problematic because government agencies often are working on tight budgets and have to accept the lowest bids on system implementation contracts,” Computerworld quoted Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, Daly City, California.

Well, duh!

Imagine! Having to work under a tight budget and then degrading themselves to deal with low-bid vendors. The shame.

Welcome to the real world. Private industry has been working under these conditions for years, and there are plenty of successful material handling logistics projects around to prove that a little discipline goes a long way in linking plant and warehouse information flows to the enterprise. Maybe the U.S. Department of Commerce should partner with information system vendors to show local governments how an industrial information infrastructure should run.

Ridiculous? The DOC is already involved in such an effort, only its focus is on “the office of the future.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) calls its baby the Smart Space Laboratory. It’s a simulated work environment where software and hardware are blended “to give people unprecedented levels of access to computers,” according to the NIST newsletter, TechBeat. The Smart Space Laboratory is working on pervasive computing, defined as the convergence of computers, wireless devices and sensors that “see” and “hear.” The Internet provides the communications channel.

The technology involved includes voice recognition as applied to automatic transcriptions, voice pattern identification and data security systems. This technology may be new to the office, but some of it has been used in the warehouse for years in picking applications.

Government-funded researchers should stop using binoculars to look into the distance for high-tech solutions and start sharing the microscopes that private-sector logisticians have been using to improve their material and data flows.

The Office of the Future would become a reality a lot sooner if it were connected to today’s state-of-the-art factory or distribution center. The researchers might even learn a few things about succeeding on a tight budget and working with the lowest bidders.

John Q. Taxpayer will buy that.

Tom Andel

chief editor

[email protected]

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