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Case Study

How Technology is Helping School Districts Manage Supplemental Funds for Instructors

While public school officials across the United States grapple with shifting budgets and determine how to equitably distribute resources, one thing remains certain. Teachers should not have to pay out of pocket for classroom materials. But too often, the complexities of public sector procurement give rise to this exact scenario.

Schools work hard to place orders throughout the year and provide teachers with what they need, but it’s not always enough. One of the most common reasons teachers make out of pocket purchases is to acquire supplemental learning materials for students who are struggling to grasp curriculum on their own. Classroom aides could include additional readings, model building materials, art supplies and more. Aside from complementing curriculum, many teachers will provide students with pens, pencils, paper, and notebooks as well.

That’s why the City of Chicago’s Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union have committed to providing teachers, counselors, clinicians, and speech-language paraeducators with $250 each per year for the purchase of instructional supplies, classroom libraries, and therapeutic materials for student support. The program is being funded by the City of Chicago. In August 2022, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) launched an online platform to manage these funds. The feature is an add-on to CPS’s existing procure-to-pay platform.

With the new platform, each educator will have access to their own individual, pre-paid account. They will be able to make purchases within the district’s existing supplier marketplace, or purchase outside of the marketplace and submit reimbursement requests. The mobile-friendly platform has the ability to route reimbursement requests and accompanying receipts to administrators for approval. Once approved, reimbursements will be deposited directly into instructors’ bank accounts. 

“We will have access to accurate, up-to-date spend data on transactions occurring both inside and outside of our online marketplace, allowing funds to be distributed responsibly,” said Charles Mayfield, CPS’s Interim COO. “The district will also have the ability to track line-item spend down to the individual shopper.”

CPS believes that the automation provided by the new platform, coupled with its transparency, will shorten the district’s supplemental fund cycle. The district is hopeful that the efficiency of the program will eliminate the need for educators to purchase time-sensitive supplies from costlier brick and mortar stores, and instead encourage them to order via approved suppliers at a significant savings. Nevertheless, if purchases outside of the marketplace are required, instructors will be reimbursed in a timely manner.  

The reimbursement feature, dubbed “MyFunds”, was built by EqualLevel and is the newest addition to its leading eProcurement platform. Orville Bailey, EqualLevel’s CEO, said of CPS’s new platform, “By marrying policy with technology, Chicago Public Schools has made leaps and bounds when it comes to simplifying procurement and providing educators with the resources they need.”

The EqualLevel MyFunds solution transforms K-12 fund management practices by automating the fund distribution, shopping, tracking, reconciliation, and reimbursement processes. This collapses the supplemental fund management cycle and minimizes administrative overhead. Having visibility into the spending of allocated funds and access to real-time reporting is also paramount for school districts across the country. MyFunds delivers line-item level transparency of every purchase and makes the audit process seamless.

Blog

eInvoicing: Why It’s So Important

For the past several years, the Federal Reserve System has encouraged businesses to switch from paper-based systems to electronic invoicing, or eInvoicing, to streamline payments across the nation. In a paper published by the Federal Reserve, The Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System, the agency called for businesses to implement the complete automation of transactions from the moment a purchase order is submitted, all the way through to payment and reconciliation. 

Benefits of eInvoicing

In many organizations still operating under a paper-based system, invoice approval and reconciliation are the most laborious, time-consuming, and error-prone steps in the procurement cycle. Paystream Advisors estimates $4 to $8 in processing costs can be saved for every paper invoice converted to an eInvoice. With organizations handling thousands of invoices, this adds up to significant savings. But processing costs are not the only benefit. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota paper, U.S. Adoption of  Electronic Invoicing: Challenges and Opportunities, “while a business can accrue benefits from adopting electronic payments alone, materially greater benefits are gained in lower costs, cash management, fewer errors, risk mitigation and transparency when the entire process is electronic.” 

How eInvoicing Works

eInvoices are created, sent, and received in an automated, structured electronic format. This allows employees to quickly and easily approve suppliers’ invoices for payment, with or without a purchase order. Once approved, invoices can be exported or directly integrated into an accounts payable system. In the simplest terms, eInvoicing enables sellers to automatically generate and send invoices to customers digitally, and customers can in turn process and pay those invoices digitally. This results in increased control of overpayments, reduced data entry and document handling costs, and accelerated invoice approval. 

