Purchasing supplies online through e-procurement systems is a lot easier for teachers and school administrators than using paper-based invoicing systems, but it can still be a cumbersome process, especially when it comes to gathering supplier bids. It can take weeks, even months, for a school district to solicit and approve bids, which can significantly delay the arrival of classroom supplies. In addition, teachers looking to put together a wish list of items for approval typically have to visit multiple supplier sites, pull the product information off the site, enter it into an email, then send it to the purchasing office.
It’s a process that’s not as easy as ABC.
Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston is no stranger to such impediments to the purchasing of supplies ranging from curriculum materials to computers to theatrical costumes. Required to solicit bids on all purchases after it has spent $50,000 for the school year—a process that could take up to 12 weeks to receive approval—Spring Branch sought out and found a way to streamline its purchasing process so faculty and staff could receive supplies in a timely manner.
“The purchasing process in the public sector can be onerous because it involves advertising bids, gathering, evaluating and approving them,” says Rick Gay, director of procurement services for Spring Branch. “We wanted the process to move faster.”
Finding more than $150,000 in savings
Familiar with Amazon Business from his work as a procurement officer at other school districts, Gay reached out to Amazon to find a more efficient way to purchase supplies.
The first step for Spring Branch, which has 35,000 students across 47 schools in the Houston area, was to run a cost-analysis of the office supplies purchased the previous three years through its procurement system. Next, the school district compared the cost for the same items on Amazon Business, which showed that if it had purchased the same items at the same volume over that three-year period, it would have saved more than $150,000.
“We realized those were savings we could put back into our purchasing program to stretch our budget further,” Gay says.
Once it was ready to begin purchasing through Amazon Business, Spring Branch supplied the marketplace with a list of its approved buyers. When a faculty or staff member logs onto the district’s Amazon Business account using their existing e-procurement system credentials, they are recognized as an authorized buyer. The school district began testing Amazon Business in March and rolled the system out on July 1, the start of its fiscal year.
A guided-buying system expedites orders
As authorized buyers search for products, Amazon Business pushes items from approved vendors to the top of site search results. The guided-buying system recommends preferred products and automatically routes orders to school district administration officials for approval before submitting the orders to Amazon Business.
The school district’s ability to integrate its e-procurement software with Amazon Business saved Spring Branch from having to rebuild its procurement system, Gay says.
Instead, it worked with Amazon Business to develop ways to improve its procurement processes.
“We are regulated by policies and procedures set by the school board and by law,” says Gay. “When we met with Amazon, we spent time going over with them how public schools buy so they understood that we need to buy items in accordance with those policies and procedures.”
Getting costumes on time for a school play
For example, the procurement of individual items exceeding a specific dollar amount, and any purchases made after the school district spends $50,000 on supplies during its fiscal year, require the district to seek multiple bids. When Spring Branch needs bids, suppliers on Amazon Business receive notifications and can respond by automatically submitting bids to Spring Branch within the same day, expediting the approval process for potential delivery of ordered items to faculty and staff within a few days.
“This provides a lot more flexibility in how we purchase,” Gay says.
To illustrate his point, Gay says one high school in the district was able to purchase costumes for a theatrical production through Amazon Business in a timely fashion. “In a situation like that, the production date is already set,” Gay says. “If the purchase process takes too long, the costumes may not be there the night of the show.”
Since the start of its fiscal year, Spring Branch has spent more than $370,000 through Amazon Business, saving about $18,000 on those purchases compared to its previous purchasing processes, says Gay.
In addition, purchasing through Amazon provides a clean audit trail. “We can see the supplier that sold the item, what it cost, who bought it—all the information an auditor needs if there are questions about the purchase,” Gay says. “With Amazon Business we have the opportunity to cut costs and return those dollars to the classroom.”
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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