The University of California is nationally-renowned and viewed as a leader in the public sector procurement industry. Their astounding response to COVID-19 sourcing challenges were highlighted in this month's issue of the Educational Procurement Journal, published by the National Association of Education Procurement (NAEP). See below for the full article:
UC Procurement: Behind-the-Scenes but on the Frontline
by Bara Waters
With the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Procurement’s role in strategic sourcing has become increasingly vital and visible. In an everyday world, procurement and supply chain functions are behind-the-scenes operations to which few people give a second thought. But as supply chains experienced disruption worldwide, even those who never thought about where their toilet paper comes from are thinking about it now.
With five campus health centers and ten large research campus operations to outfit, UC Procurement is the hub of supply chain operations throughout the University of California (UC) system. From the moment pandemic-fighting supplies like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) became scarce, this centralized role in sourcing critical items took on greater immediacy and significance.
UC Procurement Strategic Sourcing mobilized swiftly in response to the crisis. "UC benefits from having experienced, talented supply chain professionals that can quickly pivot from negotiating long term contracts to helping our campuses find and procure personal protective equipment and other items that were suddenly in high demand and short supply," said Justin Sullivan, UC Procurement Executive Director of Strategic Sourcing.
The Strategic Sourcing team quickly established a daily systemwide Supply Chain status meeting with over 100 commodity managers, contract managers, data and sourcing analysts, eProcurement, and communications staff across the UC system. This daily information exchange and centralized coordination allowed UC campuses to share sourcing and "spot buy" (immediate one-time purchase) opportunities to help reduce product lead times and match supplies quickly to locations where they were most needed.
"It’s been an extraordinary opportunity for our systemwide and campus-based commodity managers to coordinate for maximum efficiency," said Sullivan. "Daily reporting and sharing information on the best available deals, and developing the flexibility to shift resources rapidly helped us optimize operations and respond quickly in an extremely high-pressure situation," Sullivan said.
During the initial phase, Jeremy Meadows, Associate Director for Strategic Sourcing, ran the daily status meetings and oversaw efforts to reach suppliers and track available goods and services. "We had to be creative and flexible in our supplier outreach and sourcing methods," said Meadows. "As the need for PPE skyrocketed, we had to engage non-UC suppliers along with current UC suppliers to source high-demand items."
Meadows tapped the UC Procurement communications team to launch a supplier outreach campaign and create an online centralized repository to collect supplier responses and organize and track available PPE goods. "We also pulled together an ad hoc team to vet supplier offers so commodity managers could act quickly and with confidence," said Meadows. "And our Analytics team tracked back-ordered reports to monitor lead times on critical items."
As the pandemic matured, UC Procurement’s focus expanded to plan for reopening campuses and health centers in the safest and most thoughtful manner. Daily meetings were reduced to three-times-a-week. One session now focused on strategy and contingency planning for reopening while the others continued with current supply chain offerings and updates.
Looking further into the future, UC Procurement is transforming this crisis into an opportunity. "Demanding times highlight the need for new approaches and bold solutions," said Bill Cooper, UC Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer. "We’ve shown that we can mobilize and respond heroically to dynamic sourcing challenges, and now our goal is to apply the same agility to optimizing our organization and practices systemwide."
As the University of California faces unprecedented financial fallout from the pandemic, UC Procurement is a bright spot in a darkened sky. "Our strategic and collaborative sourcing methods already create significant savings for the University. But procurement and supply chain operations can also be powerful revenue-generating engines," said Cooper. "COVID-19 will significantly stress the University’s financial posture for several years to come. UC Procurement’s new frontline is to be a major contributor to the restoration of UC’s financial and operational stability."
Bara Waters is the Communications & Training Manager for UC Procurement, the central procurement/supply chain operation for the University of California system of ten research campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories. UC Procurement develops and implements supply chain strategies and policies that leverage the University of California’s vast purchasing power to optimize University spend. Waters has done marketing communications, education and training, and organizational and economic development in K-12/higher education, technology and government sectors. She holds a Master’s degree in Community Development from the University of Michigan.
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