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News

Over $600k Saved at School Districts with EqualLevel’s Savings Advisor (ELSA)

When schoolteachers or those in K-12 procurement are making purchases for their classrooms, they often just make the most convenient purchase. But, choosing the item at the top of the search results, or going with the supplier they are most familiar with, often leads to unnecessary overspending. The extra dollars spent on these small purchases can add up fast and cost schools a significant amount of extra money each year. The EqualLevel Marketplace, by consolidating supplier catalogs and punchout stores into a single marketplace for comparison shopping, provides a unique opportunity to prevent this overspending.

Our patent-pending EqualLevel Savings Advisor™ (ELSA) combines the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and a growing database of commonly sourced products for K-12 to automatically identify in real-time the lowest price for your item or the best available substitute from your approved suppliers. This feature enables shoppers to quickly swap in the best price or enter a justification for keeping their current item. Detailed reporting is available on the alternatives suggested, decisions made, and the savings achieved or missed.

To measure the impact of the EqualLevel Savings Advisor, we looked at the spend from 20 school districts utilizing an EqualLevel Marketplace with ELSA in 2021. These 20 districts were from 5 states and integrated their marketplace to 8 different ERP systems — eFinancePlus, MUNIS, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, Skyward, TEAMS, and USAS. In total, ELSA was able to save these districts $642,454 in 2021. These savings were realized directly from ELSA presenting shoppers a lower price from another approved contract for an item in their cart and the shopper choosing to make the replacement. The savings for each district depended primarily on their total spend. The average savings for a district was $32,122, with the highest savings being $282,852 for one of the larger school districts.

For most districts, these savings alone were able to provide an ROI for the marketplace application in just the first year. And even further savings were achieved through the marketplace ensuring contract compliance, increasing productivity, and reducing manual data entry and errors. Also, from the ELSA savings data for these 20 school districts, the savings are increasing over time. As more contracts are added to the marketplace and as the AI engine learns more from shoppers’ behavior, ELSA can identify more alternatives and drive more savings.

For K-12 school districts, a P2P solution can do more than streamline their procurement processes and ensure compliance—it can also drive significant cost savings. By incorporating real-time analysis using an AI engine into comparison shopping, the EqualLevel marketplace is able to prevent overspending and deliver immediate cost savings to school districts that can be put towards the classroom. An EqualLevel Marketplace can complement a variety of financial systems and can be implemented in 60 to 90 days, enabling a powerful return on investment within a single fiscal year.

Blog

Modernize Procure-to-Pay with Real-Time Information

The role of education procurement is evolving, and the pandemic provided a glimpse into one of the key drivers of the evolution – the importance of real-time information. For much-needed supplies, such as personal protective equipment, procurement must have real-time information about supply, sources, and prices to accelerate decision-making and collaboration. Delays or inaccuracy in such information can also lead to canceled orders, incomplete or delayed shipments, unwanted substitutions, and overpaying. The following are a few examples of how procurement is evolving the use of real-time information in day-to-day procurement.

Real-time Comparison Shopping Across Approved Contracts
As consumers, we have always comparison shopped – haggling for the best price has been part of the earliest markets. With the emergence of the internet, comparison shopping can now be instantaneous. Consumers can find the same products from different suppliers with just a few clicks and then choose the best price. Unfortunately, requisitioners at their work do not behave like consumers, and they tend to make the most convenient purchase. This convenience costs districts a significant amount of extra money each year. Artificial Intelligence technology now makes it possible to identify, in real-time, lower prices and substitutes for items prior to checkout.

Real-time Price Check
Purchase compliance verification is done after payment by conducting an audit of randomly selected invoices. These audits help to recover overpayments and mitigate the risk of further non-compliance. Although effective, price compliance audits are resource-intensive and not scalable. Real-time online price checks can proactively analyze thousands of contract price data points each day and identify discrepancies, enabling procurement to remedy pricing issues prior to purchase.

Real-time Evaluation of Invoices versus POs
Manually matching invoices to POs requires significant time to enter information and confirm pricing. If discrepancies are found, further time is needed to escalate the issue internally or reach out to the supplier. Automating the matching process eliminates manual steps and instantly feeds the invoice into the financial system. When issues during matching are uncovered, the invoice is sent electronically back to the supplier to correct and resubmit.