EqualLevel’s eInvoicing Software

EqualLevel’s eInvoicing software creates an efficient online system that integrates seamlessly with an organization’s accounting or ERP system. With the software, eInvoices are automatically entered into an accounts payable system where three-way matching processes ensure accuracy before payment completion. Through cXML, eInvoicing links internal financial workflows to payment systems for both suppliers and buyers. By integrating the two, organizations can make practical strides in their efforts to automate and enhance procurement. 

eInvoicing is essential for organizations looking to streamline their payment processes. Go to www.equallevel.com today for more information on EqualLevel’s eInvoicing capabilities. 

 

Sources: 

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota paper, “U.S. Adoption of  Electronic Invoicing: Challenges and Opportunities” 

The Federal Reserve System paper, “The Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System.”

News

Cook County Presents: “Procurement Transformation in the Windy City.”

On Tuesday, August 23, 2022 representatives from Cook County, Illinois, and implementation partner Civic Initiatives will present at the NIGP Forum 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts, on how they have partnered to transform the county’s procurement process. Cook County’s Chief Procurement Officer, Raffi Sarrafian, and Civic Initiatives’s Dustin Lanier, Certified Public Procurement Officer, will lead the discussion.

In the past several years, Cook County, with the help of Civic Initiatives, has launched a series of improvement projects with the goal of making their procurement process more efficient and effective. During their presentation, Sarrafian and Lanier will discuss the impetus for the project as well as their goals. They will provide examples of initiatives that have been implemented or are underway and they will discuss how partners like Civic Initiatives and EqualLevel have contributed to their procurement transformation. All the while sharing lessons that could prove helpful for other local governments considering similar innovations. Among the projects they will be discussing is Cook County’s utilization of EqualLevel’s eProcurement marketplace to automate and significantly reduce manual entry for the county’s requisitions, POs and invoices.

With a population of over 5,000,000, Cook County is the second most populous county in the U.S. The county’s 2022 operating budget is just over $8 billion. “We have close to 600 active contracts in the aggregate of a little over a billion dollars (with) somewhere around 400 million in procurement…all necessary for the daily operation of Cook County,” said Sarrafian on a recent episode of the podcast, “Public Procurement Change Agents.” Given the county’s size and volume of spend, streamlining processes could produce significant savings both in employee time and purchasing dollars.

Civic Initiatives was founded in 2010 and has provided procurement transformation assistance to entities across the U.S. The firm supports operating model reform, spend management, and procurement automation. 

“NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement,” develops, supports and promotes the public procurement profession through research and educational programs, professional support, technical services, and advocacy initiatives that benefit members and other stakeholders. Their annual NIGP forum brings together professionals at all levels to learn from and support one another. The conference will take place August 22, 2022 to August 24, 2022 and will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Sessions will be offered both in-person as well as virtually. Industry events such as these are critical for promoting information sharing among procurement professionals across the U.S.

Case Study

Cooperative Automates Member Purchasing with New AI Procurement Platform

The Interlocal Purchasing System, better known as TIPS Purchasing Cooperative (TIPS), has selected EqualLevel to help automate and streamline purchasing for its members. The new TIPS eProcurement system will allow TIPS members to easily access the cooperative’s approved suppliers within a single, intuitive marketplace to ensure compliance and best value purchasing decisions. 

TIPS is a national purchasing cooperative that offers its 10,000 members access to competitively sourced purchasing contracts. TIPS members consist of organizations in the education, government, and non-profit sectors. The cooperative began as part of the Region 8 Education Service Center (ESC) and is one of 20 regional education centers in Texas. Jensen Mabe, VP of Sales & Business Development for TIPS, said of EqualLevel’s selection, “We wanted a cooperative marketplace and directory platform that was comprehensive, easy-to-use and administer, and adaptable to our individual member needs. EqualLevel was the easy choice.”

The EqualLevel marketplace will provide TIPS members with a consistent, consumer-like shopping experience across supplier storefronts. The new system will ensure members are purchasing from contracts that have been awarded through TIPS’s stringent competitive bid process. Further, guided buying navigation and supplier contract profiles will provide shoppers with the necessary steps for purchasing. 

