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Ten things to avoid in Education Procurement

Ensure you have the right tools to keep the operation ticking as best as it can be and use a forward-looking view to identify probable errors and eliminate these procurement mistakes."

It can be hard to imagine the magnitude of processes that occur in our everyday lives. Much like there are multiple systems operating inside our bodies just to keep us upright and alive.

Internal systems usually tick along and flow without recognition and observance. You could say education procurement is akin to these internal processes, instead of keeping a being alive they are supporting our educational institutions. The central brain center ensures each piece is doing what it should be and operating as it should with the right equipment. Procurement professionals are like jugglers who are handling various stakeholders and multiple steps in the procurement process side by side, all in a day’s work. With such visible impacts when errors happen, they create a domino effect impacting various nerves of the institution’s operation. Making ill-informed and hasty decisions costs time and money and could even damage the student experience.

With this in mind here are 10 things to avoid in your role as a procurement professional to keep things running smoothly.

Avoid disjointed procurement strategies.

Have a focused and well-defined procurement plan and establish well-defined procedures to execute it. Identify procurement needs that are recurring such as lab materials and/or one-time such as specific year event banners. There are various departments with drastically different requirements for example the science lab will need a different arsenal of materials for the art department. Reach out to assess their needs well before time to avoid backlogs.

Avoid ambiguity.

Set quantifiable goals where possible. Make sure to define specific parameters around qualitative outcomes. This way the goals will be well defined and acknowledged by all stakeholders both internal and external. Quantifiable goals also make it easier to measure performance and share success with other departments.

Keep yourself updated with industry news related to procurement regulations.

Be aware of different state and federal guidelines to comply with. There are various social media groups to visit to keep informed, companies share useful blogs and articles, government committees and podcasts are also a great source of information. Trade restrictions are also one to keep aware of.

Be mindful of imprecise data.

Take the time to verify the authenticity and facts of the data that you have. Organize your data to use in an optimum manner. Bad procurement decisions are often a result of outdated data on which they are based. Rather than using manpower to comb through outdated data, procurement software can help you quickly validate the accuracy of data and filter what is useful and what’s not. The better the data the better the analytics which is the fuel for future decisions.

Rein in the procurement cycle.

Avoid delays in receiving product specifications/TORs. Timeline extension in bid and proposal submissions add to the procurement cycle and the whole procurement timeline gets stretched. Try to execute the procurement cycle according to the pre-defined timelines. As such these timelines should be defined realistically. Try to minimize last-minute purchases. They are usually haphazardly put together and do not allow the time for due diligence. The procurement cycle can be easily managed by adding simple tools like alerts to ensure you are always in the know and that you don’t miss a deadline.

Mitigate the risk.

Analyze the individual risks and their implications. The two most common but entirely avoidable risks in bulk purchasing are quality and delivery delays. Overcome them by splitting the purchase between two or more vendors. The old saying stays true. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

 Keep in mind that procurement is a multi-stakeholder process.

Miscommunication is at the forefront of many problems that can be faced. Siloed communication is a common issue Looking at the rest of 2021, procurement professionals are partnering with internal business stakeholders, compliance, campus logistics, and buying groups. Procurement needs to ensure are all in harmony and there is communication between the different stakeholders. What is necessary are proactive communications that are coordinated. Each group is very well-rehearsed in what they need to do but cross-communication is crucial. Keep the communication clear, precise, and documented at all times. Be adaptable and innovate with a problem-solving approach when dealing with the various stakeholders. Improve communication by educating the stakeholders on budget, objectives and procedural requirements for them to make informed procurement requests.

Diversify the supplier roster.

Frequently assess new market players. Take time to attend online events and educate internal stakeholders on new trends and find unique products to set your institution apart and provide a better learning experience to students.

Avoid conflict of interest.

Abstain from lending and/or borrowing from potential suppliers. Sidestep personal purchasing and interaction with the suppliers that you are involved in within your professional capacity. Similarly, avoid getting into contact or doing business with suppliers who happen to be your family or friends. This may fall under the act of nepotism.

Don’t think that the procurement process ends with having made the final purchasing decision.

Ensure deliveries and compliance. This is arguably more important for education because of the need for transparency in how public and student money is used. Post-contract vigilance is of utmost importance. Provide necessary feedback to the suppliers to further streamline the process and record conversations with suppliers so they can be accessible by your team.  
Procurement for education, especially in the public domain is a highly cross-functional and multi-disciplinary process. Resources are usually stretched, and requests are infinite. Ensure you have the right tools to keep the operation ticking as best as it can be and use a forward-looking view to identify probable errors and eliminate these procurement mistakes.

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