K-12 leaders who are members of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) or the National School Boards Association (NSBA)’s Technology Leadership Network have a new way to acquire discounted technology for their schools through online catalog shopping.

NET Buying is an online pilot program enabling school officials to purchase K-12 technology products without the hassle of searching and applying for school discounts. CoSN and NSBA created the experimental web site to save time and provide convenience for those in charge of finding the best bargain for their education buck.

“In 1998, we conducted an informal survey of K-12 buyers and a major issue was equity in obtaining discounted technology,” explained Robin Kaczka, the NET Buying project manager at the National School Boards Foundation. “Some smaller school districts just don’t have the resources to do the leg-work and pull strings to get discounted technology like the larger districts.”

Larger districts often have the staffing and resources to negotiate directly with technology vendors for good deals, according to Kaczka: “NET Buying can’t compete with larger districts and big state contracts. But for smaller districts, it is an equitable answer.”

The site promises access to a dedicated contact person designated by each participating company to fulfill product requests. “The benefit of this is ease of buying and quickness in getting questions answered,” said Kaczka. “These people are familiar with both the program and the products.”

Products being sold on NET Buying range across the technology spectrum, with all types of software, hardware, peripherals, ID cards, distance learning equipment, furniture, integrated learning systems, internet resources, networking services, lab equipment, video equipment, and wireless technology.

NET Buying supplies customers with an online catalog searchable by company name, product, operating system, platform, state, country, or product exchange network product type. The site also provides buyers with a national voice for giving feedback to vendors on specific education products.

The pilot program, which began Sept. 1, 1999, will be assessed at some point in the future. If it is found to be successful, CoSN and NSBA plan to launch a formal and permanent version of the site, perhaps as early as July 1, 2000.

When asked what criteria would define success for the program, Kaczka answered, “It is a moving yardstick, but success will probably be based on both customer and vendor satisfaction. We will also look at the number of purchases made and the ease of purchasing customers experience.”

For producers of K-12 technology products, NET Buying offers the opportunity to sell their wares directly to eligible CoSN and NSBA Technology Leadership Network members. In order to have their products featured on the web site, however, technology vendors must offer at least a 10 percent discount off the education market rates, offer this discount for the full length of the pilot program, and commit a single contact person to fill orders placed through the NET Buying site.

Vendors also are required to submit product information using the NET Buying product submission form, which can be taken from the site; participate in the assessment and evaluation of the pilot program at the request of CoSN and NSBA; and sign a letter of agreement to the terms of the program.

“We feature large companies as well, but many smaller companies have smaller marketing departments, and this way they can have access to a larger market,” said Kaczka.

Some of the 25 companies participating in the program include: Brother International Corp., EBSCO Publishing, Educational Resources, NEC Systems, Pearl Software, Tangent Computer, TutorNet.com, and Vital Knowledge Software, just to name a few.

If the pilot is deemed a success after the evaluation procedure, a new letter of agreement will be required of all vendors wishing to participate in the formal NET Buying program. “We are not a pass-through for money, but rather a way for vendors and buyers to find out what’s available to them,” added Kaczka.

Reportedly, NET Buying officials currently are debating whether they will open the site to the public when and if they institute a permanent site. In the meantime, links to both the CoSN and the NSBA web sites are available through the NET Buying site.

NET Buying
http://www.netbuying4ed.com

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org