In addition to contract compliance, TIPS’s new marketplace features the EqualLevel Savings Advisor™ (ELSA), a patent-pending technology that combines the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and a growing database of commonly sourced products to automatically identify in real-time the lowest price for items, or best available substitute, from approved suppliers. 

“EqualLevel is excited to partner with TIPS to create a one-stop-shop for its members. The marketplace will ensure compliance, drive productivity, and deliver hard dollar savings,” said EqualLevel founder and CEO, Orville Bailey.

Blog

How Cooperative Purchasing Marketplaces Optimize savings for the Public Sector

Recently, leading cooperatives have recognized the need to create a one-stop-shop transactional marketplace for their members. Cooperatives like Sourcewell, E&I, MHEC, AEPA, and TIPS have announced or implemented marketplaces to help their members reduce price discovery, order processing and invoicing times. When you reduce costs within a government organization or institution, funds are freed up for other mission-specific uses. This means that constituents win, too. Cooperatives also realize benefits, with access to online spend reporting and tighter integrations with members topping the list.

How are cooperative agreements established? Well, the cooperative or lead agency runs a formal competitive process, following procurement codes, state and local statutes to determine which vendors qualify to sell specific goods and services under the agreement. A trusted cooperative contract eliminates the time and cost associated with your agency gathering requirements, creating the RFP, reviewing multiple bidders, and making an award. With cooperative purchasing, both the buyer and seller benefit from a dramatically shortened and less costly sales cycle.

The pandemic emphasized a vital lesson; all public sector organizations must digitize. This is especially true for cooperatives. The ones that fail to embrace a “digital-first” approach to improving their value proposition are at risk of being left behind and losing competitiveness. Digitalization is raising the stakes, so cooperatives have a growing incentive to find new ways to enhance member experience.

Blog

Best-in-Breed SAAS: The Best Value for Public Sector Agencies

In the past, public sector organizations contracted with large-scale vendors for a single platform of integrated applications. The data and information responsible for powering each organization were consolidated into one unified system. Along with its efficiency and uniformity, full-suite solutions also came with major shortcomings.

In general, updates for full-suite systems were infrequent and lengthy to install due to their size and coverage. These delays in innovation were inefficient, and they rendered the functionality of the suite incomplete. Workarounds became standard to support the ever-advancing functional needs of department users.

With cXML integration standards and the accessibility of open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), agencies are starting to distance themselves from the full-suite approach and embrace best-in-breed solutions.

What is a best-in-breed solution?

Best-in-breed systems perform specialized functions within a given niche.

Instead of finding a universal software solution, agencies can install multiple best-in-breed systems and link them to create a specialized patchwork platform. As best-in-breed implementation becomes increasingly commonplace, organizations ensure that their full-suite systems are open, their standards are based with APIs, and they have well-detailed documentation to optimize the approach.

The Benefits of Best-In-Breed Solutions

Best-in-breed solutions are designed to adapt and provide solutions requiring focused performance and specialization. Best-in-breed programs are smaller than full suites and run independently, updating smoothly and seamlessly without affecting other systems, accelerating beneficial returns, and reducing project risks.

Their targeted focus allows best-in-breed manufacturers to quickly accommodate market changes and align solutions more closely with strategic business goals. Thus, agencies using best-in-breed solutions are more likely to create nuanced approaches to problems, quickly respond to market fluctuations and meet personalized requirements. Because these systems are optimized for each niche, implementation and training (if necessary) are lighter, while user experience is generally straightforward and involves fewer stakeholders. Organizations then have access to in-depth documentation that outlines functionality for each solution and its respective performance report which can be used to promote efficiency.

The Best Solution for Your Organization

Businesses are presented with a multitude of solutions. To find the one best suited for your organization, select a solution that:

  • meets your specific functional needs without compromises
  • is built on a modern SAAS technology stack
  • helps maximize your ability to leverage the current enterprise system, and
  • has a strong product roadmap of future innovations.

In a post-COVID economic environment that’s clouded with uncertainty, organizations, and teams should consider best-in-breed solutions rather than bearing the cost and disruption due to outdated, monolithic systems of the past.

