E-PROCUREMENT - A PURCHASING PANACEA?

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Electronic processes at any level can undoubtedly provide efficiency gains but it is the new wave of advanced, robust and user friendly technologies that promise to save time, save money and genuinely add value to the bottom line, according to e-procurement specialist Peter Robbins.

For many, the aspirational concept of e-procurement is considered a complicated business process but one where promised ROI is rarely delivered - a sceptics view often based on the '90s paper-to-web boom and bust.

However, whilst the National e-Procurement Project (NePP) has highlighted savings of 1.1BN to be had from e-procurement and the 'Efficiency Review' has sharpened the public sector's focus on going electronic to save, it is within the private sector that technology well beyond P2P has been developed.

In the private sector, entrepreneurship and a need to remain profitable has driven the development and deployment of robust technology. Of course, for the public sector this translates into reducing operating costs to stay within or below budget.

As a result, the public sector can now capitalise on the private sector's experience to help meet the saving's targets laid down by the ODPM with tried and tested technology.

Organisations are successfully using technology that requires no user training, no supplier education, operates on an Application Service Provider (ASP) model - hosted/managed off site - and delivers management, planning and budget reconciliation benefits.

An example of this technology is Mercato e-procurement, which is one module of a fully integrated e-business solution that can extend to Customer Relationship Management and price comparison engines if specified.

Uniquely, Mercato is the first solution of its type to be accredited by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England & Wales and offers a best practice approach for in-direct procurement. Products are listed by best price and availability based on supplier feeds, new and existing, within a secureo n-line purchasing hub.

This type of technology offers transparency of supplier relationships,s howing cost price and cost plus agreed margin price on screen, so users can rest assured they are getting a fair deal. Separately, all transactions and RFQ communication with suppliers is handled/recorded on-line to deliver a cleara udit trail.

Cheltenham Borough Council has used this technology in the form of 'The IT Index' to procure IT.

David Gatford, Central Services Officer, explains: "The IT Index has made considerable and outstanding inroads towards CBC hitting total e-sourcings avings of 25% below OGU thresholds.

"Put simply, the solution has saved over 15% of CBC's IT budget, enabling the organisation to stretch its IT budget. Savings made on individual productsc onsistently range from 3-6% and as an example we have reduced our 120,000 bill for inkjet, toner and fax cartridges by 20%.

"On average it is saving at least a day a week in time, which we used tos pend ringing suppliers, sourcing and comparing prices."

"The solution has also changed our working patterns, releasing time to carry out other purchasing functions, tightening our audit links and planning. This is particularly poignant given the Freedom of Information Act and the increased need for Public Sector Bodies (PSBs) to be fully auditable.

"Beyond the brief, this solution has enabled us to develop and broadene mployee roles, which has buoyed employee job satisfaction.

"The solution has freed time that we can now use to better serve and manage our IT infrastructure to ensure users within the organisation work on a robust network. This means the Council's operations and service to our public ism aintained without interjection from poor functioning IT."

Peter Robbins, MD Probrand, set up the company in 1992, having spent a number of years in the telemarketing sector.  He became involved in e-procurement in the late 1990s. Probrand is a major supplier of top branded computer products -anything from a floppy disk to a fully implemented network. Any product you like -any brand you like, we can give you unbiased advice. Located in the heart of Birmingham, Probrand is a multi million pound corporation servicing a wide range of business customers throughout the UK.

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