Smarter procurement part 3: understanding your school and the wider sector

What are the pinch points faced by SBMs when it comes to procurement? How are schools and academies overcoming these to deliver better outcomes for students? In partnership with GLS Educational Supplies, we undertook in-depth research, which included a reader survey, to find out.

In part one we explored some of the key findings of the report. In this, part three, we consider how making the right decisions requires a deep understanding of both the school and the sector.

Driven by need, limited by budget and in a market saturated with choice, the key is developing a better knowledge of what to buy and when. Understanding the school or academy’s needs and spend is the first step; useful information on financial management can be found on the Gov.uk website under the ‘School and college funding and finance’ heading.

The conundrum of knowing which products to buy – and how often – can pose a challenge to effective procurement. Prices can vary dramatically and, although shopping around can save money, it’s difficult to wade through all the available options. In fact, when asked about the greatest procurement challenges, 67% of survey respondents said ‘comparing products or services to get the best deal’.

So, where to start? Based on our research the following are some essential steps in smarter procurement.

Review

A good place to start is evaluating who your suppliers are, what you are buying from them and how much this is costing. If possible, reduce the number of suppliers you work with; this is a savvy step which can lead to economies of scale as buying in bulk can often mean buying at a discount. This approach also reduces the number of purchase orders raised and invoices received to be processed, saving you time; finding a single supplier – one that you trust, and from whom you can procure the right goods at the right price – can be worth the search. Be a smart consumer.

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Benchmark and compare

Shopping around, comparing suppliers is a useful exercise that can result in increased efficiency and cost savings. Some organisations and platforms will do part of the hard work for you by benchmarking the goods they offer. You should consider sharing your benchmarking data with other schools, and looking at their benchmarking data, because this can help to determine areas where there is scope to procure smarter – improving efficiency, reducing costs and identifying areas for further potential savings.

Contract management

CIPS defines contract management as follows: ‘[It] is a continuous procurement process that ensures suppliers adhere to their agreed contractual obligations along with negotiating any future changes that need to take place.’ Even if you secure a good deal, the benefits can be lost through poor contract management. Schools have numerous contracts with various suppliers; managing these can be a tedious and time-consuming without an effective process in place. Any such process should include appropriate mechanisms to report performance, manage changing requirements and deliver continuous improvements, CIPS advises.

Supplier relationships

Building a strong relationship with your suppliers can result in longer-term rewards. It puts the onus on them to maintain performance, helps avoid disputes and also gives you the opportunity to feedback on the service provided and have changes you suggest implemented to your school’s benefit. A good working relationship with your supplier means that they can gain a better understanding of your needs and thus work to meet them. (Hot tip from GLS – don’t be afraid to push back if you’re not getting the service you need!)

Smarter procurement; a practical guide to improving value efficiency looks in more detail at these key findings and makes some key recommendations for schools seeking to implement smarter procurement processes.

You can read the full report here.

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