Case Study: TASC

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Collective Power Wins Benefits for The Anglican Schools Corporation

For modern schools, the use of technology has become a significant factor in providing quality education. Today’s students have access to greater opportunities, new content delivery and exciting teaching methods. For The Anglican Schools Corporation (TASC), a community of 17 schools supporting 14,000 students, appropriate access to technology is a key part of the education service.

The Challenge

When Chief Technology Officer Rohan Smith joined TASC in 2014, he quickly realised that each school within the organisation was purchasing devices such as desktops and laptops via their own processes.

‘It was fragmented and decentralised, and the challenge was that the group needed to orchestrate procurement on a large scale, but I was too busy focusing on running the IT department,’ said Rohan.

There were no established standards across the group, with each school negotiating different agreements with different vendors and resellers. Rohan saw an opportunity to establish collective purchasing at a group level, so that each school could benefit from the buying power at scale. Time, though, was an issue.

‘When you’re the CTO of a large organisation, you have to focus on the entire IT operation, and procurement is one small part of that picture – but it is a time-consuming and integral one,’ said Rohan.

Two of the schools in the TASC group had already engaged Next Technologies directly, and when Rohan began investigating the opportunities for pricing agreements, he established that they would go far beyond the service levels that a normal technology reseller would provide.

‘Next Technologies would run tenders and engage in negotiations with HP, Dell, Lenovo and other vendors on our behalf. So, we’re only dealing with one contact.’

The Solution

TASC and Next Technologies worked with key vendors, such as HP, to establish an open book contract relationship under their Transact Open service. The contract offered a low fixed margin for all transactions with the schools within the group. Whether making a large purchase of 600 laptops or simply replacing a single laptop, the margin remained the same.

Next Technologies works with each of the schools, gathering their unique requirements and seeking the best group pricing from vendors. Where necessary, that means running the tender process on behalf of TASC. Having experienced procurement specialists conducting negotiations on the schools’ behalf is all part of the service, and knowing their way round the complex vendor landscape gives a real head-start.

Using Next Technologies’ Techflow platform, a TASC group purchasing portal was developed, fully branded and customised without charge. There is an automated approval process to make buying equipment fast and simple for the busy school staff. Rohan’s team can choose from more than 250,000 technology items to add to the portal, from a range of vendors, so no matter the unique needs of each school, they can find exactly what they need, without having to shop around each vendor themselves.

‘All day-to-day needs are managed through the portal, and it is easy for us to manage,’ said Rohan.

Approved staff from each school can simply log in, choose the devices that best suit their needs, and make small or large purchases with the group prices negotiated by Next Technologies. Requisitions are processed through customised approval workflows, making it easier than ever to manage technology purchasing. Reports can be generated to show expenditure by school, department or accounting cost code.

A defining feature of the arrangement is that pricing is entirely transparent. Rohan can see and agree the margins applied to any product in the pricing agreement.

‘When procuring devices yourself with resellers, you never know the margin, whereas in this arrangement you always know the cost break-down,’ said Rohan.

Next Technologies has also developed individual parent purchase portals for many of the schools within the group. TASC can manage which devices are available to parents when provisioning BYOD, so that there is consistency among students. This consistency makes it easier to troubleshoot any problems students may have when operating their machines. It also provides some certainty to parents looking to make the right choice, as the devices have been carefully selected by the school.

The Outcome

For Rohan, a key advantage of the procurement partnership is that Next Technologies does the legwork of seeking requirements from each school. While his team focuses on an IT strategy to benefit the group of schools, Next Technologies has the conversation with staff managing the school’s technology about devices, negotiates with vendors, and reports back.

‘I want one discussion about requirements, not eight, nine or ten,’ said Rohan.

‘I would have had to talk to multiple vendors individually. Now I have one conversation, with an open and transparent procurement process.’

Rohan says the schools have been happy to work as a collective and get the outcomes they are looking for.

‘It’s about maximising choice and control for the school, while leveraging the scale of the group.’

Outsourcing the administration and overhead associated with procurement has proved a wise move for the TASC team. The knowledge of the unique way vendors behave means that what the Next Technologies experts can do quickly would be more time-consuming for the schools involved.

‘You just don’t have that knowledge in schools, it would take hours and hours to do tasks in a novice way – and that doesn’t make sense,’ said Rohan.

