St Helens College is piloting an electronic procurement system to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
In the pilot, purchasing officers buy college goods and services online using software developed from an existing financial system supplied by Symmetry.
The project is part of a wider scheme involving a number of colleges in the North West region buying goods through an electronic marketplace. This was developed by the IT department at Salford University.
The e-procurement marketplace was developed collaboratively in the UK higher education sector with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The aim of the project was to develop a procurement system which could be used by any university and operated on a not-for-profit basis.
At St Helens the number of transactions made on the system for items such as IT and scientific equipment is still small. But it is expected that e-procurement will account for 15% to 20% of total expenditure for the college and 50% to 60% of total financial transactions.
Ordering goods online should mean there is less duplication of orders and procurement is more efficient, said a spokeswoman for the college.
Martin Penny, chairman of the Further Education Finance Directors' Group, said the e-procurement development has had repercussions for colleges nationally.
"At a time when e-learning is at the forefront of curriculum innovation in schools, colleges and universities, the use of technology for procurement brings it into modern ways of working that will benefit learners, staff and organisations."
The marketplace was launched in July 2002 and 15 universities are now using the system. It integrates the universities' back-office finance systems with suppliers' websites and back-office processing systems to create an e-procurement system. University buyers connect from their finance systems to supplier' websites where they add goods or services to their shopping baskets in the normal way.
Symmetry supplies the in-house accounting software, called Financials, which includes e-procurement software called ebis2. It uses Oracle application server 9iAS or AS10G and runs on Oracle server 9.0.
The accounting software will be introduced for the college's 11 directorates in an effort to reduce processing costs and process orders more quickly.
Shaun Anders, head of procurement, facilities and IT services at St Helens, said, "We hope to demonstrate how to save money and greatly simplify buying procedures, which can often be dogged by excessive paperwork and duplication.
"By automating much of the manual work, the purchasing team can concentrate on more important tasks such as planning and negotiating more cost effective contracts," he said.