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Case Study

Arlington ISD Aims to Save Time, Money with New eProcurement Software

Arlington Independent School District (ISD) has completed implementation of its new eProcurement software. Arlington ISD worked with developer EqualLevel to implement the software with the goal of streamlining the district’s purchasing processes. 

About Arlington ISD

Arlington ISD is the 11th-largest school district in Texas. It is located in Arlington, Texas, 13 miles east of Fort Worth and 20 miles west of downtown Dallas. The district serves 60,000 students spread among 76 campuses including 13 high schools, 10 junior high schools, and 53 elementary schools. They are the largest employer in Arlington, with a staff of approximately 8,500 and an annual budget of over $550 million.

In February 2022, Arlington ISD contracted with EqualLevel to integrate its eProcurement software with the district’s financial system, Frontline TEAMS. Working with district Director of Purchasing Lisa Phillips, set-up was completed in May 2022 and implementation was completed in August 2022. The district has already started seeing benefits, including capturing immediate savings that are being redirected back into the classroom.

One Marketplace for All Approved Contracts

Arlington ISD’s new marketplace brings together the catalogs of 28 district-approved vendors into a single, user-friendly interface. The new system provides a consumer shopping-like experience for teachers and staff. They will now utilize a single search box to comparison shop across district-approved contracts from both local and national vendors and add items to their cart, where they can then be transferred to administrators to approve and execute the purchase.  Administrators no longer have to look up items for end-users, returning valuable time to their busy days.

Savings

Savings with the new eProcurement marketplace are projected to be significant for Arlington ISD. The system will put an end to non-compliant purchases and maverick spend by limiting purchases to only district-approved vendors. That alone will help them save by ensuring that every purchase is benefiting from contracted prices. However, the software also includes an AI-powered savings advisor, ELSA (EqualLevel Savings Advisor), that automatically identifies, in real-time, the lowest price for items, or best available substitute, from approved suppliers. Arlington ISD’s Executive Leadership is particularly excited about ELSA’s ability to uncover potential savings for the district.

Accounting

On the accounting side, seamless integration into the Arlington ISD’s financial system means requisitions and purchase orders will be automatically captured, eliminating the need for manual entry and thus freeing up district staff for more high-value tasks. The district is already processing hundreds of POs per month through their marketplace and plans to expand to service categories later this year. Leadership expects this number to grow as end-user adoption continues to increase.

Case Study

Purchasing Department Strives to Get More Done in Less Time

For years, the Purchasing Department at Mesquite Independent School District (ISD) had been searching for a way to maximize staff time and budget dollars with technology. The procurement process at district campuses included a mix of manual and electronic processes, and some requisitions even had to be handwritten and routed to several team-members for approval. It was difficult for staff to obtain multiple quotes for compliance purposes, much less comparison shop for best values. 

eProcurement: The solution they were looking for.

In summer 2021, Mesquite ISD’s Purchasing Department leadership, made up of Director of Purchasing Darci Hooten, and Senior Buyer Kelly Burks, met with EqualLevel to discuss its procure-to-pay compliance platform. Mesquite ISD learned EqualLevel could create a platform that would offer them easy access digitally to approved vendor partners, as well as commodity codes at the product level, all in one location. They quickly saw how EqualLevel’s platform could potentially save the district thousands of dollars in both time and money. 

“Seeing maverick spending reigned in would be huge,” said Hooten. “With the current system being so tedious and labor intensive, the marketplace could potentially speed up everything for everybody.” 

Other features

The district was also excited to learn about other features of the marketplace:

  • Compliance: The marketplace would drive end-users to the district’s approved contracts.
  • Community Inclusion: The marketplace would give end-users the ability to shop from local vendors so more budget dollars remain in the community.
  • Savings: The marketplace’s AI-powered EqualLevel Savings Advisor (ELSA) would identify the best price among all district-approved suppliers for users while they shop. 

In February 2022, the initiative became critical when a new district policy mandated the use of commodity codes on all requisitions and purchase orders. In a typical month the district was processing between 2,200 and 2,500 purchase orders. Hooten and Burks quickly realized campus staff simply could not absorb the additional coding work and faced the reality that the task would likely fall to their own overtaxed department. They were relieved to hear EqualLevel could sync the district’s commodity codes, automating the task and eliminating the need for any manual intervention. Now it was time for a decision: either automate to sync the codes, or hire a new team member to take on the extra work. 

