E-procurement hits the halls of academe

The University of Birmingham is due to begin pilot testing an e-procurement system in a bid to eliminate paper from the...

The University of Birmingham is due to begin pilot testing an e-procurement system in a bid to eliminate paper from the procurement process and to improve financial control.

The university will implement a procurement system developed by UK supplier Get Real Systems to streamline its purchasing and stock control activities across disparate budget centres. If successful, the system will be extended across more than 100 different budget centres.

Barry Higgins, assistant director of finance (procurement) at the university, said the system would enable the university to reduce both transaction costs and stock levels, while improving the quality of information about what the various budget centres were spending.

"Until now we had been running a number of systems, only one of which was remotely joined up with the central purchasing system. But it didn't have the level of stock control or functionality on the supply side that we needed," he said.

"What we needed was a system capable of linking to our Coda finance system, that was intuitive to use."

In May the decision was taken to implement the Proactis software from Get Real because of its functionality and ability to interface with existing systems. A month later, the university built a joined-up system with links to the Coda system.

The trial, which is being run in the finance department and the budget centres of the engineering and cancer studies departments, is due to begin in the next three weeks and is likely to continue for three months, Higgins said.

"We've got our head down and we're ready to charge. The main aim is to eliminate paper from the procurement process and to deliver a joined-up system," he said. "But having an e-catalogue selection turned into a requisition, then payment through Bacs [the bank clearing system] - that's our dream."

Currently, the goal is to have all budget centres using the system by July 2002, after which the focus would be on implementing electronic invoicing with suppliers, which was due to be in place by the first quarter of 2003.

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