Using technology to help drive procurement improvement – the National College for Schools and Proactis case study

Jason and I have had some contact with Proactis (previous post here), who are a UK based provider of eProcurement and sourcing solutions.  They put us in touch with one of their clients, the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services (I’m going to call them ‘the College’ from now), and Sarah Coverley and Ronnie Adams from the College were good enough to share some of their experiences with us.

The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services works to develop and inspire great leaders of schools, early years settings and children’s services so that they can make a positive difference to children’s lives. Membership of the National College gives access to unrivalled development and networking opportunities, professional support and leadership resources.

A few years ago, procurement was not highly regarded in the College; it was a 'traditional' function with a bureaucratic process, and 18 people responsible for around £140 million annual spend.  The transformation brought about over the last few years saw new tools - including Proactis products - play an important part in this, but Adams stressed that this was much more of a change management programme.

Much of what the College provides is through a network of consultants / trainers; many of whom are educators themselves. This brings some unusual and interesting dynamic; "that means many of our suppliers are also customers or potential customers"! So procurement systems must be acceptable to providers as well as internal users.

The contract management module was the first element of the Proactis suite to be used, and that has extended out into the wider Sourcing products. Indeed, the College is one of the few public sector bodies (in our experience) using the ‘dynamic purchasing system’ EU compliant procedure, supported by the sourcing software.  This enables the College to keep their supplier frameworks ‘fresh’ and bring in new providers as necessary without having to go through a full tender process every time. The full sourcing process, from EU advertisement through evaluation to contract award is systemized through the Proactis solution, which has reduced cycle time and cost.

Performance and contract management is another key objective, and provider performance management (meeting KPIs for instance) is also done through the system, which also provides notification of trigger points and similar contractual elements within contracts. But the College is not as yet using the Proactis P2P capability – the freeze on Government IT expenditure has put a number of their development initiatives on hold for the moment.

The outcomes from the programme have more than met expectations. The College has much better compliance and control over procurement expenditure; has achieved value improvements; and done this with fewer procurement staff – there is now a team of 12.

Spend Matters will comment further on the Proactis product, but I felt there were a couple of  important more general lessons here. Firstly, whilst the capability of a solution is obviously key, for many clients the level of service and support that the provider can deliver will be at least as important as the technological bells and whistles. That is particularly important if the solution is playing a key role as an enabler in a wider change programme, as in this case. And Proactis came up trumps here. As Coverley told us, “Proactis spent a lot of time making sure the system met our users’ needs – they were really very flexible”.

And on a linked note, the other key learning is the importance of change and project management when undertaking significant procurement transformation. The College’s ‘Better Buying’ programme was run with six projects as a real programme under PRINCE 2 methodology, and a lot of attention was paid to getting stakeholder buy-in; not just from internal staff but from suppliers as well. And the willingness of Proactis to be flexible and spend time meeting the College’s needs clearly helped through this process.

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