Mesquite Chooses EqualLevel

In mid-2022, Mesquite ISD chose EqualLevel to automate its procurement process, including full integration with its Munis ERP system. “The ability to lessen the load at the campus level and execute the commodity code project were critical points in getting buy-in from our CFO,” said Hooten. With the commodity code crosswalk, the savings that would be generated, and the flexibility and ease-of-use at the campus level, procurement would be able to deliver on multiple district initiatives in one program. “We conservatively estimate 10 to 15 percent savings just in hard dollars. That doesn’t include all the soft savings associated with the time our departments and campus staff will be saving,” said Hooten. “It’s going to be a major game changer.”

Update

In fall 2022 EqualLevel developers began building the commodity code crosswalk for Mesquite ISD. Unfortunately, they discovered the district’s financial system, Munis, would not support passing the code. EqualLevel was able to quickly create a custom solution for the district so their codes could be converted into their system. This work-around allowed Mesquite ISD to still meet its target go-live date. 

Case Study

Small Business Sees Yearly Sales Increases Since Creating Their Punchout Site

Midwest Technology Products

There are not many businesses today that can claim to have employed five generations of people from the same family but, after being in business for over 113 years, Midwest Technology Products can say just that. Located in Sioux City, Iowa, Midwest Technology Products is a small (just under 20 employees), woman and minority-owned business that offers 11,000 products from 700 vendors. They work exclusively with educators worldwide to provide them with quality products, furniture and supplies for makerspaces and fab labs, as well as Career & Tech Ed and STEM instructional spaces. Through their unmatched customer service, they have built relationships with a broad network of school purchasers including teachers, administrators, purchasing agents, and curriculum directors.

Unlike a lot of their competitors, Midwest goes the extra step of providing consulting for the layout and equipment requirements of their clients’ projects. They have designed and installed hundreds of specialty workspaces filled with durable, trade quality tools and equipment and their project management team can see a project through from specifications to coordinated delivery. They also offer kits so customers have everything they need to make labs or makerspaces on their own. In addition, their products are unique; many of the items in their catalog cannot be found anywhere else online.

Midwest Partners With EqualLevel to Create eCommerce Site

In 2013, in an effort to take their business to the next level, Midwest Technology Products partnered with EqualLevel to create a punchout system for their 500-page catalog. EqualLevel’s catalog management software, EqualLevel GO, offers small OEMs or distributors who may have limited IT capabilities the opportunity to establish a punchout catalog store, or punchout store, that integrates with ERPs. This allows the products from small companies to appear alongside those of their bigger competitors in the eProcurement marketplaces of large-scale buying organizations such as purchasing cooperatives and school districts. 

To transfer their catalog, Robin Peterson, former President, was tasked with creating the line item data for Midwest’s 11,000 products including creating key words, sourcing images, and writing short- and long-form descriptions. The information was then sent to EqualLevel and through EqualLevel GO, they were able to create Midwest’s punchout system.

The punchout store has opened doors for Midwest that were previously closed to them due to their lack of eCommerce capabilities. They have been able to get in front of public sector organizations as well as other markets previously inaccessible to them. It has also improved their bottom line in other ways. Just through having all the specifications of their 11,000 products online, they have been able to reach more customers and make more sales. “Even when people don’t order through the website, and call in an order instead, our eProcurement marketplace has still served a purpose as a marketing tool. Most of the time the client will have used the site to learn and discover first, before picking up the phone to order.” 

Since engaging with EqualLevel to make the move to eCommerce, Midwest has not looked back. “Every year since creating our punchout system we have seen sales increase,” said Peterson. By utilizing EqualLevel GO to facilitate the creation of their eCommerce site, they now reach more customers in their target market than ever before.

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.

Case Study

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.

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.

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

Purchasing Execs Share Their Experiences Extending ERP With eProcurement 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 eProcurement marketplace in 2015. The eProcurement platform technology was designed by EqualLevel, a leading provider of public sector procure-to-pay solutions.

“A commitment to open, fair and respectful engagement with all of the City’s suppliers has always been a foundational principle of the City of El Paso’s purchasing and strategic sourcing department,” said Collins. “But we have really taken our supplier relationships to the next level since we deployed the EP marketplace.

