6 strategies for smart purchasing at small colleges

Strength in buying is still possible without strength in numbers
By: | July 17, 2019
Higher ed procurement options are usually more difficult for rural institutions such as Colgate University in New York because of supplier delivery challenges. UB's guide to procurement can help similar colleges.REMOTE BUYS—Rural institutions such as Colgate University in New York may have added purchasing woes because of supplier delivery challenges.

Small-college purchasing managers have one big challenge—finding ways to help colleagues with all areas and types of procurement, from technology to facilities to research. Some institutions may not even have a full-time administrator focused on higher ed procurement. So what can purchasing professionals on small campuses do to not only survive, but also to thrive? Here is a quick guide to procurement for such institutions.

1. Become a joiner

Members of purchasing cooperatives, higher education consortia and professional associations receive a range of resource-saving benefits.

For example, members of the National Association of Education Procurement have access to a library with over 600 requests for proposals submitted by colleges from across the country and a network of peers who can provide guidance on a unique RFP or another challenge.

Volume discounts are another reason to keep memberships active. Joining E&I Cooperative Services, for example, costs nothing but currently provides access to over 120 competitively solicited contracts in 24 product and service categories.

2. Look to e-procurement

Yes, even small colleges can often afford to invest in an e-procurement system. The technology often pays for itself in money saved by directing buyers to preferred vendors. The systems also reduce the time and labor involved with purchase order approvals.

Purchasing staff can replace that saved transactional time with strategic, high-value activities such as analyzing spend data and strengthening relationships with buyers from across campus.

3. Build relationships on and off campus

Strong relationships are built on awareness of procurement’s role and on regular contact. The idea is to get administrators and staff to consult the department about purchases before they’re made.

Relationships with vendors can be helpful, too. Sometimes a provider will tip off an administrator about which cooperative to use to get a contract price—saving research time that small-school purchasing leaders really don’t have.

4. Study the data

If five departments are buying the same item separately, for example, it typically makes sense to combine the orders to get a better price.

Whether data is coming from an e-procurement system, a manual review or even a centralized Amazon Business account, procurement administrators must identify patterns that could guide future contract decisions and pick up on rogue spending.

5. Manage rogue spending

Just about every institution has rogue spenders who purchase items outside of a contract because it’s easier or a different brand is preferred. The result is often missed savings.

Providers, such as an office supply vendor, may agree to only accept orders from the college through the e-procurement system.

Keep in mind that employees may need reminders about the value of contracts so they don’t adopt that age-old purchasing police view of procurement officers.

6. Be aggressive

Being visible on campus may result in the opportunity to hear—and join—conversations about purchases coming down the pike. Such discussions, while not always well received at first, become opportunities to explain how following policy benefits the bottom line.

Read the original story on buying strong at small colleges.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.


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