The benefit flows on to students. If a fixed budget is allocated to a project, said Rohan, the group procurement process gives stronger bargaining power than before.

‘When the budget goes further, the student gets a better device for the spend. The vendor may provide better functions, such as touch-screen, for the same cost of a lower value machine,’ said Rohan.

‘Ultimately, we are making sure we get the best learning outcomes for students in our schools.’

X As A Service

The phrase ‘digital transformation’ is among the most used in IT circles this year, and for good reason. As organisations strive to strike back against the Uber and Airbnb-style upstarts, or to stay relevant in a digitised world, the pressure is on to reinvent. The response is changing the IT department’s position in the business.

The phrase ‘digital transformation’ is among the most used in IT circles this year, and for good reason. As organisations strive to strike back against the Uber and Airbnb-style upstarts, or to stay relevant in a digitised world, the pressure is on to reinvent. The response is changing the IT department’s position in the business.

Why IT Departments are Becoming Service Providers

There are two key factors at play. The first, not surprisingly in the brave new digital world, is the way businesses are turning to those with technical understanding to forge a path into the future. The IT team, with their grasp of emerging technologies alongside their knowledge of the business and its processes, are expected to save the day.

At the same time as acting as digital superheroes, though, the IT department is increasingly seen as a service provider, expected to meet certain service level agreements to the rest of the organisation. This may be in terms of time taken to roll out new services, provide capacity, or business continuity provisions.

The As-a-Service Revolution

Not surprisingly, IT teams are turning to an array of as-a-service models to help meet service levels. From software to pay-as-you-go platform as a service (PaaS), the trend is gathering pace. There is one every-day aspect of IT that has until now been largely overlooked, though – in spite of being both time consuming and high on administrative overhead. When IT departments are time poor and frustrated, procurement frustrations are often the cause.

Enlisting help to fulfil procurement service levels is a necessity for many busy IT departments. After all, when the IT department is working flat-out on digital strategy, it is one of the easiest and most practical elements to offload.

Procurement Services

Typically, acquiring equipment such as desktops, laptops and point of sale (POS) machines involves a lengthy process. The HR department or a line of business makes a request; the IT department assigns a task, and a (usually over-qualified) team member researches appropriate machines, then negotiates with vendors or IT partners to agree a price. Approval may be needed from the finance department, a purchase order is raised, and a few weeks later, the IT storeroom or warehouse receives the machines. The team member collects boxes, loads a standard operating environment (SOE), asset tags the machines, then if the machines are needed at another location, returns them to the storeroom or warehouse to be sent out.

That is an awful lot of touchpoints for a busy IT department. Aside from the resource drain, not every IT member is equipped to negotiate prices, so outside the major purchases, it is simpler to just order more of the same from an existing partner. Margin creep sets in, though, so from that initial order at maybe a 5% margin to win business, you can expect that margin to creep up over time to 10 or 15%, the ‘cream’ for the supplier. That, of course, is invisible to the purchaser.

How Procurement Services Work

Like any as-a-service option, procurement offerings are not all created equally. It is worth doing your homework. When we designed the building blocks of our Procurement Transformation Framework, we wanted to give control and transparency, with minimum effort involved from the customer. Our Transact program is built on a consistent low margin, with transparency for customers.

That consistency means that the same deal is on offer for small orders as for large. It also means there is no agenda based on hidden commissions, so you get the best option instead of the one that will help a salesperson to meet a target. We added in our Techflow portal, so that it would be easy to set up standard product and bundle options, all in a portal branded for each customer individually. Our Techflow portal is designed to be an asset for each customer – something that IT can deliver to the rest of the business.

Our third building block, Zerotouch, handles the SOE and asset tagging tasks involved. Instead of taking hours per machine, there is a very low charge – lower by far than the cost of using skilled staff to carry boxes to and from the warehouse.

Addressing Time Pressures

With the pressure on to meet service levels, it is near-impossible in a busy IT department to consistently procure machines quickly enough in-house. In our own model, we wear the cost of keeping a number of machines in stock for time-critical needs.

The right procurement model will allow you to confidently promise machines to your lines of business within days – fully configured, asset tagged, domain joined and ready to use. And they can just create equipment requests on a fully branded portal, complete with pre-agreed low margin, so the IT team doesn’t have to get involved. Just a report when you need it.

