Like most large colleges and universities, Virginia Tech, located in Blacksburg, Va., is organized around academic departments, each of which operates independently. This makes for a highly decentralized system of purchasing.
"We have a lot of people ordering from a lot of vendors," says Thomas Kaloupek, director of materials management. Most of Virginia Tech's $150m annual spend on goods and services occurs at the departmental level across some 20,000 active vendors, Kaloupek says. To get better control of the procurement process and to eliminate inefficient, paper-based purchasing, Virginia Tech partnered with SciQuest Inc., Cary, N.C. SciQuest provides a web-based, modular suite of e-procurement, supplier management, and materials management solutions. Its HigherMarkets hosted solution is specifically targeted to colleges and universities.
"The SciQuest system allows each customer to establish a customized marketplace," Kaloupek says. In the case of Virginia Tech, the marketplace is dubbed HokieMart. Purchasers use the internet to access the HokieMart home page, which links to catalogs on the sites of contract vendors, complete with Virginia Tech's negotiated prices. Vendors cover a gamut of product categories, from computers and classroom furnishings to scientific equipment and lab supplies.
"Users build a cart and when they are finished shopping, the cart reverts back to the HokieMart environment to complete the transaction," Kaloupek explains. The purchase then goes through an approval process, which at Virginia Tech as at many enterprises, is an important step. "The approver can be any number of different people and with some of the more complicated transactions, there may be multiple approvals required," he says. For example, a hazardous material ordered for a scientific lab may have to be screened and approved by the school's environmental health organization. "With our previous paper-based process, it would take time for that document to travel from the buying department to the environmental health office and then on to purchasing," says Kaloupek. "It could take days or even a week to make that circuit. The electronic environment moves much faster, and if a request gets hung up someplace, that is visible to the user. This time savings is very valuable to us."
This type of administrative savings and efficiency was Virginia Tech's primary goal in implementing SciQuest. "Before we had thousands of pieces of paper flowing around the campus at any given time. With the SciQuest system, we have eliminated all these documents," says Kaloupek.
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