Investing in procurement management software can help government agencies save time and streamline processes.
Darin Matthews' everyday routine was completely modernized after his department implemented a software solution to streamline approval processes, reduce paper waste and allow staff to focus on other tasks. As chief procurement officer of Metro, the regional government in Portland, Ore., Matthews' office underwent a technology renovation in 1998, allowing electronic requisitions, online reconciliation of procurement cards and a wide range of contract reporting tools.
In 2011, the software was upgraded with automatic workflow notification, so managers with budget authority could receive emails reminding them to electronically approve a certain procurement action, such as a purchase order, contract or payment.
Matthews says the update streamlined the approval process, reduced the amount of paper used and allowed staff to focus on other activities. "We decreased the mundane tasks through automation," he says. "I would rather my professional procurement staff be developing complex RFPs, rather than running around trying to get signatures and approvals on contracts.
Despite Matthews' results, a 2011 survey from The Institute for Public Procurement (NIGP) found that 22 percent of public-sector purchasers do not use procurement software of any kind.
Many are concerned that switching to a software system will result in a steep learning curve for officers so familiar with the paper procurement process. But Matthews' staff adjusted quickly with hands-on training for the new system function.
It started with commitment from management, Matthews says, followed by meetings and training sessions for department users. "It is natural for people to be comfortable with the way things are and reluctant to embrace change," Matthews says.
Tina M. Borger, executive director of business development and research director at NIGP, says the results of the survey, "2011 Member Survey: Use of Procurement Software in the Public Sector," illustrate how much procurement has evolved over the past decade.
"We are no longer simply placing orders," she says. "We are a strategic function in the organization that relies heavily on data, analysis, problem solving and creativity — technology supports this role."
Why More are Switching to Procurement Management Software
According to Borger, 82 percent of organizations are currently using procurement software or are planning to invest in new or additional technology.
"The days of adding staff to solve workload issues are behind us," Borger says. "The staff members that you already have should work at the highest level of their abilities, while technology handles routine work."
Based on the survey, procurement management software investments are currently limited in most organizations, and Borger suggests that organizations make the most of what is available. "For those without procurement software and waiting for funding, you can still take action," she says. "Review current processes and be lean about it by removing unnecessary waiting time, redundant reviews and excessive controls."
Borger adds that streamlining the paper processes will prepare an organization for software solutions when they become available. "Research what is available," she says. "Learn to make your business case and be ready for the funding when it comes your way."
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