60 to 90 Day Implementation
Real-time procurement is a must for districts that want to streamline their procure-to-pay process and improve compliance and savings. School districts can see benefits quickly with applications that complement existing financial systems and can be implemented in 60 to 90 days. Often a return on investment can be achieved within a single fiscal year. By making informed decisions based on real-time data, school districts can quickly revert meaningful dollars directly back to the classroom.

Article first published on the Florida Association of School Business Officials (FASBO) Bulletin Board.

Case Study

El Paso ISD Brings Dollars Back into Classrooms and Community by Innovating Its Procurement Process

When Ron Gatlin (now retired) was appointed Executive Director of Procurement and School Resources at the El Paso Independent School District (ISD), he quickly realized the district’s need to transform procurement into a more user-friendly and efficient process. Gatlin had heard about emerging technology that could help simplify and control spend, and expedite shopping, while also complying with Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) and other state purchasing requirements. Gatlin’s required features for the new platform were:

■ Easy implementation
■ Punchout capabilities
■ Multiple catalogs for EDGAR compliance
■ A one-stop-shop
■ The ability to identify local suppliers 

Solution

Gatlin and colleague Leticia Rivera (Assistant Purchasing Director of Procurement and School Resources), took the lead in innovating El Paso ISD’s outdated procurement process. Their first step was to implement an electronic bidding system along with a K-12 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, “TEAMS by Frontline,” for organizational management. Their next step was to integrate EqualLevel’s procure-to-pay solution to further extend their ERP system.

Results

“This eliminates several steps and immensely speeds up the process.”
With the help of EqualLevel, Gatlin and Rivera created a procure-to-pay marketplace that offers a single, seamless platform to facilitate all processes associated with the shop-order-pay transaction. By eliminating any maverick spending and ensuring that staff is only purchasing through approved contracts, the district can demonstrate that they are being fiscally responsible with public funds. “Our staff can now go in and shop for what they want, push a button and it automatically turns into a requisition. They no longer have to type in the description, specs, or pricing, and can be ensured that all of those details are accurate and compliant,” Gatlin said after implementation. “This eliminates several steps and immensely speeds up the process.”

Savings

El Paso ISD also utilizes the EqualLevel Savings Advisor (ELSA) in their marketplace. ELSA is powered by artificial intelligence to automatically optimize spending and comparison shop punchout items to identify the best savings. In the first six months that ELSA was in use, the district saved $44,000.

Additional Benefits

Accounts Payable
Fewer purchase order changes and less invoice reconciliation.

Local Suppliers
EqualLevel’s marketplace was able to integrate more local suppliers, enabling El Paso ISD to support the community in which they work and live.

Morale
“The purchasing department was viewed as slowing down the process. Now campus staff is happy to have a more streamlined and efficient procurement process in place,” said Gatlin after implementation.

COVID-19 Ready
When the need arose to work remotely, procurement staff were able to continue their operations without interruption.

“The campus staff love it. They can go into the marketplace and shop for whatever they want in the online store and know that they are getting the best savings on products that are EDGAR compliant,” said Rivera after implementation. “We went from horse and buggy to the Starship Enterprise.”

Conclusion

Digitizing the procure-to-pay process has put El Paso ISD at the forefront of public procurement. Not only has it improved its complete purchasing process and the support provided to their campuses and classrooms immensely, it is allowing El Paso ISD to deliver efficient and effective management of its funding.

City of El Paso Case Study

Case Study

DonorsChoose Simplifies Its e-Invoicing and Order Management With EqualLevel

DonorsChoose, a non-profit organization with an online platform that allows individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects, has selected EqualLevel’s e-invoicing solution to automate its supplier orders and invoice processing. The move will streamline both its management and accounts payable processes. The new solution has been integrated with DonorChoose’s existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and automatically transmits invoices to accounts payable for reconciliation and payment.

The sheer volume of invoices and variety of sources that they come from, makes the accounts payable process a daunting task for organizations, said Orville Bailey, CEO and Co-Founder of EqualLevel. Digitizing this process streamlines the workflow and frees up valuable time for these financial professionals to spend on more strategic tasks.

EqualLevel’s e-invoicing solution manages supplier enablement to ensure that DonorsChoose suppliers are set up to send e-invoices. The solution can also create rules-based exceptions for suppliers such as price thresholds, or where to route an invoice for review. Automated invoice entry and reconciliation have proven to reduce errors, shorten processing times, and reduce processing costs by up to 60-80%.