As skilled resources are at a premium, and the service model becomes more entrenched, your as-a-service choices will play a part in defining your level of digital capability. Seeking options that save the most time, while retaining most control and causing least disruption, will be key. Those that promote the IT department as a service provider will be especially prized.

To assess whether a procurement service is right for your organisation, or to learn more about how it works, contact our friendly procurement experts.

 

Procuring Time

Sometimes, it is the small jobs that add up to swallow a big chunk of IT time. If your team gets to the end of the day and wonders where the time went, chances are they were doing something involving procurement.

Time-Poor and Over-Skilled

That’s all very well if you have generous staffing levels – but who does nowadays? As organisations tackle the bigger issues like digital transformation, IT staff are busier than ever. Realistically, when you’re working on high-level plans, the last thing you need is for your team’s time to be sucked into preparing and providing devices like laptops.  Besides, negotiating prices and dealing with procurement admin is hardly getting the best from those heard-earned technical qualifications.

Because of that busy environment, there is little chance to stop and assess procurement. It can be a fascinating part of our work; we get to be there when IT leaders draw breath for long enough to find out just how much time and energy their team spends on a task they are typically over-qualified for, and how much overspend is happening when they have little capacity to negotiate pricing.

How Much Time Can a Procurement Framework Save?

Sometimes it is half a day a week, others it may be equivalent to a full-time job. Our assessments can be a real eye-opener. It isn’t just resource time that comes to light either – the more overloaded the IT team, the more likely we are to help them identify overspend and inconsistencies, where multiple staff solve requirements as quickly as they can before getting back to those high-level tasks.

The benefits of handing over procurement management are quickly felt, which makes it ideal for the busiest IT departments. It is important – after all, users are more productive if they have the right tools – but it is not seen as a strategic function.

How Does Transforming Your Procurement Framework Help?

While there are different options available, getting help with transforming procurement usually involves a relatively small time investment. Our customers use our Transact processes, effortlessly negotiating best prices with Australia’s leading manufacturers such as HP. We support long-term customer relationships with a transparent, open book pricing strategy – it makes sense to let customers see that they are getting consistently competitive pricing, and a single point of procurement without margin creep over time.

Once we have secured the best possible pricing through open book pricing, we work with you to create a catalogue of standards, ranging from equipment bundles and laptops to state-of-the-art point of sale (POS) equipment –pretty much anything that your organisation frequently buys. Using our Techflow portal, you may set additional purchasing rules and workflows, in effect getting to design your own procurement workflows. In fact, you design your own processes to reflect or improve on your existing internal practices, but without having to do the leg-work every time a user needs a new desktop.

Zerotouch

The procurement story doesn’t end at the acquisition stage. Typically, when a machine – let’s say a new HP laptop – arrives, it goes through several administrative processes, and someone in the IT team finds time to set up an image, asset tag it, and box it back up, ready to go to the user.

It is another of those tasks that is usually done by over-qualified, time-poor IT staff – but it doesn’t need to be. When we recognised the time drain our customers potentially faced in this stage of acquisition, we developed our Zerotouch services. For a very low price per machine, we handle imaging and asset tagging processes in our Melbourne facility, sending the device straight to the end user, domain joined, asset tagged and complete with end user instructions to get them working straight away. As the IT department must increasingly commit to service levels to deliver assets to the rest of the organisation, IT managers are telling us that having a contracted time and delivery schedule takes away much of the stress.

Real-World Advantages

How does that work in the real world? Of course, it will vary according to industry, and a consulting firm may choose different rules than a non-profit or a retail franchise organisation. Let’s say you’re at a school, and you want parents to purchase from a pre-approved list of devices that are part of your BYOD program. You might, for example, add the new HP EliteBook 1030 x360 laptop to your catalogue. We give you a link that parents can use to order the machine for themselves, through a portal with your own school or diocese branding. We field any queries, guide them through the procurement process, and even provide the machines fully configured and ready to go, within a few days.

