eProcurement | Viewpoint
eProcurement: Towards Technology and Culture Change
A Q&A with University of Missouri System VP for Finance and Administration Nikki Krawitz
The relative success of eProcurement at any institution often depends on how the procurement department works not only with the technology, but also with the end users in academic departments, in research programs, or elsewhere in the university or system. CT asked UM VP for Finance and Administration Nikki Krawitz (photo, right) for her insights.
Campus Technology: We’ve heard how at some institutions, researchers still face a burdensome paper procurement process. What would you say about the procurement process at UM?
Nikki Krawitz: I would tell you that our processes are very technology-enabled--electronic--and there really isn’t any reason that a researcher or their assistants would have to use paper, or process a paper form, or carry around a piece of paper to get approval to purchase anything. We attempted to eliminate that a number of years ago, and moving to an eProcurement platform further supports that.
CT: And beyond a streamlined purchasing process that can eliminate the need for paper, does the incentive of good pricing through vendor contracts attract researchers to use UM’s eProcurement system?
NK: The more vendors we have out on our Web site, and the more contracts that we have with those vendors, the more likely it is that researchers are going to use that particular venue for buying, for doing purchasing within their research programs.
CT: Still, the move to eProcurement can’t be all that simple, or the results that predictable. How are you measuring your institution’s success, or maybe its progress, with eProcurement?
NK: We recently completed a benchmarking study with The Hackett Group. Actually we benchmarked all of our finance, HR, procurement, and IT processes. And at the time we were doing that, our president said to me, “Why are you benchmarking procurement? Our procurement is cutting edge.” He comes out of industry, so he could see many of the things that we were doing right with regard to strategic sourcing and the way we had organized procurement to focus on customer relationship management as opposed to compliance and gate keeping. He could see how these things were really cutting edge.
I answered our president that I’d really like to validate that “cutting edge procurement” against some kind of external benchmarks. One of the things that came out of the benchmarking study was that even in procurement, along parts of the process, we are still very transaction-oriented. So, going back and looking at the requisitioning part of the process, which is at the front end, we found that we have thousands of touches, or pieces of FTE, being spent on requisitioning even though we have an online system.
As we started to dig further into this, one of the things we discovered was that our end users, who would probably include both PIs and administrative support personnel within the departments and in the laboratories, were continuing not only to do the electronic processing, but they were also creating paper copies of everything behind what they were doing electronically. And so, we know that what we need to do right now is to go back and look at our end-to-end process to try to understand how we can streamline the front end more (the back end is very streamlined).
CT: Do you have an example of something you’re trying, or something you’d want to try to do, that could cut out some of the unnecessary use of paper, to streamline the process further?
NK: We’ve set some guiding principles across all of our processes, procurement included, where what we would try to have in place is processes that would--and I’m using this term because I think it’s really important--delight the end user. And that means they would have an Amazon.com-like experience: When you go out to use Amazon.com, you search for what you want, put it in your shopping basket--it takes you five minutes, and you’re done.
CT: And then maybe users won’t necessarily feel so compelled to save paper copies because they are satisfied that there is appropriate tracking within the electronic system?
NK: Yes. But for some reason we don’t have an eProcurement front end like that quite yet. And for many things, our people have to go through PeopleSoft to even get to the eProcurement platform… Then the page refreshers can take up to 45 seconds for some things… It’s a process that does not delight the end user. In this respect, even though we have the appearance of being technologically enabled, we’re not ‘there yet’ in terms of having that delightful experience. So that’s our goal right now: to get there.
CT: And hopefully providing that delightful experience with the eProcurement front end will ultimately increase on-contract buying, and the cycle of growth will continue…
NK: I think once we get there, we won’t have to convince PIs or anyone else to use it, because it will be the easiest and the best thing to use.
CT: And is there a way to make it so that users don’t need to be aware of PeopleSoft, just to use the eProcurement front end [SciQuest]?
NK: We are doing a pilot where there is a “shopper only” piece to it so you don’t have to go through PeopleSoft. Plus we’ve got a portal project going that will eventually enable our end users to accomplish what they need to through the system without ever realizing that PeopleSoft is back there--it’s actually a portal that will allow end users across the system to enter into all kinds of applications, including procurement.
CT: What else will you do to help and encourage users? Are you looking at an education process, in a sense? I’ve heard that UM procurement has “customer relationship managers” that go out to the departments to learn users’ needs and find ways to help them.
NK: Yes, we do. Part of this is changing the culture. For example, it’s sitting down, out in the departments, with PIs and/or their administrative support people. We think that going through some business process redesign--sort of elementary steps, mapping processes--will help people to see that there are steps that they can eliminate [e.g., they could stop making paper copies or sourcing outside the eProcurement system] because we’ve got the technology in place. And we want to move people to understand that we want to make it easier for them to spend more time on value-added activity and less time on transaction processing.
Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.