Online bidding tools help districts cut purchasing costs.
When Jared Gardner joined the Granite School District in Salt Lake County in 2009 as its purchasing director, he noticed a "stark contrast" between the bidding processes used by the K-12 district and his former employer, the purchasing division for the state of Utah.
Though the school district posted bid notices on its webpage, the bid process itself was still conducted on paper, while the state of Utah was using BidSync, an electronic procurement tool.
Gardner persuaded the district to adopt BidSync, which offers a central website where districts and vendors can exchange documents and communicate. The move has saved the district thousands of dollars a year in paper, printing, and labor costs and has increased the purchasing department's efficiency by at least 30 percent.
BidSync retains requests for proposals (RFPs) on its servers for seven years, so there's no need to store hard copies. Purchasing departments can post bids, send notices to suppliers, and copy specifications from bids created by other districts. Bids can be viewed by hundreds of vendors, which increases competition, says Gardner.
Savings are across the board, even for document-intense construction projects. Gardner's department uploads files from design architects to the website for contractors to review.
The system also supports reverse auctions. The department partners with other districts to buy items in bulk, places the RFP on the system, then watches vendors bid one another down.
There are also creative ways, says Gardner, to realize savings offline. Purchasing departments can investigate partnering with other districts on bids for consulting services. Districts of a similar size can share pricing information, compare deals and buying strategies, and research market conditions to identify the best times to open up the bidding process.
Gardner says the system also helped his department handle its workload after losing an employee to budget cuts. "The efficiencies gained were so significant that we were just fine."
Strength in Numbers
Consider joining a cooperative purchasing organization like one of those described below. They can lower costs by structuring RFPs and negotiating favorable pricing on a wide range of products and services, including energy and health care.
- U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance (uscommunities.org) and its eco-friendly purchasing program, Go Green (gogreencommunities.org)
- National Joint Powers Alliance (njpacoop.org)
- National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance Company (nationalipa.org)
- The Cooperative Purchasing Network (tcpn.org)
- Educational & Institutional Cooperative Purchasing (eandi.org)
*Source: National Institute of Governmental Purchasing