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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.

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5 Myths About eProcurement Systems (And Why They Aren’t True)

While the benefits of eProcurement are well known, there are still a number of agencies that continue to utilize outdated and inefficient systems for purchasing. From increased transparency and productivity, to proven hard dollar savings, eProcurement offers a solution for many of the challenges organizations face. The question remains then, why hasn’t eProcurement become more ubiquitous in agencies?  

Even in those organizations that have adopted online bidding and purchasing procedures, many still have not addressed the administrative inefficiencies that exist. As such, even fewer local organizations have been able to achieve total automation and extensive supplier enablement, which are paramount to harnessing the full power of eProcurement technologies.

Five Common eProcurement Myths

Low adoption rates can be attributed to several pervasive myths surrounding eProcurement. Most of these myths continue to persist despite advancements in technology rendering them moot today. 

MYTH 1:

With upfront costs for hardware as well as licensing fees, the price tag for implementation can easily stretch into the six figures. 

FACT: Today’s cloud computing offerings cost much less than their predecessors. Without hardware or licensing fees required, only subscription fees, eProcurement is much more financially accessible than it once was.

MYTH 2:

It is costly and complicated to integrate with an organization’s ERP system.

FACT: Advancements in technology have made integrating with an organization’s ERP easier than ever. In an American City & County article titled Removing The Obstacles To E-Procurement Adoption they report, “The availability (and low cost) of new technology standards such as XML have largely alleviated concerns about integrating e-procurement with back-end financial systems.” In fact, the syncing with an organization’s ERP allows items purchased to be assigned appropriate commodity codes to ensure transactions are posted appropriately for accounting purposes.

MYTH 3:

For organizations with small or non-existent IT departments, management of an eProcurement platform is a drain on resources. 

FACT: Cloud-based systems that offer a multi-vendor marketplace should only need to engage an organization’s IT department at initial ERP integration. eProcurement providers can easily manage supplier enablement, even for those vendors without existing punchout sites, eliminating the strain on buyer procurement and IT departments.

MYTH 4:

Due to additional costs to suppliers and complex onboarding processes, large suppliers will stop selling to local governments that adopt eProcurement measures. 

FACT: Today’s eProcurement marketplaces integrate all of an organization’s current suppliers at no extra cost to the supplier. What’s more, they can seamlessly incorporate suppliers regardless of technological capabilities or chosen platforms. In fact, eProcurement can streamline supplier engagement with the agency and help reduce operating costs for all parties involved. 

MYTH 5:

eProcurement systems prohibit organizations from working with small local businesses because it is either too costly for them, or just not feasible. 

FACT: eProcurement systems now have the ability to integrate suppliers regardless of their size or technological capabilities. In fact, the creation of fully-featured eCommerce stores for local businesses, specifically designed to support punchout commerce, have been responsible for propelling countless local suppliers into the world of eProcurement.

About EqualLevel’s eProcurement Marketplace

EqualLevel’s mission is to enable more effective and efficient public sector spend management that helps agencies streamline operations and optimize spending. EqualLevel combines the best eProcurement marketplace and eInvoicing capabilities into a seamless solution that is easier-to-use, faster to configure and deploy, and more cost-effective than any other procure-to-pay platform available today. With deep domain knowledge in procurement, a best- in-class cloud platform, a fast-growing network of public sector buyers and sellers, and industry-first innovations like ELSA (an AI-powered savings advisor), EqualLevel is leading the way in helping the public sector to increase the value of every dollar spent.   

Source: https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2011/08/01/removing-the-obstacles-to-e-procurement-adoption/

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Building a Case for eProcurement

By April Marzzacco – Strategic Sales Consultant, EqualLevel, Inc.

Purchasing departments across the country are reporting that they are busier than ever with staff shortages, budget cuts, and ongoing supply chain issues. It is not uncommon for agencies that are still limping along with manual entry to be struggling with the volume of purchase orders coming in and high bookkeeper burnout, while also dealing with maverick spend and non-compliant purchasing.

Whether it is these challenges or others that your department is facing, you may believe now is the time to find a solution that will streamline your purchasing process. Based on your research, and recommendations from other agencies, you may have already decided that implementing an eProcurement marketplace is just that solution. 

What is a business case?

Presenting a business case is considered the best way to introduce new initiatives to stakeholders. According to projectmanager.com, a business case is a presentation or document that outlines why a project should be executed, and how its benefits outweigh its costs. The goal of a business case is to convince stakeholders of a project’s value, and that the project you are proposing is a sound investment in which they should direct resources. To build a business case for EqualLevel’s eProcurement system, it is important to provide higher-ups with the information they need to understand both the importance of automating, and the return on investment (ROI). 

There are many recommended formats for structuring a business case but in general, it should cover the following five elements:

1. The Challenge

In this first section of your business case, you will outline your current process and the reasons why you believe change is necessary. Challenges you might include:

  • Manual entry is slowing down the purchase process
  • Manual entry causes more errors
  • Bookkeeper burnout 
  • Maverick spend
  • Non-compliant purchasing

You should also include the costs associated with your current system in this part of the business case. These could include any costs related to software, the wages paid to employees who manually enter requisitions and purchase orders, as well as the costs associated with continuing to overpay for goods and services. 

TIP: When tallying your current costs, if there is information you are not able to find within your organization, industry benchmarks should suffice. 

