Improving business processes, reducing overheads and increasing bottom line profits are challenges faced by every company regardless of size.
An area where an increasing number of organisations are looking for efficiencies is that of procurement and the automation of the procurement process, thereby saving time and money.
One organisation that has cast a critical eye over its procurement of IT is high street coffee shop chain Coffee Republic.
The company recently started to use the Probrand marketplace, a sophisticated on line procurement hub that lists more than 150,000 products based on best price and current availability from more than 2,500 manufacturers. Prices are sourced from the UK's leading IT distributors and checked on a daily basis to ensure best price availability in the marketplace.
The Coffee Republic team use Probrand's marketplace to secure the quickest possible delivery of any given product from a server to printer toner cartridges at the most competitive price.
As a registered customer, the Coffee Republic IT team benefits from a bespoke catalogue of products, which enables them to enforce greater financial control whilst increasing business efficiency by eliminating the need for buyers to conduct time consuming ring rounds to an extensive list of suppliers.
Ultimately, Probrand can help increase profits by reducing time wastage, eradicating rogue purchasing and providing products faster and cheaper.
Just seven months after starting to use Probrand's marketplace, Coffee Republic is already seeing significant savings in time and money across its IT procurement budget and an overall increase in efficiency of the procurement process.
Established in 1995, Coffee Republic has grown rapidly and now has 44 outlets across the UK and employs in excess of 300 people that sell 14,000 cups of coffee a day.
The company's IT department is responsible for providing all front line support to both the in-store and head office elements of the operation as well as looking after all aspects of the IT procurement process. The department consists of IT service and support professionals first and foremost.
Falling under the remit of the IT department are more than 300 end users, operating EPoS units as well as 70 laptop and desk top users who are both field and head office based. Further responsible includes all head office server infrastructure and solutions.
The department needs to be able to source products quickly and reliably, confident in the knowledge that the right product will be delivered to the right place at the right time and for the right price. Procurement is a significant element of the department's overall responsibility and it covers all aspects from telecommunications equipment, laptops, desktops, servers and printers through to consumables such as CDs and printer toner.
Given the IT departments depth and breadth of job description in ensuring the organisations IT infrastructure is maintained, procurement was viewed as a necessary yet time consuming task given a traditional manual approach to the process.
IS Manager Pee Herron points out: "In a fast moving retail environment having a piece of IT hardware out of action means potential lost revenue.
"Our procurement process typically involved telephone sourcing of price information by calling numerous suppliers to obtain a competitive quote and check availability. This would take up to 20% of our time as we would look to balance best price against prompt delivery for greatest value from our budget.
"We would then have to manage the delivery process and this in itself would burn considerable amounts of time on the phone, especially if part orders or incorrect products had been shipped or the product had been delivered to the wrong location. With more than 40 stores and a head office, all of these scenarios were quite commonplace and would take hours to conclude."
"Put simply we were wasting vast swathes of time on administration and quote and order chasing. It did not represent best use of time.
"We knew we had to implement a more efficient business process as part of a best practice approach to help ‘stretch' the reach of our valuable IT budget and importantly unlock time for us to focus more on managing the IT system."
Probrand's marketplace is a web based IT procurement solution, which features a daily updated catalogue of over 150,000 products from more than 2,500 different manufacturers in a secure on-line environment.
Probrand takes price and availability information streams from the main UK distributors before displaying this information on a like-for-like comparison basis to illustrate the best deal. Users can be confident they are getting the best priced product in the fastest possible time.
The solution is the first e-procurement solution in the UK to be accredited by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England & Wales (ICAEW).
The team at Coffee Republic use the marketplace to handle purchase of all consumables, communications hardware, software and general IT hardware.
At present, three people use the solution.
Planning and Execution
Probrand's marketplace is available for organisations to use at no cost, and is simple to register for. Once Coffee Republic's online account had become live through inputting a unique password, users were able to start browsing and purchasing IT products through the hub within 24 hours of opening the account.
Within the first two months Coffee Republic recognised the considerable impact of Probrand's marketplace, saving nearly a quarter of normal day-to-day operating time and 5% of the normal monthly spend on IT products.
As Pee Herron points out: "Following early deployment, the solution saved on average a day a week in time, we are now saving 5 days a month, which we used to have to spend managing procurement administration. Probrand's marketplace eliminated all of these issues. It is a tremendously powerful solution, which is reliable and extremely straightforward to deploy and use. It made a significant impact on our department very quickly.
"We regularly benchmark Probrand against spot prices in the marketplace and it is consistently competitive, especially when you bring in the factor of stock availability. It isn't difficult to source great prices, but they are of little use if you are on a two-month back order. The solution has reduced delivery lead times on product by 10%.
"One of its most useful features is the ability to specify delivery to any one of a large number of locations coupled with the high availability of stock. This means we no longer have to chase back orders or arrange to have product re-distributed. They can be delivered direct to store, ready to be installed. The bottom line is it gets us to the best priced product faster than anything we've ever experienced, consistently."
After an initial bedding in period, where the department changed its working practices to start buying through the marketplace, Coffee Republic began to use the solution intuitively, adopting new ways of working to help them maximise their roles.
Herron continues: "The marketplace has simplified the administrative process associated with management of purchases. The other major benefit of the solution is that it is web based, which means I can gain access when I'm out of the office, which has become valuable when visiting a store location and I need to check price and availability on a specific product.
"For a business such as ours, which has a relatively small IT team, it is helping us more efficiently serve the organisation so that we can focus our energies on front line support to ensure maximum operational time and minimum down time.
"Separately, I believe the solution has enhanced our roles, improving job satisfaction and team morale through our refocus on actually managing IT systems rather than doing the administration of buying kit. We can all operate as a more cohesive, efficient unit as opposed to IT managers required to dabble in procurement."