Neil Robertson Nov 23, 2020 10:30:00 AM 13 min read

How Online Buying Improves Procurement in Schools

Historically, school budgets have always been tight — but with the impact of COVID-19 and schools trying their absolute best to navigate this “new normal” with what little they get.


Schools are doing everything they can to equip pupils right now and charter a course back to the classroom, but in this process, more and more costs are being incurred — far greater than many had anticipated.

But what can be done? Even with stretched budgets school staff still have to buy equipment for classes and students — whether they are learning remotely or venturing into the classroom for socially distanced lessons.

You might be in this position. You might be a teacher or responsible for the provision of equipment at your school and wondering about how you can improve your purchasing and procurement.

And there’s a simple solution: online buying and purchasing automation. Through these tools, you can save your school a significant amount of money in the short, medium and long term, as well as achieve “best value” on all purchases. 

If you want to find out more, we would encourage you to keep reading! 


1. Traditional processes create problems 

While some school finance managers recognize the benefits of AP automation, the issue (for many of them) is that their existing purchasing processes are predominantly manual and deeply ingrained in the AP function. 

In these schools, staff have become accustomed to searching and paying for school equipment using their methods: they find what they need, highlight the items and then show them to someone in the AP department who then has to purchase them. This has been the process for decades and in the current climate, accepting the status quo is perceived as preferable to change.

But change is precisely what schools need right now.

With this antiquated and inconsistent process, schools are failing to achieve “best value” (this being the perfect balance of price, quality and availability) and are paying more for goods than what they need to. To make matters worse, because staff take purchasing into their own hands, there’s no visibility of committed spend or purchases made until the invoice is received! 


2. Maverick spend leads to missed opportunities to save money

As staff effectively manage the purchase process, simply showing the AP team the invoice once it arrives, visibility of spend across the school is poor. There’s no way for the AP team to compile accurate records for spend forecasting or even identify what departments/purchases are devouring the budget! 

Also, staff accept the prices they are given as they have no way to readily compare prices from one supplier against another, resulting in even more money being lost on low-value items (the main culprits). 

Finally, once these purchases are made, the invoices are locked away in filing cabinets, never to be seen again — but the information within these invoices is crucial to identifying sustainable, long-term savings. Unfortunately, scraping that information is a time-consuming task and the AP team are already busy accounting for all the purchases! 


3. Manual processes mean more work for the AP team

In the absence of a consistent purchasing process, AP teams spend more time accounting for purchases made and invoice management than they do on spend control and identifying savings. 

A manual purchasing process usually leaves AP teams accounting for a high volume of low-value spend when their time could be better spent elsewhere.

At a time when schools are struggling to conserve cash, cut costs and increase productivity, freeing up the AP function to focus on more important (and valuable) work is vital. 

P.S. Every purchasing and accounts payable process “works”, the question is, does it work well or as well as it should? If you’re concerned about that, read this blog.


What’s the solution?

Fortunately, there is a solution to alleviate these three problems — purchasing automation and integrated online buying. They work hand-in-hand to improve purchasing and procurement for businesses and schools alike. 


How can online buying improve purchasing and procurement at schools?

Purchase automation and specifically online buying, present a simple solution that enables school staff to buy what they need online (and at the best prices) before instantly submitting the generated purchase order to the AP department. The AP team has complete control over the process (they can see purchases made and spend committed) and can cross-reference purchase orders against invoices, send purchase orders onward for approval and ensure staff use preferred suppliers.

By simply buying more through Amazon Business, for example, schools can save up to 32% — so let’s take a look at how online buying can improve purchasing and procurement in schools in more detail.


What is online buying/integrated online buying?

Integrated online buying enables you (and your staff) to buy online from marketplaces — like Amazon Business and YPO — at the best prices. 

Just as you would use Amazon to buy products outside of work, the same can be done for your school, too. This capability allows your staff to compare products and prices, availability and the quality of what’s on offer, ensuring best value throughout the process. 

More importantly, suppliers compete for your business, meaning you get the best possible prices with the least amount of effort. You can also enforce preferred suppliers so that staff only ever buy from those who are approved.

By extending this capability to your staff and AP team, it becomes significantly easier to purchase products as and when you need them, and at the best prices. 


What are the other benefits of online buying/integrated online buying?

As well as access to online marketplaces and the ability to achieve “best value”, online buying/integrated online buying streamlines the purchase order process. 

On purchase, orders are automatically forwarded to your AP team for approval (as online buying is tightly integrated with your ERP system), resulting in a zero-touch process. For the purchase order to be moved on to the next step, it just needs to be approved by the appropriate member of staff. 

Workflows can be set up to direct purchase order approvals accordingly, and the AP team have complete visibility and control of purchases and orders, including who is making them, when, where and why. 

This process is much faster and convenient for everyone involved — staff get what they need and the AP team can focus on more valuable work rather than chasing approvals and filing invoices.

To make the most of these technologies, incorporating invoice automation, specifically digital invoice capture, is a must (particularly if you’re still using outdated methods). With digital invoice capture, all invoices (including PDFs — which have become the industry standard) are automatically captured and assigned to the appropriate purchase order. More importantly, the information within these invoices can be drilled into (down to invoice header and line level) for use in spend analysis at scale. With this information, you can easily identify savings opportunities across spend categories and stretch your school budgets further. 


Online buying is much more strategic

With control over purchases and the ability to enforce preferred supplier selection, AP teams can optimize the process, reduce costs, improve productivity. AP teams can also start to forecast spending more accurately, including seeing committed spend (by category) to determine what can be bought and when. 


To summarize, online buying and purchasing automation: 

  • Allow you to achieve the best value and improve your purchasing and procurement
  • Automate time-consuming and resource-intensive tasks, giving your AP team more time for more valuable work
  • Provide complete control over purchases and spending 
  • Reduce spend and conserve cash


How can we help you to improve your school’s purchasing and procurement? 

As a provider of specialist accounts payable and purchasing automation — for both on-site and remote AP functions — we can help you to overhaul, improve and refine your purchasing process for both now and the future.

If you want to find out more about how you can achieve long-term and sustainable savings with our help, just download our free eBook below.

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Neil Robertson

Neil has a 39-year track record of building successful direct and channel global software businesses predominately in the financial software market place. Neil Robertson is Executive Chairman of Compleat Software. A 39-year veteran of the financial software marketplace, Neil has a long track record of building disruptive start-ups into successful businesses, including his time as CEO EMEA of Great Plains where he built the business outside of the USA from 1995 - 2001. Compleat is no exception and perhaps the most disruptive of them all.
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