26, No. 4, Aug. 17, 2006
New system to streamline purchases,
offer data analysis
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
As part of the budgetary reductions and administrative streamlining that the
UI has undertaken in recent years, procurement has been identified as an area
for the university to save money.
A study by the consulting firm Accenture in February 2004 indicated that the
university could save 5 to 15 percent on the $198 million it spends annually
on purchases of commodities by re-engineering its procurement activities, including
the use of a systemwide purchasing application that simplifies buying, encourages
units to buy from contracted vendors and facilitates data analysis to better
This fall, the university is going to start using an electronic procurement system,
which Illinois is calling iBuy. The system will be hosted by SciQuest HigherMarkets,
a supply-chain software maker, and its product partner SCT, maker of the Banner
software suite that Illinois uses for financial and business processes. Indiana
University, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Yale University
already use the e-procurement system.
According to Philip Abruzzi, university chief procurement officer, “The
introduction of iBuy is the first step in making it easier for departments to
get the goods and services they need to support their operations. Future areas
of focus will enable the Purchasing Department to work more collaboratively with
the campuses in leveraging our resources by streamlining our processes and implementing
the right supportive technology.”
The iBuy system will be tested by the entire Springfield campus and by selected
units at the Urbana and Chicago campuses beginning in October. During the next
several months, the application will be phased in at Urbana and Chicago, with
it being available to everyone who wants to use it by July 1, 2007.
“We’re not mandating the use of iBuy,” said Brad Sheriff, administrative
director of university procurement in the Office of Business and Financial Services. “People
are still welcome to create requisitions in Banner and use their P-cards for
purchases, but we’re hoping that iBuy will become their tool of choice
when they want to make a purchase,”
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Abruzzi, chief procurement officer in the Office
of Business and Financial Services, is leading
an initiative to overhaul the university’s
procurement processes, a move that has saved
millions of dollars annually for peer universities
and will involve a new e-procurement system
and the promotion of strategic buying habits.
iBuy offers a shopping experience similar to Amazon.com, where buyers select
products and load them into a virtual shopping cart using their computer mouse.
When iBuy goes live in October, OBFS expects to have about a dozen vendor catalogs
who offer discount pricing, and expects to have up to 100 catalogs by the time
the system is fully operational. Although OBFS is negotiating with vendors, iBuy
will contain the catalogs of external vendors such as Fisher Scientific, OfficeMax
and Zones Inc. and CDW-G, as well as internal vendors such as Campus Stores and
the Printing Department when it goes live, Sheriff said.
In addition to purchasing core products at substantial discounts from catalog
vendors, shoppers will be able to requisition other items from the vendors’ Web
sites – at the university’s discount prices – as
well as from non-catalog vendors, all through iBuy.
Buyers will have the option of charging purchases to a university account (the
seven-segment accounting code called a C-FOAPAL in Banner) or to a P-card, and
will be able to customize iBuy by storing frequently used account codes, then
selecting them from drop-down menus when making purchases. If departmental approval
or special approval from oversight units such as the Division of Environmental
Health and Safety or the Grants and Contracts Office is not required, iBuy will
automatically generate electronic purchase orders and send them to the vendors.
Requisitions involving non-catalog vendors will be sent to Purchasing for review
before purchase orders are generated.
The iBuy system is one portion of a broader, strategic approach that the university
is taking toward re-engineering its procurement processes.
The iBuy-Banner interface will improve reporting and data analysis that will
allow units to manage their spending, and the university to leverage that spending,
by developing better contracts and negotiating discounts with frequently used,
non-catalog vendors; by renegotiating pricing for high-volume items, and identifying
and addressing customer-service issues related to the procurement process or
Advisory committees members from all three campuses have offered input in developing,
evaluating and testing the iBuy application. Advisory committees composed of
key stakeholders also will assist Purchasing in seeking out other savings opportunities
relative to the goods and services purchased by the campuses. A team is reviewing
spending related to maintenance, repair and operations, and plans to request
proposals for pricing on air filters and safety supplies soon, Abruzzi said.
OBFS also plans to request proposals for automated tools that will streamline
the accounts payable process, which also could be advantageous to the UI in vendor
Additionally, the procurement re-engineering initiative is expected
to reap substantial savings in terms of employee productivity – for
example, by reducing data entry and the number of requisitions requiring
Purchasing Department approval.
“Right now, buyers are so time-constrained by having to work within SCT
Banner that they don’t have the time necessary to devote to these strategic
issues,” Abruzzi said.
Training is an important component of the overall re-engineering strategy, and
OBFS will offer training on iBuy as it is implemented in addition to ongoing
training on other procurement initiatives, policies and procedures. Karen Deering,
a training and communication coordinator with OBFS, will be dedicated full time