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Web-based Purchasing Saves Money, Time

Web-based Purchasing Saves Money, Time

26 research units at Duke now use Buy@Duke to purchase $30 million of supplies online

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Kait Porter
Kait Porter, a research technician in a lab in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, orders supplies several times a month using Duke's new procurement system, Buy@Duke. Photo by Marsha A. Green.

Durham, NC - Kait Porter examined the label on a nearly empty jar that contained sodium hydroxide beads to neutralize acidic waste. She keyed information into a web-based purchasing site, and within seconds had found the item and added it to a shopping cart for her department's approval.

Porter, a research technician in a lab in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, orders supplies several times a month using Duke's new procurement system, Buy@Duke.

"Buy@Duke makes it really easy," she said.

The web-based purchasing system combines the electronic catalogues of more than two dozen major vendors into one virtual marketplace with guaranteed Duke pricing. This makes ordering scientific supplies more efficient, cost effective and easier to track. Across Duke, staff in 26 research units are purchasing about $30 million worth of supplies annually through the system, and Duke expects that volume to grow. 

"Buy@Duke directs the buying power of Duke toward our preferred vendors, which allows us to negotiate better prices," said Jane Pleasants, assistant vice president for Procurement and Supply Chain Management. "It also helps us easily see what we are buying so we can focus price negotiations on items we routinely purchase."

The program is one of several initiatives supported by Duke's Research Administration Continuous Improvement Integration Initiative to enhance support for faculty, researchers, grant managers and the research community at Duke.

Duke's goal is to have all major research units using Buy@Duke by December and to introduce the system Duke-wide by next summer. As it rolls out to the university, Duke will add high-volume vendors so employees can purchase everything from office paper to organic enzymes at the lowest total cost.

A key efficiency in Buy@Duke is eliminating the paperwork traditionally associated with purchasing.

For example, after Porter, the research technician, submitted her supply order, it was electronically routed to the lab manager, who checked inventory, matched fund codes and ensured all safety regulations were followed. The virtual shopping cart was then routed to the business manager, who checked availability of funds and confirmed whether the purchase was permitted for a grant-funded project. Once everything matched up, the system automatically generated purchase orders for the vendor. Porter could view her cart at any time to see where it was in the review process.

The system has shifted the timing of procurement workflow for Rebecca Dupree, the business manager who reviews purchases for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"I'm doing a lot more review before the order goes out the door," she said. "But when we start financial reconciling at the end of the month, I don't have to review the transactions again. I know they are good."

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