Suppliers clearly appreciate how much more economical it is for them to support our business through this technology and they see the effort we have put into onboarding them to the platform.

So, I think we saw the payback for that effort when supply chains were broken and we were the first customers suppliers would call with extra inventory. This was unquestionably an unexpected benefit of the marketplace implementation, and a real blessing, too.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder
Collins explained that his primary goal in implementing their EP marketplace was to help his team “work smarter, not harder” to leverage the savings potential of the 13 purchasing cooperatives the City of El Paso City Council had approved to fulfill the City’s procurement needs. El Paso is the nineteenth largest city in the United States and Collins and his team are charged with sourcing the supplies and services necessary for the City’s nearly 26 departments that support roughly 700,000 citizens.

“The use of cooperatives is a best practice for city management,” he noted. Unfortunately, when the City Council first approved the use of the 13 co-ops, Collins’s team was hamstrung by legacy processes that kept them from reaping the cost savings and operational efficiencies the co-op contracts made possible. “We were still primarily using paper catalogs or going online to individual vendor sites to find supplies,” Collins said. “It was really inefficient both for our internal users and for our vendors.”

One Cloud-Based, Cross-Searchable Storefront
With the EP marketplace, Collins saw an opportunity to utilize technology to streamline access to approved suppliers and to reduce product and administrative costs. The platform consolidates punch-out and Web storefront links into one cloud-based, cross-searchable storefront, allowing users to comparison shop across online sites, to source from approved contracts, and to ensure they are following correct compliance steps. The solution spans the entire procurement lifecycle, from punch-out commerce solutions through requisitions/shopping for goods or services, approval workflow, catalog and contract pricing, purchase order automation, and receipt and invoice matching.

Cook County and the City of Houston
As the former Chief Procurement Officer for both Cook County, Illinois, and the City of Houston, Lourdes Coss was fortunate to never have to contend with a pandemic. But, like Collins, she experienced the frustration of trying to improve compliance and efficiencies with tools and processes that were either outdated, or not suited for the needs of a modern, strategic sourcing program.

For example, while with Cook County, Coss noted that her efforts to realize savings from strategic contracts was stymied by a lack of visibility into the true extent of “maverick” off-contract activity. “Whenever a purchase bypassed the approved contract it was a missed opportunity to capture savings. But the processes we had in place did not allow us to track the items purchased outside of contracts.”

Inefficient use of staff resources was also a significant issue for Coss’s Cook County team. “Our staff was spending more than 80 percent of their time on transactions that accounted for only about 16 percent of our spend.”

After deploying the EqualLevel eProcurement platform, Coss realized the system’s automated reports on items purchased provided valuable data that enabled her team to make more informed decisions.

Cycle times dropped from between 60 and 90 days, to just one day, and deliveries that used to take up to two weeks, were received in just one or two days.

By reducing staff time on small-order POs, cycle times on larger projects improved as well.

Coss Turns to an e-Procurement Marketplace Solution Again for the City of Houston
The e-procurement implementation was so successful in Cook County that Coss once again turned to EqualLevel when she was tapped to help centralize the procurement operations for the City of Houston— the fourth largest city in the U.S., with more than 2.3 million residents. One major difference between the Cook County and City of Houston deployments was Houston’s use of a P-Card Program. Coss noted that since the e-procurement solution they implemented leverages existing ERP business rules, the City of Houston had no issues enabling the use of P-Cards for approved contracts in their marketplace.

Quick Adaptation
Both Coss and Collins reported that users quickly acclimated to the new marketplace technology and processes because the platform’s e-commerce experience is modeled after typical consumer online shopping. “Our users appreciate the opportunity to obtain the goods and services they need without having to formally submit documentation through procurement,” said Collins. Coss added that because the system eliminated procurement delay issues, goodwill from end-users was immediate, which helped accelerate the momentum of the change processes in both the City of Houston and Cook County.

Naturally, there are always those who resist change. “In the early days, there were a few users who told us outright that they would never use the marketplace,” Collins related. “Ironically, some of those same individuals are now our most prolific users and the biggest advocates of the platform. To me, this is such an incredible testament to the value of this solution.”

