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December 8, 2003

Changes will streamline purchasing on campus

By Jennifer McNulty

Buying goods and services on campus will soon be more like ordering a bestseller from Amazon.com than wading through the time-consuming and paper-intensive process currently in use.

The next forum will be held January 7 from noon to 1 p.m. The topic will be worker’s compensation; location to be announced.

That’s the vision driving the UCSC team charged with streamlining campus purchasing operations. Team members presented their work to an overflow crowd of about 100 people on Wednesday, December 3. The gathering was the latest forum sponsored by the Staff Advisory Board to keep campus employees informed about the work of the Executive Budget Committee.

The purchasing “transformation” project is designed to make both shopping and payment easier and more efficient. Ultimately, campus buyers will be able to browse and make selections online, use an Amazon-style “shopping cart” to place their orders, pay for goods and services electronically, and track delivery of goods online.

UCSC’s project coincides with the UC Office of the President’s systemwide effort to leverage the university’s buying power by negotiating contracts with vendors, said Lisa Rose, director of materiel management. The result will be a “pretty spiffy system for doing your purchasing,” she said.

The “e-procurement and strategic sourcing” team’s presentation was well-received by the audience, and team leaders fielded questions for more than 30 minutes. Additional questions will be addressed in coming weeks on the Staff Advisory Board web site.

Strategic sourcing refers to the process of identifying long-term supply needs, selecting suppliers, negotiating contracts, and monitoring the performance of vendors. Systemwide, the university intends to negotiate contracts for the most common purchases, including things like office and lab supplies, furniture, and food, said Rose. The majority of goods will not be covered by systemwide contracts but will be available for purchase through the same streamlined procedures, she said.

The new system will let campus buyers browse the selection online rather than flip through dozens of catalogs, said Rose, noting that UCSC is encouraging local vendors to participate in the bidding process. The campus spends about $5 million annually in Santa Cruz County, and UCSC wants to help local vendors remain competitive.

The Office of the President calculates that systemwide annual purchases total $150 million for lab supplies, $100 million for computers, $25 million for software, $20 million for food, and $30 million for hardware and tools, she said.

By participating in the systemwide effort, UCSC is able to lobby for its needs and preferences, including an emphasis on “green” products such as low-energy computer monitors and recycled paper.

Complementing the university’s systemwide strategic sourcing efforts, UCSC is shopping for a new computer system that will enable the campus to expand its electronic commerce, or “e-procurement,” activities. The campus currently uses about 10 different methods to buy and pay for goods and services, according to Linda Rhoads, director for communications and systems development.

The goal is to create one standard method and automate many of the steps that are currently handled manually, said Rhoads. Because the Banner financial system is being upgraded next year, implementation will begin next spring, but full implementation is not anticipated until early 2005. During the transition, campus buyers will use existing “low-tech methods” to access new, better prices negotiated by OP.

Rose’s team has estimated that UCSC will save $800,000 to $2.2 million annually by buying goods and services at negotiated prices, although full savings won’t be realized for five years or so, when the overhaul is complete. In addition, streamlined procedures could save staff time that will add up to about $400,000 in annual workload savings.

Asked if the savings will trigger layoffs, Tom Vani, vice chancellor of business and administrative services, said he wasn’t certain. The e-procurement project is certainly capable of generating savings without affecting jobs, but the state’s budget crisis may make additional cuts necessary anyway, he said.

The next forum will be held January 7 from noon to 1 p.m. The topic will be worker’s compensation; location TBA.

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