Upgrade your classrooms without crashing your budget

11/27/2011  |  ANGELA M. PRATHER C.P.M. and ANDREA M. SCOBIE
technology and learning

Advances in technology are accelerating at a pace greater than ever before. We all feel that as soon as a new device or “gadget” is plugged in and charged, it is obsolete and the next generation is already being introduced or launched. The word “cloud” no longer evokes thoughts of cirrus and cumulus. “Social media” is no longer a party for the press. Remember, it was only a few short years ago that the world did not have iPhones, iPads, iTunes, or the iMac (homage to Steve Jobs intended). Technology touches every part of our lives. It links us to our world, nationally and internationally.

As educational institutions and systems, we must provide the latest and the greatest technology in the classrooms and on campus. In order to compete in the workplace today, our students must be exposed to the most recent technology available. In order to be most effective, our educators must have leading technological resources.

In many cases, students have more robust technology within their mobile phones than some teachers have in all their technological devices combined. 

How do we keep up? How do we provide what our students and educators need? How do we save money without sacrificing progress? One solution is cooperative purchasing.

Cooperative Purchasing as a Solution

We have all felt cuts in funding, budget and staff. Whether we are lucky enough for the financial impact to be minimal, or unlucky enough for it to be creating a dire circumstance, we must all find new and innovative ways to keep up with technology.

Cooperative purchasing is a growing trend in the way many industries, including education, are now looking to procure goods. Group buying traces back to the 1800s just after the Civil War, with groups such as farmers, hospitals, food service, franchises and, yes, schools. Today, cooperatives exist across all sectors throughout the United States.  Business, industry, government, and again, education all utilize cooperative purchasing.

The Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies defines cooperative purchasing in this way:

“Two or more independent organizations that join together, either formally or informally, or through an independent third party, for the purpose of combining their individual requirements for purchased materials, services, and capital goods to leverage more value-added pricing, service and technology from their external suppliers than can be obtained if each organization purchased goods and services alone.”

Cooperative purchasing exists in various options including state, regional or local, as well as national groups. Some state procurement divisions operate as a cooperative purchasing organization when they award a state contract that is then made available to entities within that state. There are regional cooperatives that bring together institutions and/or systems within a given geography to aggregate volume for greater impact on value. National cooperative purchasing organizations, such as National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance (National IPA), have been extremely successful in their ability to leverage the volume of entities across the country. From a national perspective, there is a tremendous advantage in the ability of a national cooperative to use the weight of volume purchases by state, city, county and educational entities to attract industry-leading suppliers. Cooperative purchasing, whether state, local or national in scope has created a positive impact on the cost of supplies and services that are required by the educational marketplace.

Cooperative purchasing contracts are available for every day purchases such as office supplies, janitorial supplies, maintenance supplies, and technology supplies including hardware, software, peripherals, and wireless data. Cooperative contracts may also be offered for capital purchases or project-based requirements such as furniture, grounds maintenance equipment, digital and multi-function copiers, and the list goes on. Even bulk fuel may now be purchased through a national cooperative agreement. By taking advantage of a cooperative contract, your institution may experience dramatic savings without sacrificing quality and service. Because of the volume associated with group purchasing through a cooperative, better pricing is offered than an agency could negotiate alone. The whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. This across the board savings can allow for additional spending in areas of need, even technology upgrades.  

In addition to the cost savings on products and services realized, there are many other advantages to implementing a cooperative strategy. Resource and time savings realized by procurement staff and business offices are well documented. By utilizing a cooperative contract, the procurement staffs are able to quickly and efficiently source and procure supplies and services without having to go through the extensive bid/quote or solicitation process. That process includes writing and issuing a bid or solicitation, managing supplier inquiries, receiving and evaluating responses, negotiating for better value, awarding, and administering the contract throughout its term. If necessary supplies may be acquired through a contract awarded via a thorough solicitation process by another agency or institution, there is a tremendous savings in resource time and effort. Procurement and business office staff can focus on more strategic contracts and other issues and challenges.

The supplier community is also reacting positively to cooperative purchasing. In lieu of the costly endeavor to respond to multiple bids and solicitations from individual institutions, through a cooperative contract, the supplier can effectively market their award to other agencies. The result, lower pricing on higher quality items and savings in additional time and money on future repair and/or replacement costs.

Cooperative purchasing creates a win-win between the institutions and the suppliers! 

The Future of Cooperative Purchasing

Most states currently have legislative statutes that recognize the value cooperative purchasing brings to educational institutions and systems within their state. These statues allow for intergovernmental “piggybacking” on other public entities’ agreements awarded both within the state, and also awarded by agencies in other states across the country. As cooperative purchasing becomes a recognized and documented best practice, many states that have previously limited the use of cooperatives are now passing legislation to allow the practice.

For example, legislation passed in the 2011 Regular State of Alabama Legislative Session amended the Code of Alabama 1975, Section 41-16-51(a) to allow political subdivisions in the State of Alabama to purchase from national and regional purchasing cooperatives.

In June 2011, the State of Louisiana passed GRAD Act 2.0. GRAD Act 2.0 allows for development of specific procurement code to construct a less bureaucratic and more tailored process to meet the specific needs of the higher education institutions.  The new procurement code will allow higher education to use cooperative contracts as part of their purchasing strategy in order to more effectively and efficiently procure goods and services.

Cooperative purchasing is a sound business strategy that allows your institution and/or system to immediately realize substantial savings on those supplies that are crucial to your organization.  Finding the budget dollars to upgrade your classroom technology is much like the technology itself; integrated throughout, yet much less complicated than it seems. Savings from many areas of your operations that may be impacted by cooperative purchasing:  office supplies, janitorial supplies, fuel for your fleets, even elevator maintenance, may be used for technology upgrades. By implementing cooperative purchasing, the technology that sometimes feels out of reach is now available without crashing your budgets.

Angela M. Prather, C.P.M. is currently AVP of National Contracting for National IPA. In this role, she serves as technical advisor and consultant during the solicitation process, as well as after the award of a contract is made. Angela has over 18 years’ experience in purchasing in the Federal, State, Local and Educational levels. She has worked closely with educational systems and institutions across the country to implement a successful cooperative purchasing strategy. Contact her at [email protected].

Andrea M. Scobie is currently VP of Marketing for National IPA. She is responsible for all communications, marketing and training efforts for the cooperative. Andrea has over 13 years’ experience in cooperative purchasing in healthcare, public sector and education. Contact her at [email protected].

Comments & Ratings