2. The Solution

In this section of your business case, you will present the solution you are recommending, namely, implementing EqualLevel’s software. This will be where you define what an eProcurement system is. Here is an example: “An eProcurement marketplace is integrated with an organization’s ERP system and offers a single, seamless platform that facilitates all of the processes associated with the shop-order-pay transaction. EqualLevel’s dashboard offers a consumer shopping-like experience where users can shop from all of their organization’s approved suppliers in one place. With this set-up, best value options are displayed and organizations report higher user acceptance and greater compliance.”

This is also the part of the business case where you will present how the software works. The best way to explain the functionality and capabilities of EqualLevel’s AI-powered software is to see it in use. EqualLevel creates customized software demos so you, and your organization’s stakeholders, can see the marketplace in action. The demos allow interested parties to get hands-on experience with the system and it lets them see how EqualLevel’s Savings Advisor (ELSA) locates savings in real-time, while a user shops.

3. The Cost 

EqualLevel is able to provide a worksheet to quickly calculate the results you can reasonably expect to achieve through deployment of its eProcurement marketplace. The worksheet divides savings into two areas: “soft” savings, where process costs will be reduced (the resources may be reallocated to other, more value-added, activities), and “hard” savings, where costs will actually be reduced (using ELSA). Once you have calculated your expected savings, you can subtract that from the cost of the marketplace software to determine your ROI. 

4. The Benefits

The next section in a business case should include the benefits your organization can anticipate from implementing your initiative. In this case the benefits of an eProcurement marketplace include:

  • 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.

5. The Timeline

Generally, an eProcurement marketplace can be implemented in 60 to 90 days and often a return on investment can be achieved within a single fiscal year. EqualLevel can provide a generic timeline for implementation to present to stakeholders or an estimated timeline can be created that is tailored to your organization’s unique situation.

Contact EqualLevel

A well-organized and thoughtful business case could be the difference between being able to implement an eProcurement marketplace, or not. Should you need help with this process, or for more information, go to www.equallevel.com.

April Marzzacco is a Strategic Sales Consultant for EqualLevel where she brings over 20 years of eCommerce and procurement experience to her role. Prior to EqualLevel, she served as a Business Process Analyst at the Lee County School District where she was responsible for production support, analysis, process documentation, training, and process improvement. She also worked in the district’s Procurement Department where she was instrumental in integrating both the EqualLevel marketplace and an eSourcing platform.

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How EqualLevel GO “Levels the Playing Field” for Small/Disadvantaged Businesses

When making purchases, procurement professionals expect the same functionality they experience as consumers shopping online at home. They want a seamless experience between their purchasing or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, and their approved vendors’ most up-to-date product and pricing information. Because setting up a connection between a vendor site and an organization’s financial system can be a complex undertaking, public sector organizations often inadvertently favor larger, more sophisticated vendors. They usually have just a few catalogs from large vendors integrated with their organization’s ERP and those businesses get the bulk of their dollars.

HOW CAN SMALL/DISADVANTAGED VENDORS COMPETE AGAINST THE BIG GUYS, ESPECIALLY IF THEY DON’T HAVE AN ONLINE PRESENCE ALREADY?

EqualLevel GO gives 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 small companies to appear alongside their larger competitors.

A punchout store is a web-based, supplier-managed catalog storefront. The punchout store can be custom built on top of an existing eCommerce site or, more commonly, managed for the supplier by a third-party solution provider. Buying organization employees can access the supplier’s punchout store directly from their eProcurement marketplace, also known as “punching out” to the supplier’s site, or “punchout.” Punchout allows the organization to maintain full control over order approval and payment.

HOW PUNCHOUT WORKS

The customer connects, or “punches out,” from their company’s system to a supplier’s eCommerce site. The punchout site identifies the buying organization and displays the appropriate products and prices. The shopper searches and selects goods they wish to purchase and adds them to their cart on the punchout site. At the end of the shopping session, the shopper checks out, which sends descriptions and prices of the goods placed in their cart to their ERP system.

BENEFITS OF EQUALLEVELGO

EqualLevel GO’s punchout commerce site is scalable, easy-to-use and administer, and  is provided at no charge to sellers when combined with EqualLevel’s buy-side eProcurement Marketplace solution. EqualLevel GO customers experience tangible benefits, such as:

Increased Average Order Value

A punchout catalog store, combined with up-selling and cross-selling, is a powerful combination that increases total and average order value. Suppliers can show related and complementary products in their punchout store shopping cart and can anticipate and make adjustments that will increase the average sale.

Greater Ability to Attract Big Customers

When it comes to gaining large customers, a punchout catalog store is a win-win. Big enterprises are often on the lookout for suppliers who can allow them to order directly through their ERP procurement system. For many large organizations, punchout is a ”must-have” for engagement.

Improved Sales Productivity

A punchout catalog store streamlines the sales process because it produces more accurate orders. This means less time is spent correcting orders, which improves response times and overall productivity.

Improved Customer Relationships

By simplifying the purchasing process, suppliers strengthen customer relationships by receiving and responding to orders more quickly.

Small/disadvantaged customers like Midwest Technology Products, GBEX, and El Paso Office Supply have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, EqualLevel GO to ensure their products are showing up in the search results of big buyers. “Every year since creating our punchout store, sales have increased. Even when a customer doesn’t end up placing an order online, more often than not they’ve visited the site beforehand to learn and discover, before picking up the phone to order,” said Robin Peterson of Midwest Technology Products.

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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/.