User Buy-in Through Outreach
To ensure maximum buy-in, Collins and Coss both executed aggressive outreach efforts that included a variety of training workshops and system demonstrations. Collins and his team first introduced the system internally to department heads and other deputy city managers. “We felt it was important to get buy-in from the top of the organization first,” he noted. From there, they implemented an extensive demonstration schedule with different departments and then worked with individuals as needed.

Coss noted that in both of her experiences with the e-procurement marketplace solution, the implementation of the system was “fairly simple,” but she advised others considering the technology to take their time and make sure end-users have a chance to “digest” the change and become comfortable with it.

Supplier Outreach and Onboarding
With suppliers, the City of El Paso team took a two-pronged approach. First, after a vigorous spend analysis, Collins’s team reached out to key suppliers and invited them to join the marketplace. They also sent notices to the cooperative agencies, encouraging them to invite members with a City Council-awarded cooperative contract to join. Team members Veronica Gomez, Software Specialist, and Lupe Valenzuela, Business Systems Analyst, then worked to onboard those suppliers who wanted to participate.

Valenzuela noted that while some suppliers already had a sophisticated e-commerce capability and full, online punch-out systems, others barely had a corporate Web presence, and little to no capacity to transact online. “In the beginning a lot of these smaller vendors were worried they did not have the resources to develop a Web catalog.”

But over the years, with support from their platform provider’s supplier enablement group, the El Paso team has successfully onboarded hundreds of suppliers. “EqualLevel has been very supportive in helping us to bring suppliers into the marketplace,” said Gomez. “The whole process has given us the opportunity to interact more directly with many of these suppliers, and as Bruce noted, we now have such great relationships with them.”

In addition to the technical onboarding efforts, Collins’s team also holds regular workshops through different partners, like the Chamber of Commerce, to help local suppliers understand the benefits of joining a cooperative, and how they can engage with the City of El Paso through the marketplace. “Typically, when an organization does a contract for office supplies, for example, it is going to be with one of the big box stores because of their pricing models,” Collins noted. “But having the co-op contracts in the marketplace, we have the flexibility to funnel some business to some of the smaller, and minority- and women-owned businesses while still getting the quality goods and services our users depend on.”

As a result of these various supplier outreach efforts, the number of suppliers participating in the City of El Paso’s marketplace has grown from 28 to more than 300. While all cooperative members can join the marketplace, they are not obligated to do so, Collins stressed. “If a supplier has a cooperative contract and they choose not to join the marketplace, we can still purchase from that supplier,” he said. “But there is no question that it is more efficient for both sides to do business through the marketplace, and those that have joined have clearly found it to be beneficial.”

Results
In 2015, the first year the e-procurement platform was in use, Collins’s department issued 694 purchase orders through the marketplace for a total spend of $365,000. In fiscal year 2020, more than 6,000 purchase orders were issued through the marketplace, accounting for over $38 million in spending. The cost of issuing a purchase order dropped from an average of $132 to $15, and time and effort to execute a purchase order dropped by an estimated 87 percent.

The City of El Paso’s implementation of the marketplace has also dramatically reduced incidences of rogue spending that put the department’s compliance at risk. In fact, Collins said that when the system is utilized, he is “100 percent confident” that the spend is within compliance. “I know 100 percent seems unreal, but our ability to do the compliance before the contract is input and loaded into the system ensures that users are only ordering items that have been awarded to the supplier. And our team is dedicated to monitoring this monthly to look out for expired contracts, etc.”

Ongoing Enhancements
Unlike many technology investments that begin depreciating in value as soon as they are implemented, the EP marketplace solution continues to get better and more valuable with use. “The technology is very flexible and scalable, and as purchasing folks across the country utilize the system, more meaningful features are continually added,” Collins explained.

“A Real Game Changer for Us”
Looking back to when they each were first introduced to concept of e-procurement, both Coss and Collins say that the solutions they have deployed have far exceeded any benefits they could have hoped for. “I have implemented the EqualLevel system twice already and if the opportunity arises in the future, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again,” Coss said. Collins concluded, “Imagine having departments that source all of the items approved in a budget through one tool. Or picture yourself doing a demo for City Council and the calculations of the cost avoidance to date starts ringing up to the millions of dollars. This is our experience with this platform. It has been a real game changer for us.”

This article was first published on the “NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement” blog. The original article can be found here.

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.