The way we buy goods and services has changed immeasurably in recent years. Today, there are few things we actually need to leave the comfort of our sofas to shop for due to online shopping. And once we’ve chosen what we want to buy, we expect it to be delivered to our front door as soon as possible.
And it would seem this change in buying habits is increasingly being reflected in the workplace too, with schools and academies looking to receive the same experience. This is evident when it comes to buying everything from everyday essentials, but also apparent when it comes to ‘bigger ticket’ items like new classroom furniture or photo copiers.
Smart Procurement Workshops This need for fast and easier purchasing is also being driven, in part, by the increased workloads and responsibilities currently facing school business managers. We’ve recently hosted a series of Smart Procurement Education Workshops in association with NASBM. These sessions highlighted that a lack of time and complicated tender processes are preventing some schools from sourcing best value products and services and ensuring purchasing meets compliance regulations.
Academies in particular are under strain as many, some for the first time, are having to get to grips with the procurement of essential and complex services such as cleaning, grounds maintenance, HR and legal support that were previously provided by the local authority. As an organisation that exists to supply to schools and other public sector organisations, we are changing to meet these needs and to continue making the buying process as quick and painless as possible for schools and academies.
Whether you’re looking to buy 1,000 exercise books or refurbish a dining hall, using a professional buying organisation (PBO) offers a quick, cost-efficient and compliant route to market for schools, eliminating the need for complex tender processes. As a PBO we understand the challenges and changing expectations of our customers which is why we ensure schools receive a quick and efficient service, even during the peak season.
Being procurement savvy However, in addition to us responding to the changing needs of our customers, there are actually lots of steps that schools and academies can take to become ‘procurement savvy’ and make the purchasing of goods and services as convenient, quick and simple as possible.
Firstly, avoid the rush hour. Place orders for ‘made to order’ goods when demand is lower – generally anytime between November and May. If this can’t be done, plan for extended lead times. You can also set your order apart from others by accepting a delivery date during the summer holidays. The shrewd business manager that buys out of season could potentially wring a lot more from their budget.
Secondly, shop like you would from home. Many PBOs now offer the online shopping experience enabling schools to check stock availability and place their orders outside of normal working hours.
It is also advisable to use frameworks. Running tenders was once seen as too broad-based and time-consuming. However, today’s frameworks cover everything from catering supplies to banking services and temporary staff, so buyers only have to deal with responses from a small number of expert suppliers. The biggest attraction with frameworks is that they have been pre-negotiated and meet relevant EU procurement regulations, so they cut red tape as well as ensuring competitive pricing.
Furthermore, ensure efficient ordering takes place. We often receive multiple orders from the same school in one day. Processing individual orders (picking, packing, invoicing and delivering) separately often means duplication in our operations. Then, on the receiving end our customers also have to allocate additional time to the admin process (unpacking, distribution, invoice checking and making multiple payments). This type of inefficiency uses up more time and resources than is necessary. Take control of the ordering process in your school and consider how it can be done more efficiently.
Purchasing fit for purpose Additionally, make sure you use a reputable supplier. Cold callers target schools on a frequent basis with promises of low cost equipment or services, special officers and limited time discounts – all of which may well be too good to be true.
PBOs can shield buyers from such tactics and the risks associated with them by carefully assessing all their suppliers and requiring minimum performance standards and best value from them to ensure product and service quality. This massively reduces the risk of a purchase being unfit for purpose and saving customers the headache of having to negotiate terms and conditions with suppliers.
Question your time saving strategy. Do you have time to sit and compare the prices of one product from a variety of suppliers? Yes, it’s good practice but when you consider the time it takes to trawl the market comparing prices and reviewing suppliers, do you really have the time? Some PBOs will compare the market for your behalf, so make use of this service.
Finally, consider old contracts. Old or inherited equipment supply or maintenance contracts could leave your school paying over the odds. If possible, make the time to review your spending with your business manager or bursar. Time and money are two assets that are in constant short supply in the education sector but making effective use of professional buying organisations may just help you make considerable savings on both.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore spoke at the BETT Show, reiterating the government's commitment to education technology and working with industry to create solutions that address some of the challenges in education.