5 Recommendations for Procurement in Schools
With hoards of stationary, masses of educational literature and a wealth of hardware and software to source ahead of each academic year, procurement can be an ongoing challenge for many schools. This is particularly prevalent in recent times, with budgets coming under the microscope and the change in the type of investments schools have had to make to ensure their staff and students can continue working from home amidst closures.
As the school community prepares to return to some sort of normality in September, you may well find that some of your procurement needs and budgeting structures have changed. This may result in the need to address your usual orders and potentially source new products and providers.
To support you with this, we’ve compiled five simple recommendations when it comes to navigating procurement at your school:
1. Explore your options
As we all know, whenever you’re gathering quotes from suppliers, it makes good commercial sense to seek more than one. To give you enough of an idea of the market value, provide your Senior Leadership Team with some options and give yourself enough leeway for any potential price negotiations, we would recommend obtaining three quotes for products/services wherever possible.
As part of this initial explorative stage, we also suggest discussing potential options with your chosen supplier for changing terms during the contract. In doing so, you can ensure that you’re not tied into any fixed long-term agreements which may end up hindering you should circumstances change in the future.
Once you’ve established your supplier of choice, your financial management tool should allow you to set “Preferred Supplier” customer fields to enable greater commercial agreements on an ongoing basis. With iFinance you will also be able to set credit terms, allowing faster payment of “Preferred Suppliers” so you can ensure your school receives preferential rates as a further cost-saving exercise.
2. Maintain communication with vendors
Once you’ve found your preferred supplier, it’s important that you establish and maintain a clear line of communication with them. By keeping a record of all supplier interactions in one place, you can ensure a consistent and accurate oversight of all supplier relationships. This includes crucial service level agreement details, including the expectations of service and the agreed payment terms for those products/services.
To support you with this without limiting your supplier interactions to an individual in your Finance Team, who may not always be available, iFinance has a “Notes” function to record every communication with each of your suppliers. This will enhance the transparency of all communications and ensure there is no confusion surrounding expectations on either side of the transaction.
3. Give yourself time
For peace of mind and to make sure everything is ready for the upcoming academic year, it makes sense to negotiate new contracts for essential products and services such as utilities, printing-copying, temp staff and others well in advance. As iFinance is fully cloud-based, your Finance Team will be able to do this remotely during the school holidays if required. Plus, you can then upload scanned copies of all agreements, quotes, terms and conditions, and other relevant emails against the customer using the online document management storage facility. In doing so, every member of your Finance Team will be kept updated in real-time regarding the status of supplier contracts and any orders you place with them.
4. Keep budgets in mind
Budgeting is of course, one of the most significant elements that needs addressing at every stage of the procurement process. Not only will you need to manage the balances on suppliers’ accounts against your annual budgets, but you’ll also need to allow for a revised budget during the year where adjustments may be needed depending on your current expenditure.
By using an accounting software such as iFinance, you can use BI codes to set detailed approval levels on Purchase Orders and item invoices by the budget holder. This means that your designated budget holder will maintain a constant oversight over any expenditure and the finances they have available at any one time.
In addition, reviewing credit limits for suppliers against new POs and item invoices means that you’ll be warned if you’re approaching your credit limit. In doing so, you can better account for any expenditure and clearly define and implement any budget restrictions.
To make the most of software such as this, we would strongly recommend uploading your school budget at the beginning of each financial year and revising the budget after each period to account for any changes. This includes reviewing YTD figures against your available budget so you can better control your spending and amend your financial forecasting where needed.
If your budgets are stretched and you belong to a school group, we would also recommend negotiating a group deal to obtain a better price from potential suppliers. Features such as iFinance’s group level reporting enables you to accurately capture instances such as this as part of its comprehensive consolidated reporting functionality.
5. Log everything accurately
Last but definitely not least, is making sure that everything is securely logged in your finance system of choice and that the correct level of permissions are set to ensure that only the right people can access the right elements of your school’s finances. If the system you use is web-based then that is an added bonus as your staff will be able to access it whenever they need to and wherever they are, without having to be logged onto a school computer on site. This empowers them to maintain better control of school finances through any potential further closures and beyond.
If you’re currently looking at a new financial management and accounting software for your school and aren’t sure which one is right for you, make sure you ask these 6 questions to help you decide.