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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. 

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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)

By Eric Gould – North American Director of Sales, EqualLevel, Inc.

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/

As North American Director of Sales, Eric Gould leads the overall sales and marketing efforts for Equal Level’s procure-to-pay solutions. Eric brings over 30 years of public and private sector sales experience to his role. Prior to joining EqualLevel, Eric served as Director of Strategic Accounts at goSafe, a regional Safety PPE supplier, and before that worked as a Program Manager for U.S. Communities, supporting public agencies in a five-state area.

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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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McKinsey Endorses Digitizing Procurement and Payables to Optimize Public Sector Savings

By Orville Bailey, CEO, EqualLevel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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