By Clara M.W. VangenSurveys indicate that there are somewhere between 112 and 148 million Internet users in the United States alone. What these users are searching for and finding varies widely from one desktop to the next. One thing is for certain: The evolution of the Internet has slowed some, changed a great deal, and is destined to be more solid and useful than ever.Buildings’ readers are at the forefront of this technology – relaying their likes, dislikes, frustrations, and successes on the subject of how professional building owners and facilities managers are using Internet-based services to operate their buildings better.Gary S. Brandeis, senior vice president in the Philadelphia office of Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. (LPC), is very clear on how his company’s commitment to understanding and developing stronger, more efficient e-business practices is improving its core business strategy. “As a company we have developed a strategy – internally first – and are moving forward with a full-blown, e-commerce Internet strategy,” he explains.“From the beginning, one of the pieces of that puzzle was procurement. Procurement is something that you can quantify. Secondly, we do a lot of [purchasing] in a very disparate manner; we don’t do a lot of centralized purchasing. All of our clients are different, properties are different, etc. … We didn’t want to straddle our property managers with some kind of cumbersome procurement strategies. When we started thinking about Internet strategies, it seemed like the perfect way to instill some purchasing and processing standards without having to encumber our staff in the field with a bunch of rules and regulations in some paper-intensive process,” he says.Brandeis explains how the process of integrating e-procurement services into the company’s core business plan began. “We began by asking who was doing e-procurement for real estate and who was good at it. I spent a lot of time trying to look at all of these different companies – there were a handful of them that were newer, dotcom types of companies that had set up shop just to service the real estate industry. There were some other companies that had been in the procurement business and then the e-procurement business as well that weren’t necessarily focused just on the real estate market but on other types of businesses.”LPC recognized that as a large company it wasn’t comfortable partnering with a start-up provider that was purely venture capital funded. “We felt that we couldn’t be sure of their long-term viability,” Brandeis explains. “That kind of weeded out the list.”LPC’s choice in e-procurement services was Chicago-based SupplyCore. “We liked the fact that they had been in business for awhile and that they had lots of different clients, not just real estate clients. Their technology was developed as a function of their core business, meaning their initial reason for getting into business was not to develop Internet technology; it was to service clients in helping them with their purchasing activities. We liked the fact that they have a large group of customer service people, that procurement isn’t simply about technology. It’s about people and sourcing.” As Brandeis put it, “It’s one thing to be able to buy a box of light bulbs. It’s another thing to know who to contact when that box of light bulbs arrives broken.”Brandeis believes that SupplyCore’s willingness to work within LPC’s business plan made the most sense for everyone involved. “Some of the other groups that we talked to want us to roll this thing over into our portfolio within six months, telling us that they needed this much adoption and this much [financial investment] over this much time or they wouldn’t do this, this, and this for us.” Showing good business judgment, Brandeis and LPC closely examined their own specific needs, recognizing that SupplyCore’s years in business (founded in 1987) was the type of longevity they were looking for in this type of service provider. “This was something very new to us; we weren’t going to adopt this in six months and expect all of our people to jump in and use it. We wanted to ease our people into it slowly and smartly. SupplyCore was willing to take that slower road with us knowing that if we are successful, in the long run that would be good for everyone.” LPC began the process of e-procurement back in August 2001 with a pilot program of five or six of its properties. “We set up the system with catalogs on the web, and our folks started to use it,” says Brandeis. LPC and SupplyCore worked out some of the kinks in the workflow, adapting LPC’s specific needs as a real estate company. Over all, the process has been a very smooth transition for LPC’s facilities managers.By first identifying his company’s expectations, combined with solid research and good communication with his e-procurement service provider, Brandeis believes the transition into a more digital age has been a success for everyone.Clara M.W. Vangen ([email protected]) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.