On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the federal government launched Apps.gov, an online storefront that will allow agencies to purchase software and services from the cloud, federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced Tuesday during a briefing at NASA's Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley.

The Web site's offerings include business applications, productivity applications, cloud IT services and social media applications. A CIO who uses the Web site for purchasing can choose a piece of software -- Kundra mentioned Salesforce.com as an example -- add it to his or her online shopping cart, and buy it on the spot.

Kundra said the Apps.gov purchasing system will help make procurements easier, faster and cheaper, and reduce duplicative systems -- he said there are 10,000 of them across the federal government.

The federal CIO said that what in the private sphere takes a matter of minutes -- signing up for an e-mail account, sharing photos online, or even provisioning an accounting system for a small business -- can unfortunately cost hundreds of millions of dollars for the federal government to accomplish.

"This broad initiative around efficiency and effectiveness leads us to move the federal government in a direction that it can leverage some of these emerging technologies, while addressing some of the difficult issues around privacy and security," Kundra said during a media conference call Tuesday. "This is not going to happen overnight, and the Apps.gov storefront is the first step in many steps we'll be taking to move the federal government in this direction."

Cloud computing services on Apps.gov have not yet gone live. They will include storage, software development tools, virtual processing power and Web hosting.

Kundra said many of the social media applications will be made available for free. The big-name heavyweights -- Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and Scribd -- are accessible. Earlier this year a coalition of federal government agencies agreed to terms of service with a range of social media companies.

New applications will continue to be added to Apps.gov, Kundra said.

Will States and Locals Get Onboard?

Decision-makers from state and local government have typically shied away from purchasing from the federal government's General Services Administration (GSA) schedules even though they're eligible to do so. Many state and local technology agencies believe they often can negotiate better deals themselves with vendors than what the GSA offers.

But a few government CIOs who have spoken with Government Technology said they might buy technology from the Apps.gov storefront. Some of the applications posted online are covered under the GSA schedule.

Georgia CIO Patrick Moore said he might be interested in using the online storefront if it meets the state's needs. And Washington, D.C., Interim Chief Technology Officer Chris Willey, Kundra's successor for the district, said on Tuesday that Apps.gov is another valuable resource for procurement. "Well we will look at that [Web site] as any other marketplace, and as an opportunity for the district to either save some money or take advantage of something that's available on that Web site," Willey said.

He said traditional procurements by nature are "fairly disjointed." A CIO figures out what he or she wants and then solicits for quotes. "The [online] shopping cart would definitely streamline a lot of that process," he said. "The only question is: Is it as competitive as going out and getting each procurement and essentially asking the market to do better than it did last time?"

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor