Turning Water Into Wine

Rex Hardaway never expected ProcureNet, a New York-based provider of end-to-end e-procurement solutions, to turn water into wine. Rather, the director of procurement and material services at Emory University simply requested the creation of a system that would transfer the power of the institution's central purchasing office into the hands of its employees.

Recalls Hardaway: The original plan for ProcureNet was to apply Web-based requisitioning as a tool on the desktops [of employees] for the purpose of making procurement easier and streamlining the process of identifying needs and reducing cycle time.

But what began as a modest proposal in 1995 soon blossomed into an undertaking of epic proportions. The result is a state-of-the-art e-procurement system that, according to Hardaway, is expected to generate a $10 million ROI over the course of five years.

To date, the system has performed technological miracles single-handedly expediting approval scenarios, spawning a sophisticated tracking system and revolutionizing the requisitioning process.

That's not to suggest, however, that ProcureNet didn't face its fair share of challenges while customizing an e-procurement system for Emory University. Situated in Atlanta, Ga., Emory University is home to nine major academic divisions, numerous centers for advanced study and a host of affiliated institutions including three hospitals. Items ranging from radioactive isotopes, microscopes and CAT scanners to plumbing fixtures, pipes and valves are procured from thousands of suppliers on a daily basis. And purchases must be approved by countless internal and external entities, from academic department heads to the Environmental Health and Safety Office.

It's precisely these complexities that prompted Hardaway to call upon the services of ProcureNet, whose OneSource end-to-end e-procurement solution promised to shepherd the university into the next century a task that was accompanied by a $500,000 price tag.

Pulling the Cork

Says Gina Catania, ProcureNet's director of implementation services: [Emory University] was shoveling a ton of paper, and the turnaround time with their transactions was horrendous. We were perfect for them because we could get rid of the paper, we could streamline their business flow, we could automate their approval process and we could turn around their transaction time into almost a day.

So how exactly did ProcureNet transform Emory University from a paper-driven monolith into a paradigm of e-procurement excellence?

For starters, ProcureNet created an approval processing system that routes requisition forms simultaneously to the appropriate parties. Long gone are the days when an order request would have to wind its way through countless fax machines, ink-stained fingers and dog-eared file folders before receiving approval. Instead, Emory University's requisition forms are routed electronically both vertically to applicable department heads, and horizontally to regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Health and Safety Office. Furthermore, this customized system includes built-in matrices to accommodate each authority's imposed budgetary and commodity restrictions without stalling the approval process.