NASA E-Commerce Solution Gains Attention

NASA E-Commerce Solution Gains Attention

by John Makulowich

As the e-commerce process moves toward maturity in awkward fits and starts, a number of innovative solutions are coming to light. One good example is the product produced for NASA by REI Systems Inc., an 8(a) firm in Vienna, Va.

Its Electronic Handbooks System offering, which company officials claim can be applied to any business process, amounts to automating and making Web-accessible the process by which a firm submits its research proposal to the space agency for a Small Business Innovative Research award.

It seems likely the other 10 federal agencies supporting the SBIR program may soon be using REI's solution as well.

According to Randi Elassal, the company's business development manager and a former NASA employee, the product saved NASA $300,000 last year in processing the 2,500 proposals from small businesses in the United States and reduced by one-third the total processing time from proposal submission to final award.

Before the introduction of Electronic Handbooks System solution and middleware, named dbGenie, all SBIR submissions were paper. Now 50 percent to 60 percent are electronic.

ÊÊAnd, according to Elassal, while the new medium has not spurred additional proposals, it helped improve their quality: The software ensures all necessary forms are filed and the correct data are entered into the proper fields on the electronic forms.

ÊÊThe product also has increased the efficiency with which the NASA program office reviews and tracks the progress of submissions, and has facilitated the work of NASA reviewers throughout the country who judge specific submissions.

ÊÊThe initial problem posed to REI was to explain the SBIR process simply while letting proposers submit online; in other words, to marry the instructions to the process and allow a submitter to read what was required while entering data. In essence, the training is online through the electronic handbook written in HTML.

ÊÊAt the last SBIR meeting in August (and convened every three months by the Small Business Administration), program officers at agencies other than NASA learned about the electronic handbook. Plans are to profile its features at the SBIR meeting in November.

ÊÊThe product contains a unique, role-based security module that allows reviewers to see only specific proposals that they are qualified to judge. Also, Elassal said, the product is generic and now used on the NASA intranet for its directives.

ÊÊREI ( intends to start promoting the Electronic Handbooks System and dbGenie at trade shows and plans to put out a middleware product sometime in 1999. The source code, written in C and C, is proprietary, while the object code, produced under several SBIR awards, is public domain. The company was nominated recently for a NASA Space Act Award and a Tibbets Award.

You can send John e-mail at; his Web address is

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