In the final instalment of this series of articles, Dr David Hames discusses how e-marketplaces have now become centre-stage in the HE sector. When Science Warehouse was founded back in 2000, every time that I spoke with a new university about the benefits of e-procurement, there were two main questions.
The first was: would it really save money? The second was; what was the best way of implementing it? Many HEIs decided to wait and see successful implementations as proof of concept before committing to go forward.
Fortunately a few key procurement colleagues in the sector were absolutely convinced of the benefits that an e-marketplace could deliver – not only for their institutions but also their staff. The sector owes them a debt of gratitude for being the pioneers and proving that such solutions really did work, really did deliver the promised efficiencies and really did deliver savings. However, even with this proof, many universities still felt unable to prioritise the financial commitment to move forward.
It is against this background that in June 2010, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) launched an e-Procurement Fund for the sector, offering grants of up to £60,000 to larger HEIs that had an established central procurement team, to implement or develop an e-marketplace. The importance of this initiative cannot be underestimated. It raised sector recognition of the value of an e-marketplace, made the implementation of an e-marketplace urgent and mainstream, and provided important financial pump-priming.
The initiative has been highly successful. Science Warehouse, already the leading fully managed e-marketplace solution in the HE sector before the e-Procurement Fund was launched, has won 11 university contracts in the past year alone, ranging from leading pre-92 research-intensive universities to ambitious post-92 universities.
It is worth noting that a good e-marketplace is about much more that offering university staff a fast and easy way to purchase from an institution’s selected suppliers. Science Warehouse offers each university customer a customised e-marketplace which is fully integrated into the university’s finance system. This integration is absolutely vital for maximising the efficiency of the procurement process and for cost control. The integrated solution provides a completely electronic end-to-end process for ordering and invoicing, facilitates commitment checks prior to order release, and enables automatic invoice pre-matching against orders prior to payment.
While recognising the proven benefits of a customised integrated e-marketplace for larger HEIs, HEFCE also decided to fund the development of “a generic e-marketplace for use by smaller HEIs.” More details of the Generic eMarketplace (GeM) have recently been made available. It is a stand-alone e-marketplace “for use with purchase cards only.”
HEFCE is also now promoting and funding cloud computing for the sector which was another key topic at this year’s BUFDG Conference. The benefits of a cloud computing application include no software to purchase, no servers to install it on, and no upgrade costs. Science Warehouse has deep experience in this area and has delivered cloud computing for many years – even before the term was coined! Our e-marketplace solutions deliver all of the key benefits discussed at the BUFDG Conference for data hosting, resilience and scalability. Indeed we have recently won the ‘IT Efficiency Award’ 2011, one of the Yorkshire Digital & Technology Awards.
In summary, 2011 is the year in which e-marketplaces in the HE sector finally came of age. Small institutions that are happy with purchase card use only may choose to access GeM. Institutions that want to maximise the savings and efficiencies from e-procurement can be confident from numerous case studies that the best approach is a fully integrated and customised e-marketplace such as Science Warehouse. There is now no reason why any university should feel that an e-marketplace is beyond reach.
To contact David please email David Hames on david [dot] hames [at] sci-ware [dot] com