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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.

Blog

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/

Blog

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.

News

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

Blog

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

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

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

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

What is a best-in-breed solution?

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

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

The Benefits of Best-In-Breed Solutions

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

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

The Best Solution for Your Organization

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

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

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

Blog

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.

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.

Blog

Why School Districts Need a Procure-to-Pay Marketplace

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

What is a Procure-to-Pay Marketplace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More dollars for instruction.

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

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

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How to Cut Costs Per Invoice by 200 Percent

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

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

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

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

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

The following main points were uncovered:

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

Firms Benefit from Utilizing Email to Send POs

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

Reduced Cycle Time: Greatest Benefit to Procurement Automation 

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

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

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

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