Blog

Benefits of Digitizing the Invoice to Payment Process

In far too many organizations, the invoice reconciliation and approval process within the Accounts Payable department is the most laborious, time-consuming, and error-prone step of the procurement cycle.

Many organizations still rely heavily on paper and manual processes for their accounts payable, including managing invoices that are often received via email, regular mail, or fax. In some cases, personnel are required to be on-site, which can prove difficult during times of remote work. Even when invoices can be provided via email or fax, they may be sent to the wrong person, adding even more time and confusion to the process. Once in the right hands, to log the invoice into the organization’s financial system, the data is manually entered and the documents are scanned and uploaded. It is a tedious and cumbersome operation.

The sheer volume of invoices and the variety of sources that they come from make the accounts payable process a daunting task for organizations that are still utilizing paper documentation. It’s often required that one or more full-time employees remain dedicated to entering and reconciling hundreds or thousands of invoices on a weekly basis. Fortunately, advancements in technology, namely the widespread use of cloud computing and increased accessibility to e-procurement solutions, are changing the dynamics for invoicing.

EqualLevel’s e-invoicing solution provides a means to seamlessly and electronically exchange invoices between software systems and automate key portions of the invoice reconciliation process. With e-invoicing, suppliers may generate an electronic invoice from their own system, or from a system made available by the e-procurement provider who services the buying organization. All invoices can then be sent electronically, directly to the buying organization’s e-procurement application, regardless of the supplier’s technical sophistication, greatly simplifying the process.

The e-invoicing solution may be integrated with an organization’s existing accounting or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to replace an inefficient, paper-based invoice approval process with a convenient online system. The invoice reconciliation and approval process may take place in the e-procurement system, the organization’s ERP system, or in both through a two-step hybrid approach. In the hybrid approach, the e-procurement system will match the invoices and automatically reject those that violate predetermined exception rules, including but not limited to invalid invoice items, incorrect tax or shipping additions, and substantial price increases. Invoices that pass these initial rules are then transmitted to the ERP system for final reconciliation, where less critical exceptions can be routed for manual review before payment approval..

Options for transmitting invoices to the ERP system will depend on the flexibility and robustness of the solution from the e-procurement provider, but some possible options include sending the invoices via cXML, pulling the invoice data via an API integration, or an automated export/import of an invoice data file.

Automating this process helps organizations more easily manage the entire invoicing lifecycle. Some of the key benefits of e-invoicing include:

  • Automating the invoice entry and reconciliation.
  • Receiving structured and uniform invoices.
  • Reducing data entry and document handling costs.
  • Reducing errors caused by manual data entry.
  • Monitoring transactions in real-time.
  • Slashing the invoice processing time.
  • Eliminating late payment charges.
  • Taking advantage of early payment discounts.

Digitizing the invoicing process streamlines the entire workflow and frees up valuable time for financial professionals to spend on more strategic tasks.

Are you ready to get started? For more information, visit https://equallevel.com/invoice-reconciliation/.

Blog

Time is Money: Learn How to Save Both with an eProcurement Marketplace

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us in the business world, it’s that so much of what was traditionally done manually can more quickly and easily be accomplished online. This includes the manual, paper-based procurement process which has been plagued with inefficiencies in requisitioning, ordering, invoice reconciliation, and payment processing. Outdated, inflexible, and costly purchasing systems also restrict the ability to conduct broad-based procurement with the supply community.

What if there was an “easy” button for the procurement process? Over the last two decades, eCommerce has exploded in the consumer world with companies like Amazon making buying almost anything as easy as 1-2-3. By digitizing the procurement process, the shopping experience for businesses can be just as simple and can lead to increased savings and operational efficiency.

EqualLevel’s eProcurement marketplace allows organizations to quickly implement a cloud-based, multi-vendor, procure-to-pay marketplace that ensures compliance and can be accessed anywhere, at any time. Increasing transparency, efficiency, and compliance, the marketplace enables organizations to conduct business in the office or remotely, and it provides greater access into an approved, fully digital supply network.