Technology is increasingly a selling point in schools, with security, pricing and quality the key considerations for parents. Each of the parents, even in multiple schools, get access to the same group pricing deal. They get better machines for their spend. Meanwhile, you can ensure that all laptops are chosen with consistent operating system and configuration, reducing support time in the school. You can choose the same or separate equipment for teaching and administration staff, with separate rules for configuration as needed.

The Time Advantage

The outcome for many organisations has been profound. We hear most often about the resulting time saving and consistent cost saving achieved through open book pricing.

Maintaining and controlling equipment standards and purchasing processes is difficult for a busy IT department, and having those elements provided as a service results in efficiency gains that benefit the entire organisation. With deployment from purchase to end-user delivery often reduced from 3-4 weeks down to 2-4 days, the IT department becomes more responsive, and provides a better service, while skilled resources can deliver greater value on other projects. Whatever kind of organisation you’re in, that recovered time is inevitably the best return.

 If you want time to tackle the apps, services and automation that help your organisation get ahead, our Procurement Transformation Framework may give you that opportunity. To try our free procurement assessment, contact the Next Technologies team.

 

Who’s Your Phil?

There are moments in meetings that just stick in my mind, and this was one of them. A customer’s IT leadership team was talking about procurement challenges – some familiar, and some unique to their organisation. The IT manager clearly had something particular on his mind, and I wondered what it was, and how I could help.

Reinventing Procurement

We discussed the benefits of having procurement managed as a service, of how the IT team was thrust into negotiating terms with vendors, of how margins with their partner tended to creep after that first deal, and how processes had become more complex and impractical. Still, though, I could tell there was something more. Then one of the IT team – let’s call him Phil – popped his head round the door to ask for sign-off on some laptops for the marketing department.

A Productivity Drain

The IT manager looked uncomfortable. It was, he said, wonderful to increase purchasing efficiency and gain access to consistently low margins from vendors, but the story didn’t end there. Receiving machines and preparing them for users was still necessary – but it was taking a lot of Phil’s time. At a level 2 tech salary of around $90,000 per year, the IT manager would prefer Phil to be doing something else.

Phil emphatically agreed. After working hard to get the right qualifications and some solid experience, he was itching to spend more time on a project to improve productivity in the customer service department. Phil was clearly busy, but I asked him about the process he was following.

SOE Process

A group of ten HP desktops had just arrived after a three week wait. Phil was about to collect them from the warehouse, then carry them up to his third-floor desk. He was hoping the trolley would be available, so he could do it in fewer journeys. When he got the machines to the IT department, he would unbox each and switch on, then set up a standard operating environment (SOE) on each. Given the available space, he could do four at a time – an improvement, he said, on his previous job, where this was done in pairs.

It would, said Phil, take an average of around two to three hours per device to set up the desktops. He would then have to asset tag each one, and then box them back up. Because the users were in branch offices, Phil would have to take the boxes back to the warehouse, and work with the staff there to get each box sent to the right location. Once delivered, he would then guide users in the branch offices through any set-up concerns.

Doing the Math

When we added together Phil’s box-moving, unpacking, set-up, re-packing, more box-moving, and discussions with the warehouse, plus user support for set-up, it took him close to 40 hours to complete the process. The users, meanwhile, got operational machines after almost four weeks from when they ordered them. The rest of the team looked at Phil with a mix of sympathy every time he left to go and carry boxes. They were short on IT resources, and all this time, they had a skilled person carrying boxes.

I introduced the group to our Zerotouch service, where we do every step of Phil’s process for a nominal fee per machine, and they didn’t take long to do the math. Put together with our Techflow portal service, with agreed standard equipment and bundles available through a portal branded for their own organisation, users are receiving fully set-up equipment in days. All without Phil having to do a thing.

Better Use of IT Resources

Phil turned out to be a hidden gem. Freed from procurement duties and box carrying, he set about a series of productivity projects with gusto. All those visits to the warehouse did come in handy, though – he’s been working on transforming shipping processes to improve customer satisfaction.

Visits with other customers made me realise that there are a lot of Phils out there. In fact, almost every organisation is holding their own Phil hostage in a web of procurement and deployment duties that he’s over-qualified to do. There is a real satisfaction to knowing that our as a service models can have a ripple effect that empowers our customers to do more. We are providing an alternative that works.

Time to free your own department and meet service levels on procurement without tying up skilled resources? Request an assessment from our Zerotouch team today.