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Buy@Duke: One Stop Shop For Supplies

Duke launches new web-based purchasing program

Erik Lykken, a graduate student working in Dr. Qi-Jing Li's laboratory, uses Buy@Duke to order research supplies. Photo by Marsha A. Green
Erik Lykken, a graduate student working in Dr. Qi-Jing Li's laboratory, uses Buy@Duke to order research supplies. Photo by Marsha A. Green

Jose Sevilla, a Duke research technician, placed his laptop among tubes and machinery on the research bench, logged onto a new web-based e-procurement tool and began checking off his shopping list.

Choosing pipette tips from one vendor and cell culture filter bottles from another, he loaded his virtual shopping cart with supplies for experiments on microRNA. Then, with the click of a mouse, he sent the cart to Dr. Qi-Jing Li, the lab's principal investigator, for purchase approval. 

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Dr. Li's lab in the Department of Immunology is among the first to pilot Buy@Duke, the new procurement tool that saves money by leveraging Duke's purchasing power, while at the same time enhancing financial administration. 

Buy@Duke conveniently collects the contents of catalogs from 25 scientific supply vendors with guaranteed Duke pricing. In the future, the tool will expand to host catalogs for additional vendors. The initial focus is on research supplies because they represent one of the largest areas of spending at $70 million annually, said Jane Pleasants, assistant vice president for Procurement and Supply Chain Management. 

"Buy@Duke will direct the buying power of Duke toward preferred vendors and allow us to get even more economies of scale," she said. 

The program is supported by Duke's Research Administration Continuous Improvement Integration Initiative, which will be offering project teams to help units integrate and implement a host of related new technologies and financial assessment and management policies.  

 Buy@Duke, the first technology of the Integration Initiative, began its pilot phase in February 2011 with the departments of Immunology and Biology and the Neonatology Division of the Department of Pediatrics. As these departments provide feedback, the program will expand to other departments. 

"It will take a while to ramp up," said Ed Sharpe, associate director of Procurement Services. "But we want the implementation to be collaborative and high touch and create as little burden on a unit as possible."

Users of Buy@Duke - whether faculty, graduate students or staff - assign cost object codes to each item in their virtual cart. The customized system then routes the cart for approval: Some labs may push everything to faculty, while others have staff approve some purchases. The automated approval workflow ensures costs are correctly allocated before purchases. 

This reduces paperwork for financial reconciliations, and in most cases, eliminates extra departmental recordkeeping to track grant expenses.

Todd Leovic, business manager for Immunology, said the process is saving time and money already.

"You can go online and watch a cart go through all of the steps of approval, even if the faculty member approving it is in China," he said. "We're actually ordering less paper because everything is online."