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City Migrates to Best-of-Breed E-Commerce Solution, User Acceptance Soars

Boasting highly rated schools, low tax rates, affordable housing, and a dynamic parks and recreation system, the City of Sioux Falls provides its citizens with a great place to live, work, learn and play. It is no wonder that in 2020, the city was voted tenth among the 100 best places to live in the U.S. (livability.com). Situated in the middle of the Great Plains, the City of Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota, with a population of 180,927. Its progressive city government, with a 2022 operating budget of $281 million, is led by Mayor Paul TenHaken. The Mayor has continually pledged his commitment to investing city dollars into technology to improve processes. 

In 2021, despite having an end-to-end punchout system in place, the City of Sioux Falls’s procurement department was still processing thousands of purchase orders annually. The city’s punchout system was ineffective and therefore not being utilized by employees in the field. Not only was it clunky, it lacked functionality, it was hard to access, and users found the checkout process cumbersome. It was easier to send requisitions for purchases to procurement then to try to make purchases through the system they had in place. The city was also limited in the number of catalogs the system could employ, leaving options for products also limited. Additionally, the procurement department found running reports to be a lengthy process in their former system.

Purchasing Manager Scott Rust and Business Analyst Matt Newman knew that if they ever wanted to have a tool that made purchasing easier and that would be embraced by city employees, they would have to find one that was much more user-friendly. They set out to find a best-in-breed procurement platform that could provide an easy and effective shopping experience for end-users. 

Because user acceptance was the top priority for the city, they evaluated their options based on end-user needs. Rust and Newman created a list of features they surmised city departments would need in a new system. Then, they took that list to city employees to see if they were on the right track, and if there was anything that they may have missed. Based on the feedback they received they modified their list. “We listened to our end-users. We wanted them to be in the driver’s seat,” said Rust. Besides end-user acceptance, it was also important to the procurement department that the new system offer robust reporting capabilities. 

The City of Sioux Falls set out to find the “best-of-breed” eProcurement system. They conducted a formal evaluation of systems recommended by their counterparts at various schools, cities, and states. One system that was endorsed, the EqualLevel marketplace, seemed to check all of the city’s boxes. With its ability to provide users with an easy and effective shopping experience with unlimited catalogs in one centralized location, along with its extensive reporting capabilities, EqualLevel’s system seemed like a win for both the city’s end-users and the procurement department alike. During a demo, the city looked at every facet of the software to determine ease-of-use for the end-user. The checkout process was simple and seamless. On the administrative side, they found the workflow worked well for routing purchases over a certain threshold to procurement. They were also impressed with the system’s dashboard and reporting features.

Selling the product to the city’s CFO turned out to be an easy process for Rust and Newman. EqualLevel’s marketplace would cost less than their current product and it had a better ROI, making it a “no brainer,” said Newman. Having the ability to use a single sign-on through the city’s intranet, as well as the security certificate EqualLevel has in place, were selling points for the city’s IT department.

The City of Sioux Falls ultimately decided to partner with EqualLevel and signed a contract in fall 2021. The implementation process began with a kick-off meeting between the city and EqualLevel where the project was divided into stages and an aggressive timeline was established. The city supplied EqualLevel with the names of the suppliers that needed to be set up in the system. “EqualLevel worked closely with us and each of our suppliers. Some suppliers were more familiar with punchout than others. EqualLevel worked step-by-step with the companies that needed more help with the process,” Newman shared. In keeping with their timeline, the city was able to fully rollout the new system in April 2022. “The process was not too cumbersome at all,” said Rust. “We were surprised how fast it was adopted and how fast it earned a prominent spot on our city’s intranet.”

The City of Sioux Falls decided to launch its EqualLevel marketplace utilizing its pCard program for payment. Since the launch of the city’s new EqualLevel marketplace, there have been more orders, contract compliance has increased, and there has been less maverick spending.  “Now that we have been able to add so many more catalogs, the spend has gone up on contract considerably,” said Rust. In the three months the system has been in use, over $350,000 in spend has been executed through the marketplace. In the last 30 days alone, there have been over $30,000 in purchases. “EqualLevel was able to create an easy-to-use, Amazon-like shopping experience for the city. EqualLevel’s flexibility allowed us to create the system we need. The checkout process is seamless. From the field to the office, everyone can use it,” said Rust.

Today, with the implementation of the EqualLevel program, the city has removed over 600  purchase orders from the system. Buyers no longer have to wait for procurement department approval before making purchases. “Having 600 plus requisitions out of our system has freed up procurement employees to do other things. With supply chain issues and federal money that has become available, procurement is not getting any less busy. It truly couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Rust.

The city currently has 20 supplier catalogs onboarded with plans for more in the future. The fact that there is no limit to the number of catalogs that can be added equates to time savings for employees who can now utilize the procurement software as a one-stop-shop. Of the suppliers that have been onboarded, 12 have brick and mortar stores within city limits, allowing more of the city’s dollars to be kept locally. “Doing business with local retailers has been a priority for our city. With EqualLevel’s tool we are able to satisfy that goal,” said Rust.

