A British universities co-operative is helping its growing number of members cut costs on the purchase of supplies. Chris Johnston reports
E-procurement is the university equivalent of logging on to Amazon and buying a book, except that instead of spending £20 the sums can often be in the hundreds of thousands.
More than two years ago, a national e-procurement marketplace went live. HEeP, or Higher Education e-Procurement, is run by a subsidiary company of Salford University. It now has nine institutions on board, with four implementing the scheme, eight committed to joining it and 44 others in discussions or interested in joining.
Tony Oliver, the director of HEeP, says the move was a response to the attempts by private companies to sell purchasing software to universities. The Higher Education Funding Council for England provided initial funding for the project, which institutions join for free, although there are plans to shift it to a more commercial footing.
Bournemouth University is one of the institutions in the process of joining HEeP. Barry Chapman, the university’s purchasing manager, says that moving to e-procurement was a logical step. He expects more than 2,000 orders to have been placed online by next summer.
“Initially, we will look at minimising the processing costs of buying low-value items. Once proven, we will extend this to larger value purchases. We expect other benefits to include better use of staff time and resources, reduction in manual-based orders and improved cash flow,” he says.
Each paper purchase order costs about £40 to process, but Mr Oliver says the e-procurement system can reduce this figure by up to £15.
Only suppliers who have negotiated contracts with regional or national purchasing consortia can sell their products through HEeP. These prices are as much as 40 per cent lower than those of local companies, enabling universities to make great savings.
HEeP uses Symmetry eBIS software. When purchasers log on, they are connected to a list of approved suppliers’ websites and select the desired goods.
Once authorised, the necessary purchase orders are generated and exchanged electronically. After the goods are delivered, an invoice is sent and the finance department can pay the supplier via a bank transfer, further reducing paperwork.