The marketplace seamlessly integrates with existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems so that all approved suppliers/vendors and all goods and services managed by procurement are located in one easy-to-use, easy-to-administer system. It spans the entire procurement lifecycle, from punch-out commerce solutions to shopping for goods or services, approval workflow, catalog and contract pricing, purchase order automation,and receipt-invoice matching.

Organizations that have implemented an eProcurement marketplace have quickly recognized the many benefits of digitizing the procurement process. To list a few:

Efficiency: By automating a significant portion of the procurement process, an eProcurement marketplace leads to faster cycle times and improved productivity. The elimination of paper and manual steps also frees up time for employees to focus on more value-added activities.

Cost Saving: Cost-saving with an eProcurement system comes not only from ordering through preferred vendors but also from increased spend visibility. The EqualLevel Savings Advisor (ELSA) analyzes quotes to ensure the best value and uses machine learning to become smarter with every purchase. Utilizing a real-time, federated search across punchout sites, similar to Travelocity or Orbitz, data is collected from distributed sources and artificial intelligence (AI) technology uses this data to identify savings opportunities.

Compliance: Implementing a one-stop, multi-vendor punchout marketplace of all approved suppliers and contracts ensures compliance with state and federal regulations. The system automatically creates a three-bid process to determine product price, select the supplier (among approved vendors), and create the requisition or shopping cart for approval.

Transparency: eProcurement also makes it easier to conduct and analyze reports on procurement systems in order to ensure that the procedures conform to established policies. Real-time visibility into what supplies employees are purchasing and from which vendors provides valuable business insight and eliminates maverick spending.

Innovating an outdated procurement process with an online eProcurement marketplace provides a single, seamless platform to facilitate the shop-order-pay transaction. It provides employees with a more streamlined and efficient experience so they can optimize every dollar spent and every moment doing so.

When it comes to procurement, time is money. Neither time nor money should be wasted. Isn’t it time for your organization to hit the easy button and jump in?

Learn more about the EqualLevel eProcurement marketplace at https://equallevel.com/marketplace.

Blog

Why School Districts Need a Procure-to-Pay Marketplace

Many schools continue to struggle with and adapt to the education budget crisis created by the pandemic. Districts can no longer afford the inefficient costs of manual, paper-based requisitioning, ordering, invoice reconciliation, and payment processes. Digitizing the procure-to-pay process is now a necessity if school districts are to pursue every opportunity for savings and efficiency.

What is a Procure-to-Pay Marketplace?

Procure-to-Pay refers to an organization’s operational procurement process, from requisition all the way through to payment. A procure-to-pay marketplace offers a single, seamless platform that facilitates all of the processes associated with the shop-order-pay transaction.

Organizations that have implemented an end-to-end procure-to-pay marketplace derive many benefits from their systems. To highlight just a few:

One-stop-shop. A single site that teachers and staff can access to easily requisition all the goods and services they require from approved supplier contracts

Optimize savings. Ability to identify savings opportunities in real-time to eliminate over-spending

On-contract, compliant spending. Automated tracking of expenditures per contract to ensure budget, contract, and policy compliance

Reduced overhead. Lower transaction costs by eliminating manual, paper-based procurement and payables processing

Business insight. Increased visibility and control across the entire procure-to-pay process informs and elevates management decisions

Further, a procure-to-pay Marketplace eliminates the wall between procurement and accounts payable by automating the reconciliation of invoices and creating easy access to historical records that support audit requirements.

Understanding the Procure-to-Pay S-O-P

SHOP.  Shopping/requisitioning is the first step in the procure-to-pay process. In this stage, buyers find the right product or utilize a three-bid process to determine product price, select the supplier, and create a requisition or shopping cart for approval.

The most efficient way to shop and create a purchase requisition is to implement a one-stop multi-vendor punchout marketplace of all district-approved suppliers and contracts.  Teachers and staff can then shop across these suppliers’ catalogs to access real-time product information, and to conduct side-by-side comparisons.  At EqualLevel, our marketplace includes a real-time search across punchout sites and an AI-powered savings advisor that checks items in the cart to suggest lower-cost identical or substitute goods.

