ONE OF THE BIGGEST hidden costs in business is simply acquiring supplies. On average, say officials at Thomas Publishing Co., companies spend three weeks and $150 to prepare and process each purchase order--for paint, paper, or lightbulbs. But Thomas' new ConnectsUs scheme, which lets companies buy supplies electronically, may bring that down to 24 hours and a couple of dollars.
First, ConnectsUs lets purchasing managers browse a master electronic catalog based on the Thomas Register, the company's venerable industrial directory. The catalog resides on General Electric Information Services' network, and suppliers will pay Thomas an undisclosed fee to be listed.
After selecting the suppliers they want, purchasing agents can negotiate prices and other terms. Then the staff of Thomas' newly formed Electronic Purchasing Information Corp. will prepare--for another fee--a customized electronic catalog for use by anyone within the customer organization. The catalog is stored on a server attached to the customer's internal data network. Any authorized persons will then be able to place orders electronically from PCs, and ConnectsUs will convert each order into electronic data interchange formats and have GE's network deliver it to suppliers' computers. So far, Thomas cites only 3M as a ConnectsUs supplier.