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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.

Blog

Utilizing Technology to Decrease Bookkeeper Turnover in the Public Sector

In the U.S. today, employee turnover is rising while at the same time the number of applicants for vacant positions is falling. According to a 2021 study by NEOGOV, “about a quarter of all current public sector job postings are getting seven applications or fewer,” much less than the 25 applicants they need to land one hire, according to NEOGOV.

None of this is news to public sector business departments, who have long struggled with high turnover rates for bookkeepers. But with hiring prospects so bleak, shouldn’t agencies be considering ways to retain the staff they have? 

In a 2021 article by routefifty.com, it was reported that “public-sector organizations devote considerable resources to hiring, but they often overlook retention.” This despite the fact that the financial impact of training and replacing staff members can come with a high price tag for organizations. According to the same article, the costs associated with turnover can be as much as “150% of (an) employee’s annual salary.” 

Public Sector Bookkeeping

Bookkeeper turnover continues to be a problem in many public sector agencies. The manual entry involved in the job can be both tedious and time-consuming. It can leave bookkeepers with little time to perform other functions required of their position, and is often cited as a contributor to job dissatisfaction. 

Bookkeepers are expected to be knowledgeable of, and to follow, policies and procedures for purchasing goods and services (i.e., correct use of bids, contracts, supporting document requirements, etc.), as well as a host of other competing responsibilities. Among their numerous duties, ordering supplies sits close to the top of the list and requires them to follow specific procedures while at the same time, in a lot of cases, having to use manual processes to enter lengthy requisitions. This alone can take up a large part of their day and come with a high margin for error.

In many organizations, bookkeepers are also tasked with general administrative duties on top of their already overwhelming responsibilities. Despite the important nature of their work and the stress involved, in the United States, the average salary for bookkeepers is $45,560, below the national average salary of $51,480 reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lean Six Sigma Project: Bookkeeper Burnout

In 2018, a team vying for the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification conducted a survey to uncover why bookkeepers employed at one of the largest school districts in the country were leaving. The turnover rate at 26 percent was significantly higher than the widely thought “acceptable rate” of 10 percent for turnover. 

Serving close to 100,000 students, the school district employed 85 bookkeepers working in 119 schools. The 26 percent turnover rate amounted to roughly 22 employees leaving their positions per year. The impact for the district in terms of cost of hiring and training, additional support needed after training, and purchasing errors and delays, was sizable.

The Lean Six Sigma team distributed a survey to the district’s 85 bookkeepers, of which 75 percent responded. Almost half reported that they had considered leaving their job, citing stress as the biggest issue they had with their position. 19 bookkeepers responded that they did not have enough time to complete their bookkeeper responsibilities each day, that the amount of work they were expected to perform was not reasonable, and that they did not receive adequate training.

April Marzzacco, a team member on the project, said of the results, “while suspected, the results were still shocking. The number of bookkeepers that were thinking of leaving due to job dissatisfaction was an eye opener for the district. We knew we needed to make improvements to increase their satisfaction, or face a hiring crisis.”

Technology as a Solution

In a lot of organizations, bookkeeper turnover can be traced back to the largely manual nature of the position. In many agencies still operating under a paper-based system, the procurement process is laborious, time-consuming, and error-prone. One of the solutions proposed by the Lean Six Sigma team as a result of their Green Belt project, was to implement new technology to automate purchasing at the district. Automating can lead to faster cycle times and improved productivity, while the elimination of paper and manual steps can free up time for employees to focus on more critical initiatives. “We discussed how using technology to automate some of the bookkeepers’ processes would allow them to spend less time on menial tasks and more time on value added projects. We believed that this would lead to greater job satisfaction and an increase in intrinsic reward,” said Marzzacco.

What is eProcurement?

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. Because an eProcurement system houses all vendors under a single interface, users are limited to purchasing from only those vendors that have been approved. This allows the eProcurement marketplace to be utilized by more employees, resulting in less reliance on bookkeepers for ordering. It also drastically cuts down on manual entry, allowing bookkeepers to focus on the more value-added duties of their position. 

After deploying an eProcurement marketplace in her own school district, Berea City Schools’s bookkeeper Becky Snyder reported the new system was straightforward, affordable, and required minimal user training. “It’s simple, just like we shop online at home,” she said. 

In order to combat bookkeeper burnout, organizations must consider automating procurement to eliminate time-consuming manual entry and allow other end-users to make compliant purchases. An effective eProcurement system can help with bookkeeper retention, saving agencies both time and money. 

Sources:

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

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.

Blog

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. 

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.