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Purchasing cooperative saves time so university can pursue strategic endeavors

Education-focused E&I Cooperative Services handles everything from requests for proposals to contract management
University Business, December 2018

Ten years ago, Auburn University began using E&I Cooperative Services for purchasing, a move that dovetailed perfectly with the school’s shift to a strategic sourcing model of procurement.

As a result, Alabama’s second-largest university now has the time and money to build strong relationships among employees and further increase efficiencies, says Missty Kennedy, director of procurement and business services.

‘Best-in-class contracts’

“E&I’s best-in-class contracts save Auburn money that can be allocated to other areas,” Kennedy says. “And when my staff members are not tied to their desks—working on large RFPs, answering vendor questions or negotiating contracts—they can work on communications and education, which are very important but often get moved down the priority list because we are focused on reactive purchasing and putting out fires.”

E&I Cooperative Services focuses exclusively on education, providing more than 120 contracts to its nearly 5,000 institutional members. E&I handles the entire request for proposal process, from research and RFP development through contract management. As a result, Kennedy’s staff now spends less than two months on a typical contract—completing due diligence that is required by the state, even when using a cooperative—instead of the previous three to six months.

‘Extra pair of hands’

“E&I is essentially an extra pair of hands for my staff—it’s somebody doing that work so we can concentrate on more strategic endeavors,” Kennedy says.

E&I uses the strength of its membership numbers to negotiate far better contracts than individual institutions could. “Plus the staff is knowledgeable and always willing to help,” Kennedy says. “They are there for everything from small emergency purchases to million-dollar contracts.”

Using E&I allows Kennedy’s staff to spend time with the 3,000 campus employees who have procurement credit cards, which let them spend $3,000 per transaction. “We need to educate employees on what they can and cannot buy, and how state bidding laws work,” Kennedy says. “It’s critical to build these relationships so they trust us and understand the value we can bring.”

Highly recommended

Auburn’s switch from tactical sourcing—a short-term, transactional approach—to strategic sourcing, which is more long-term and holistic, was well-timed with its E&I membership.

Kennedy now offers this advice to fellow procurement directors considering a similar change: “Look at E&I as a resource, and explore that option because there is tremendous value there. Using E&I frees up both hard and soft dollars to do other things that are important to the university.”

For more information, visit eandi.org