For years, we handled large vendor payments outside of our ERP system and had to manage two separate accounts payable processes, said Geoff Hill, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, Fulfillment at DonorsChoose. EqualLevel was able to help quickly integrate e-invoicing into our existing ERP system and has saved us time and money. We now have a fully integrated system that allows us to focus more time on our mission of getting much-needed materials to public school teachers.

About DonorsChoose

DonorsChoose is the leading way to give to public schools. Since 2000, 4,831,527 people and partners have contributed $1,103,209,997 to support 1,945,688 teacher requests for classroom resources and experiences. As the most trusted crowdfunding platform for teachers, donors, and district administrators alike, DonorsChoose vets each request, ships the funded resources directly to the classroom, and provides thank yous and reporting to donors and school leaders. Charity Navigator and GuideStar have awarded DonorsChoose, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, their highest ratings for transparency and accountability. For more information, visit https://www.donorschoose.org.

Case Study

Chicago Public Schools Utilizes AI to Uncover a Quarter Million Dollars in Savings

Facing significant financial shortages and possible budget cuts, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has contracted with EqualLevel to utilize their e-Procurement Marketplace, featuring an AI-powered technology to unearth massive savings opportunities. With EqualLevel’s ELSA software in place, CPS has uncovered a staggering $250,000 in savings in just 180 days. These funds will be redirected toward the purchase of vital resources needed to ensure students and staff are supported.

ELSA was designed specifically to achieve these types of returns, explained Orville Bailey, CEO, and co-founder of EqualLevel. We are proud to partner with CPS in their quest to support students and provide the highest quality education possible. CPS has faced significant financial shortages in 2020 and announced the possibility of major budget cuts as recently as August. With AI-powered ELSA, CPS procurement has taken a major step towards ensuring that budget dollars for goods and services are spent wisely.

EqualLevel is a Rockville, Maryland-based technology company with over ten years of experience in e-procurement software development. EqualLevel’s ELSA (an acronym for EqualLevel Savings Advisor) allows CPS and other school districts to leverage the power of advanced data analytics and AI to achieve greater visibility into spending, unearthing critical areas where savings can be captured as employees shop. But most importantly, ELSA captures the shopper’s justification for choices that don’t fall in line with established procurement protocols, Eddie Potocko, EqualLevel CTO, explained. It delivers that information in a structured report that provides just-in-time knowledge to managers. The patent-pending, groundbreaking AI also learns and grows with the organization, offering additional insights and intelligence the more it is used.

Case Study

Timely Support for Public School Educators

If re-opening schools during a pandemic and reduced budgets weren’t challenging enough, school administrators and teachers are under added pressure to help students cope with and understand the issues of social injustice and racial tension that have drawn national headlines for the better part of 2020. Educators are challenged to better inform their students about the roots of racism in this country, how it is reflected in modern society, and help them gain the perspective and communication skills needed to advance institutionalized norms that strengthen social equity.

The need for funding and relevant materials to support these educational efforts is evidenced by the 2,600 diverse books-related projects currently seeking funding on the Donor’s Choose website, donorschoose.org. DonorsChoose is a non-profit organization that facilitates crowdfunding for public school teachers’ classroom needs, resource acquisition, and delivery. Since its founding 20 years ago, DonorsChoose has enabled almost $1 billion of funding for over 1.7 million projects on behalf of teachers in 85% of our public K-12 schools.

On August 7, Donor’s Choose welcomed their newest supplier, MahoganyBooks, an award-winning, Washington, D.C.-based independent retailer specializing in books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora. The announcement could not come at a better time.

Ramunda Young, co-owner and co-founder of MahoganyBooks, describes their offerings as imperative for any student expanding their worldview and perception of other cultures. We’re thrilled to partner with DonorsChoose to ensure books with rich cultural content are accessible to teachers nationwide.

The announcement noted that teachers can immediately choose from a curated list of books that are ideal for middle and high school students. More titles including options for elementary students will be added later this fall.

In less than a week following the announcement, 124 projects specifically seeking support for MahoganyBooks’ resources were posted to a dedicated funding page on DonorsChoose. Thirteen of those requests have received combined funding totaling $1,534 through individual donations and the matching donations made by the Equal Justice Initiative in support of requests for a select list of books, including Just Mercy.

All of this was made possible through an introduction made by DonorsChoose procurement enablement partner, EqualLevel. EqualLevel and MahoganyBooks are both in the Washington, D.C., metro area. When DonorsChoose expressed their desire to enhance the diversity of their supplier base, EqualLevel’s CEO, Orville Bailey, recognized a win-win opportunity for his customer and the small, family-owned, mission-focused specialty book retailer that he knew.

