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Two tonnes of paper, a crate of frogs, and a live tissue sample packed in dry-ice. It sounds like an eccentric's shopping list or the world's hardest scavenger hunt. In reality, these are just some of the items that are obtained on any given day by ten hard-working staff in Purchasing Services.
McGill's purchasing team plays an essential role in ensuring that McGill professors have the tools they need to carry out their teaching and research. And those tools range from common-place commodities to highly specialized items that must be brought in from around the globe.
"Sometimes, it's something you wouldn't even know existed," notes Purchasing's Normand Laguë. As an example, he cites a recent requisition by a music professor for a body suit that measures breathing during a singing performance.
To facilitate the procurement process, the office works closely with professors themselves, especially with regard to technical items.
"In these areas, the knowledge of the researchers is very important. We rely on researchers' knowledge and understanding to create bids," says Associate Director, Kathy Zendehbad.
To perform their job, she and her colleagues require more than just shopping savvy. They are also experienced contract negotiators who are familiar with a complex list of trade and tendering laws, and with McGill's own codes of conduct for purchasing. And, since many science items arrive from the United States, Purchasing Services must keep a close eye on Customs to ensure security-conscious border agents don't mistakenly seize and destroy shipments destined for the Biochemistry Department.
Their work not only ensures that McGill's faculty members have the tools to teach, it also brings considerable savings to the university. Purchasing Services works to consolidate the purchasing power of the McGill community, and to leverage it for bulk discounts. The office also enters into buying groups with other universities in the province to arrange for the procurement of items like paper, garbage bags, and bulk fuel. Laguë and Zendehbad also note that, in recent years, some items from their shopping list have disappeared altogether. Among these are tuition tax receipts that have been eclipsed by their on-line counterparts on Minerva. And remember printer paper with tractor-feed holes in the side? The last and final order went out some time last year.
McGill's buying power will soon achieve a new level of efficiency, as Purchasing Services prepares to unveil a new e-Procurement system this coming fall. This innovation will benefit both professors and McGill's pocket-book, as a campus-wide software program will allow a wide variety of purchases to take place over the Internet. The new system means that professors and staff will be able to consult an on-line list of suppliers and products from which to order.
As well as streamlining the purchasing process, e-Procurement will allow McGill to better manage its inventory of hazardous and chemical supplies. For example, when one professor takes advantage of a bulk discount, any surplus can be identified and transferred to other labs on campus, as opposed to each professor ordering in isolation. The new system will also facilitate inventory tracking for the purposes of safety and disposal.
"What it's going to do is bring people closer, while also allowing them to remain decentralized," says Laguë who is the e-Procurement Project Manager. "What is new is that we'll be able to create a strong buying community. It's a tool we'll be able to provide to the professors."
As Purchasing finds new ways to flex its procurement muscle, the McGill community can look forward to improved coordination in all aspects of the buying process. For more information, go to www.mcgill.ca/purchasing.