Once a cart/purchase requisition is created, a requisition workflow is initiated. These workflows are automated and flexible, allowing them to vary between schools, departments, and in monetary value. Approvers can either accept or reject a purchase requisition after evaluating the need, verifying the available budget, and validating the purchase requisition form. Incomplete purchase requisitions are rejected back to the initiator for correction and resubmission.  Approved purchase requisitions are converted into a purchase order and transmitted to the supplier.

ORDER. The next step in the procurement cycle, Order, involves processing, receiving, and distributing the product.

While leveraging a supplier punchout catalog creates efficiencies, these productivity gains can increase exponentially with the integration of purchase orders. With integrated purchase orders, districts can eliminate employees’ time spent placing orders over the phone or sending a pdf via email or fax. Also eliminated is the possibility of data entry and re-keying errors by the supplier. Data is seamlessly transferred and required fields are automatically populated during PO creation.

One of the biggest benefits of integrated POs is the reduction in order processing time. The POs are submitted directly to the supplier’s fulfillment system via XML (Extensible Markup Language) or EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) where orders are then picked, packed, and shipped.

PAY.  This last phase of the procurement process, Pay, lets organizations maximize the benefits of procure-to-pay automation. Suppliers are able to submit invoices electronically, which boosts financial accuracy and processing efficiencies.

Once a goods receipt is approved, a three-way match between the purchase order, the vendor invoice, and the receipt of the good is performed. If no discrepancies exist, the invoice is automatically approved and an okay-to-pay notification is sent to the finance team for payment disbursement. A common frustration for districts processing invoices is missing or incorrect information that often requires valuable time spent hunting down the correct data. If f inaccuracies are present, the invoice can be automatically rejected back to the supplier along with the reason for rejection.

Finance and Accounts Payable Departments want to ensure vendors are billing properly and every order contains the necessary data to reconcile. Integrated invoicing via XML facilitates information accuracy, consistency, and completion. As a result, payments go out the door more quickly.

More dollars for instruction.

School administrators need all the resources available to ensure their students are successful. Spending more than necessary on transactions or inefficient systems eats away hard dollars that could have been focused on expanding mission-centric educational programs.

With a proven ROI for school districts ranging from 2,000 to 200,000 students, the EqualLevel Marketplace will help your schools extend their budgets and make the most of every instructional dollar.

Blog

How to Cut Costs Per Invoice by 200 Percent

During an organization’s ordering process, there are typically a plethora of intricate steps and various factors to consider before an actual order can be placed.

Purchase orders (POs) often involve complex approval workflows, multiple budgets, hundreds if not thousands of suppliers and contracts, endless data, and millions of dollars.

Organizations often struggle with how to manage this process without losing both visibility and control.

It is an even more convoluted issue considering the widespread nature of procurement processes and their interdependence with other departments. These relationships make it far more challenging to determine where and how improvements can be made.

In a 2018 study conducted by PayStream Advisors, now Levvel Research, over 400 organizations were surveyed to determine the latest trends surrounding procurement management.

The following main points were uncovered:

  • Inadequate technology
  • Procedural differences across departments and/or locations
  • Frequent off-contract or off-budget spending
  • Too much paperwork
  • Disjointed systems
  • A lack of visibility and/or control over spending

Firms Benefit from Utilizing Email to Send POs

An organization’s control over spending is significantly impacted by PO format and how it is submitted to suppliers. Fortunately, most organizations surveyed are either using eProcurement software or email to send POs. These methods provide more visibility and greater control compared with those organizations using manual or uncontrolled methods, such as over the phone or ad-hoc online ordering.

Reduced Cycle Time: Greatest Benefit to Procurement Automation 

Most mainstream organizations have some kind of automation in place, whether it be a homegrown procurement tool or a built-in tool that is embedded within their ERP system. While these companies have a more efficient way of processing their POs than novice companies, their cost per PO still remains rather high.

Organizations utilizing cloud-based eProcurement tools have very little manual involvement in their procurement process and can therefore process POs at a much lower cost. In fact, their cost per invoice is almost 200 percent less when compared to that of novice and mainstream companies.

Aside from lowering processing costs, other major improvements and benefits to procurement automation include reduced cycle times, improved visibility and transparency, and enhanced control and security.

Is your firm looking to cut costs per invoice? Contact EqualLevel, a platform bringing sophistication to the procurement space.