Our school board operates based on a set of values that guide our actions. Innovation is one of these values and, coincidentally, I am the kind of person who is always interested in looking for innovative ways to do things better. The YRDSB purchasing team has a culture of innovation. We are continually looking to find ways to make ourselves more effective and efficient in the service we deliver, and reduce tedious tasks so we can focus on more strategic and engaging work. We also strive to provide the best service possible to our customers: the teachers, principals and staff who depend on our department for the acquisition and delivery of various goods and services.
With our current technology tools and methods a significant amount of time is consumed in processing low dollar value, multiple line item orders. However, even though they are "small" or "low-value," they are important items that have a big impact on the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum and success of our schools. Whether it’s a science teacher who needs a few more test tubes for a class experiment or a school secretary who needs paper to get the parent newsletter out in time – what may seem small can disrupt our staff from being successful in performing their jobs.
When I look at the business world, primarily the private sector, I see how they have been taking advantage of the latest Procure 2 Pay technology. To them, automated and online procurement seems obvious. To us at school boards, it’s still a very new and unchartered area.
Before I dive into where we are going, let me tell you where we are (It may sound very much like your school board.) Many years ago we moved our purchasing to an electronic requisition/purchase order system. Somewhat unique to YRDSB, we maintained a paper-based process for the purchase of low dollar value consumable items. This was to not burden school administrative support staff with having to manually enter many multiple line item orders into our electronic purchase order system. This meant school staff would reference paper catalogs for a listing of contract bid items (that we’d manually keep updated). Then they’d fill out a paper order form and after obtaining approval, fax it directly to the supplier. The supplier would ship the product and send us an invoice. Accounting would then manually reconcile the purchase order (PO), invoice and paper receiving copy before approving payment to the vendor. That was a lot of work on our end, a lot of work for the school, and a whole lot of extra unnecessary paperwork. Even with our electronic purchase order system there was a lot of data entry by board staff, data entry by the vendor’s staff and a lot of paperwork and manual processes for our Accounting staff. I knew there had to be a better way.
I’ve spent a lot of time researching and evaluating solutions out there, and after a publicly posted RFP we landed on a platform and solution proposed by cloudBuy. Over the coming month or two this solution will be tested via a Proof of Concept (POC) to prove successful integration directly into our Sparkrock ERP Solution (which is built on Microsoft NAV). A Pilot consisting of a few schools and vendors will follow our POC prior to full implementation. The vision is that our staff will have the ability to log in to one environment and access a list of board-approved suppliers and the associated contractually priced products with a view of pictures, full descriptions and real-time inventory. They will simply click a button to fill a shopping cart of items that they wish to purchase.
All appropriate approvals would be in place as these approvals are hopefully to be transferred in real time from our Sparkrock solution into the cloudBuy solution. Aside from offering our staff a very current, contemporary and user-friendly mechanism to order goods, there is true magic (and a significant reduction in paperwork) for our Accounting Services team in the automated three-way matching of PO, invoice and receipt with an embedded credit card payment.
We believe we have a very compelling business case with numerous benefits identified for teachers, school administrative staff, purchasing and accounting staff. The savings to be realized along with the associated rebates from the embedded credit card payment make this a very financially feasible endeavor. Not only are we extremely excited, our vendors are very encouraging and excited for us to utilize their e-commerce portals that they have invested heavily in. Some vendors are willing to consider annual rebates if we move to this purchasing method due to the many benefits they will realize with reduced data entry and reduced paperwork.
An initiative of this scope doesn’t come without worries. There is a lot of change management that comes with altering the business processes people have been using to for so long. At times I do worry that maybe it won’t work, but that’s the risk you have to take if you ever want to reap the rewards of innovation. Our teachers and school staff have been hinting for us to move in this direction. Thus we are trying to be proactive and put a modern system in place that will set us up for the future. In the end, we see ourselves "somewhat" as trailblazers among school boards, and we are fine with others learning from our mistakes and successes if that helps to propel our sector forward.
With the intent of trying to help move our sector forward YRDSB wrote the RFP on behalf of all school boards in Ontario. Not only were other Ontario school boards referenced in the Introduction of this RFP as potential customers, we also included a piggyback clause for other public agencies to be able to join in and leverage the work we are doing and recognize the benefits we have identified. Sparkrock is also working on an integration which will seamlessly tie cloudBuy directly into their K12 Cloud or On-Premise ERP solution.
It can be daunting to embark on a huge project like this, but I believe if you surround the project with positivity and enthusiasm, people get excited and the chances of having a successful project are greatly increased. The team here at the York Region District School Board are committed and excited about what this new technology rollout will bring and how it will indirectly contribute to teacher and student success.
I’m really appreciative that Sparkrock is supportive of this initiative and is so willing to help spread the message and assist other school boards through this process.