The connection made would be more than the sharing of business contact information between the two potential partners. As the DonorsChoose-Mahogany Books relationship developed and was ultimately formalized, EqualLevel’s GO e-commerce platform provided Mahogany Books with a seamless connection with the DonorsChoose Marketplace.

In their August 7 announcement, DonorsChoose CFO and EVP of fulfillment, Geoff Hill said, Our procurement partners at EqualLevel introduced us to Ramunda and Derrick Young and helped us launch MahoganyBooks as a vendor in record time this summer. We’re so proud to be able to offer our teachers the opportunity to request valuable classroom materials from MahoganyBooks, while at the same time supporting a Black-owned independent bookstore that gives back to the Washington, D.C. community. We can’t wait to see all of the teachers and students who will benefit during this back-to-school season.

 

  • To learn more about DonorsChoose and support teachers’ educational resources needs, visit donorschoose.org.
  • Review the entire MahoganyBooks catalog at mahaganbooks.com.
  • To learn more about EqualLevel’s GO platform for suppliers and PunchOut enabled e-commerce functionality, email info@equallevel.com or call (301)560-1492.

Case Study

Ohio Schools Council Way Ahead of the Service, Value Curve

The Ohio Schools Council is not your typical cooperative program. What sets them apart from other K12-focused councils of government and national public sector group purchasing organizations? OSC understands that delivering the greatest member value cannot stop at their menu of contracted suppliers.

Giving members the ability to easily identify, compare and choose the products they need from multiple supplier catalogs AND have their purchases automatically routed for required approvals, purchase order creation and transmission goes far beyond what the vast majority of cooperatives provide their customers today. While the cooperative industry has been slow to adopt these functionalities, OSC has been providing its members’ online supplier transaction capabilities since the early 2000s. OSC recognized that introducing marketplace and procure-to-pay technologies would streamline their members’ buying and financial processes to shorten purchasing cycle times and give them greater visibility into savings opportunities.

In November 2016, OSC implemented its EqualLevel-powered marketplace, the eBuy Cooperative Purchasing Portal. eBuy gives members both source-to-pay functionality and a customer-friendly environment on par with consumer online shopping sites. Kelly Rocco, OSC program manager, describes eBuy as “a one-stop e-marketplace that’s so easy for members to use.  It’s like shopping on Amazon.” OSC has over 110 contracted suppliers in its online marketplace. From eBuy, members can purchase directly from multiple suppliers on one order or request quotes.

“Other [ERP and financial system] e-commerce solutions we looked at could not search across supplier contracts and comparison shop. You had to go to each catalog one-by-one, take notes…Very time-consuming and a lot of effort,” said Ms. Rocco. “Plus, for our members who want their own dedicated marketplace integrated into their financial system, we know EqualLevel integrates well with Tyler MUNIS, eFinance Plus, and [USAS] state software. That’s a huge plus for our members, and one reason we were recently contacted by a member who specifically asked for the EqualLevel marketplace.”

The Ohio Schools Council has many business services programs to support school operations. But by providing their members an easy-to-use, visually friendly online portal where they can easily compare products supported by system-identified savings opportunities, and transact with local and nationally contracted suppliers, OSC takes an active role in connecting their members to greater efficiencies and real-dollar savings. A key message that Ms. Rocco takes on the road when she meets with schools and one that will be front-and-center in an upcoming webinar presentation this fall.

  • To learn more about OSC and how they drive value for their members through the eBuy portal, reach out to Kelly at krocco@osconline.org or (216) 447-3100 x6101.
  • To elevate your customer procure-to-pay experience with the ELSA-powered Marketplace, contact EqualLevel at 301.560.1492 or info@equallevel.com.

Case Study

Big Savings Power for WCHCS – A Story of Digital Procurement Transformation and COVID-19

Learn how Washington Court House City Schools moved from a paper, labor-intensive requisitioning and PO process to a truly virtualized environment that is saving district dollars and time. They will explain their journey that began with the search for a solution to reduce paper and streamline processes yet has come to be much more. Hear how they have realized benefits that exceed the original goals that are serving them well during the COVID-19 crisis. The real virtuality WCHCS has achieved obeys social distancing guidelines and will make it much easier for the district to comply with future policy guidelines likely required.