On the administrative side, the marketplace’s dashboard includes reports that show up-to-date spend for the month or for the week, or by user. Easy-to-run reports and the ability to customize ad hoc reports means the product is not just a fit for departments in the field, but also for city administrators.

With 250 active users, the city has achieved a 70% user acceptance rate which is better than they had anticipated. End-users are taking ownership of the system including suggesting catalogs to add and providing ideas to make the software work even better for them. “With everything in one system, users are motivated to use it. People feel good about saving money with the built-in savings advisor, ELSA, and administrators like seeing their savings accumulate  through the ELSA reporting,” said Newman.

The ease of using the pCards through the marketplace has provided other benefits as well. “The rebate with our pCard program has grown exponentially through the increased use of the marketplace,” said Newman. “This additional rebate further increases the product’s ROI.”

Now that phase one implementation has been completed, Rust and Newman look forward to watching the marketplace continue to evolve and to seeing the savings achieved after the system has been in place for a full 12 months. Phase two plans are in place to add more catalogs and more users. “The system will continue to evolve and get better as we use it. The possibilities are endless,” said Rust.

The city sought to build a best-of-breed procurement solution for their community and they believe they have found it. “The product provides ease-of-use for both the end-user and the administrator. The analytics of the tool are amazing. We now have so much information at our fingertips.” Rust and Newman are excited about the future and the growing benefits that the EqualLevel marketplace will provide.

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McKinsey Endorses Digitizing Procurement and Payables to Optimize Public Sector Savings

By Orville Bailey, CEO, EqualLevel.

Every year the state, local and education (SLED) procurement market spends a staggering $1.5 trillion dollars annually on goods and services. In 2018, after analyzing more than 700 procurement efforts, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company concluded that at 28 percent, the public sector has the greatest potential for savings of any other sector (How smarter purchasing can improve public-sector performance).  In round dollars this adds up to the public sector potentially being able to save $400 billion through optimizing procurement. 

According to McKinsey, online tools can reduce administrative burdens. And there’s no question just the streamlining of operations alone could save hundreds of millions in non value-added time. Procure-to-pay automation improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the procurement and payables processes by digitizing manual tasks and leveraging transparency to improve decision-making. The public sector has long been plagued by the inefficiencies and costs associated with manual requisitioning, ordering, invoice reconciliation, and payment processing.

Innovating with a best-of-breed eProcurement and eInvoicing platform optimizes execution across all processes associated with the rec-order-pay transaction. A well-designed solution helps procurement and finance to streamline operations. The benefits of eProcurement and eInvoicing are numerous:

Efficiency: Automating leads to faster cycle times and improved productivity. The elimination of paper and manual steps frees up time for employees to focus on more critical initiatives.

Cost Savings: With all approved vendors housed in one centralized location, best value products can be easily identified.

Compliance: By automating the three-bid process and showing only contracted vendors, an eProcurement marketplace helps organizations comply with state and federal regulations.

Transparency: Robust reporting capabilities help ensure purchases conform to established policies. Real-time visibility into purchasing activities discourages maverick spending and provides leadership with valuable insights.

There is no doubt “the use of modern technology can take a big chunk off of public-sector bills” (Now is the Time for Procurement to Lead Value Capture) and the time to automate procure-to-pay is now. By improving efficiencies, the SLED market has the opportunity to generate savings that can help to offset the impact of COVID-19 and other budget pressures they are facing. 

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TIPS Purchasing Cooperative Automates Member Purchasing With EqualLevel’s 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.

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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.

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EqualLevel Congratulates 2022 NPI Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award Recipients

EqualLevel is pleased to announce that five of its customers have been honored with the prestigious 2022 National Procurement Institute’s Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award. We are proud to partner with each of these amazing procurement organizations. The value they deliver to their organizations and the public sector is unmatched, and their accolades are richly deserved.

The National Procurement Institute (NPI) is a non-profit organization that serves public procurement professionals. Their Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award recognizes organizational excellence in public procurement. Recipients were selected based on five categories: innovation, professionalism, productivity, eProcurement, and leadership. The AEP is the premier award in public procurement.

EqualLevel congratulates the following entities on their important achievement:

NIP AEG Award Winners

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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.

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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.

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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/.

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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.

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Purchasing Execs Share Their Experiences extending ERP with an e-Procurement Marketplace

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when stockpiles of critical supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer and toilet tissue were quickly diminishing, and options for replenishment were growing scarcer by the day, Bruce Collins, Purchasing Director for the City of El Paso in Texas, received an unexpected phone call. A supplier from one of the City’s approved purchasing cooperatives wanted to know if Collins was interested in buying some extra PPE he had on hand due to a last-minute order cancellation. “I told him I would take the whole truckload,” Collins recounted.

That call, and others like it that Collins received over the past nine months, was more than just a lucky break. Collins contends that these goodwill gestures were the result of the strong relationships his department has fostered with vendors over the years, and in particular, since launching the City’s e-procurement (EP) marketplace in 2015. The e-procurement platform technology was designed by EqualLevel, a leading provider of public sector procure-to-pay solutions.

Read full NIGP blog post

 

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