Recent publications have recommended that educational institutions and schools embrace creative business solutions to achieve operations savings and funnel more dollars towards stellar academic programs for our students. Modern eProcurement solutions with expense reporting will eliminate business process inefficiencies and help educators to buy from preferred vendors and receive pre-eapproval for expenses, generating dramatic cost savings.

While a purchase order software solution for managing requisitions, purchase orders, invoices, expense reports and contracts is by no means a cure-all for our education system’s financial woes, it will provide quantifiable cost-saving results. These savings can then be invested in developing new academic programs or in hiring new teachers, which are initiatives that directly benefit students.

To jump-start improving your school’s purchasing process, we’ll summarize 10 key steps that educational institutions can take with an e-procurement solution.

Step 1:  Review and Eliminate Current Inefficiencies in the Procurement Process

Out with the old and in with the new! Before implementing a new solution, it is important for schools to review their current procurement process to root out antiquated processes, including any convoluted approval paths.

Step 2:  Utilize Automated Approval Workflows

Now that your school has outlined and updated the purchasing and approval process, it’s time to put those improvements to work. Business software solutions can automate requisition approval by sending purchase requests to the appropriate approver based on dollar amount, project, purchase type and/or department. In addition, moving from a manual to electronic purchasing system helps to ensure that invoice approvals and exceptions are processed on time.

Step 3:  Banish Paper and Become 100% Electronic

While many education institutions would like to eliminate paper completely, the truth is that only 18 percent of colleges/universities surveyed by research and consulting firm PayStream Advisors have more than 10 percent of vendors submitting electronic invoices (“Purchase to Pay in Higher Education” 5). This means that schools and their procurement providers need to make the case for going electronic.

Step 4:  Implement Vendor Catalogs and Punch-out to Vendors’ Websites

Using vendor catalogs and vendors’ websites with an eProcurement solution allows teachers, professors and IT staff to easily access items with the correct contract pricing for their purchase requests.  Employee self-service tools help employees to order the items they need without any interference from the procurement team.  In this section, the Purchasing Directors of Delaware Valley College and A.T. Still University share additional benefits of implementing vendor catalogs and online shopping from suppliers.

Step 5:  Leverage Visibility to Purchase Requests, Documents and Budgets

If a school’s superintendent wants to make purchasing decisions for that month based on a manually updated budget spreadsheet, it can be tough. A requisition and purchase order solution with budgeting capabilities can make the procure-to-pay process a whole lot easier. The superintendent can use this software to view purchase requests and their calculated impact on each school’s budget before giving final approval – or, before deciding to hold off on a purchase until the following month.

Step 6:  Select a Mobile Solution for Any Laptop, Phone or Tablet Device

Cell phone use is ubiquitous, so yes, mobile-ready business solutions matter.  But that’s only half the story. According to a Google study cited in a PayStream Advisors’ report, 98% of mobile users move between different devices in one day, which is precisely why it’s important for education institutions to adopt purchasing solutions that work across devices (and are not just device-specific, such as native apps.

Step 7:  Implement Strategic Sourcing to Identify and Retain Best Vendors

Think of strategic sourcing as the strong foundation that you’ll build employee purchasing practices upon; basically, your procurement team will analyze current purchasing activity and spending with vendors to determine the best vendors to award contracts. Learn how both the University of Florida and Kansas University reaped the benefits of strategic sourcing in two case studies by Huron Consulting Group.

Step 8:  Select a Solution with Integrated Contract Management

Once a contract has been awarded to the best vendor through reverse auction, then it’s time to make that contract count. An E-Procurement solution with integrated contract management can allow your procurement team to submit a contract, such as for annual technology services, for approval from different stakeholders – the principal, IT team, etc. Contract managers can more closely manage contract spending by using a solution’s search screens and reporting to view all purchasing activity related to a vendor agreement, including all requisitions and invoices committed to the contract budget.

Step 9:  Adopt an Procurement Solution with Travel & Expense Management

If your educators, staff and students frequently submit expenses for their classrooms or pre-trip authorization requests, your school would probably like both an easier way to submit and track them. In PayStream Advisors’ “2015 Travel and Expense Management Report,” the average expense report processed manually costs $26.60 and the average expense report processed with automation costs $6.85.  This means that schools could save hundreds or thousands of dollars each month by moving to an automated expense management system.

Step 10:  Leverage Analytics and Reporting on Vendors and Contracts

Most purchase-to-pay solutions will reduce the purchasing cycle time, but some solutions offer more robust reporting and analytics than others.  Budget-conscious schools will want to know where they stand in terms of department, vendor contract or CAPEX project budgets from month to month. Most likely, they will also want to compare dollars spent with different vendors from year to year to help them source preferred vendors.