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Chrys Barnes knew she had a problem. As head of procurement for sprawling Los Angeles County, she oversees an organization that bought $650 million in goods and services last year using paper forms--and had no unified purchasing system. Buyers responsible for stocking the county's offices, hospitals, and jails tap into more than 25,000 suppliers. "We buy everything from chicken to condoms," Barnes says. The process was so chaotic that one office might order pencils, not knowing that thousands sat unused in a county warehouse. The launch of Web-based buying sites by some suppliers only raised the potential for pell-mell purchasing. "We couldn't just turn people loose to place orders over the Internet," she says.
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