How to create cost and time efficiencies in the school procurement process

It is often noted that the school business manager fights the procurement battle alone, or with a small band of loyal office staff. A potential lack of awareness and understanding throughout the school or MAT can often lead to breakdowns in the procurement process, including lost time and money. As part of our research for our ‘Smarter Procurement’ white paper, we asked over 200 SBMs about their view on school-wide understanding of procurement, here we discuss some of the results.

Does everyone in the school understand procurement efficiency as well as the SBM?

We discovered that only 11% of those who were surveyed agreed, ‘their colleagues were aware of, trained and involved in the procurement process’. This number feels extremely low, even when you look at how school business managers are the ones challenged to source the best deals for the whole school. If the teaching staff and support staff aren’t aware of the ‘preferred suppliers’ and the process, how can they effectively help the school business manager in selecting the products they need, for the best price?

Over half (56%) of respondents told us, ‘their colleagues were aware of the school’s procurement process’. This figure is clearly more promising, but simply being aware of the school’s procurement process doesn’t show that staff are truly ‘invested’ in creating savings for their school. Only 39% of SBMs said they ‘engage weekly with teachers in relation to classroom product requests’, 23% said that this only happens when there is an issue.

Choosing the best supplier for the school and for the staff

A large number of responding SBMs (85%) claimed that ‘the quality of a product or service was what they considered when making a purchase’. It’s not entirely based on price, there are factors surrounding the quality and longevity of products that play a part in choosing suppliers and products. This doesn’t always happen when purchasing decisions are left to individuals throughout the school environment. The SBM must always ensure proper value.

There are still a number of more traditional processes in place when it comes to procurement within the school environment. Within education, these processes haven’t always kept up with the digital e-commerce world which we are all part of as individual consumers.

As you would with your commodity shopping at home, the ‘ability to repeat orders’ was cited by 40% of those surveyed, some suppliers offer this option but often it’s not made simple to do so. There are significant time-savings to be made for office admin staff by doing so.

A popular e-commerce tool in retail that can be extremely useful in the school environment, is the practise of ‘sharing baskets’. This tool can help the SBM to streamline the procurement process, after the SBM informs staff of their ‘preferred supplier’. The selected products and the ‘basket’ must be sent to the SBM digitally, all via the supplier website to be paid through the school’s account. Importantly though, it gives teachers no control over making payments. 32% of SBMs responded to sharing baskets as a ‘way to positively improve the procurement in their school’.

Digital purchasing has grown quickly in the education world and there are savings to be made by creating a fully digital process for purchasing. SBMs can still keep control and evidence for financial and auditing purposes. A third of SBMs who took the survey (34%) said that, “using an e-commerce site had resulted in cost savings”.

You can read our full report, ‘Smarter procurement: a practical guide to improving value and efficiency’ here.