Spring Branch, From Transactional to Strategic Procurement

Spring Branch, From Transactional to Strategic Procurement

By leveraging technology, Spring Branch ISD is making their way to innovative and diverse strategic procurement and picking up the cost savings

Richard Gay, Director of Procurement Services at Spring Branch ISD, is a passionate leader who derives great pride in doing good through good procurement. Whether it’s capturing cost savings that make their way back into the schools to further support learning, inclusive procurement practices that ensure fair and equitable access to opportunity or leveraging digitisation to lighten the work of school officials so they can spend more of their time focused on their students, Gay leaves no stone unturned. His quest is to ensure his department and his team is, as his father urged, the best that it can be.

“I grew up in the space program. My dad worked in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle projects. Those were very challenging times. We were doing things as a country and as a citizenry that had never, ever been done before. My dad left all of his children with the legacy of not being afraid to try something new. Get out there and take risks when you need to be a leader and an innovator.

Mission: Be the Best Procurement Team We Can Be

“The charge that I give to my staff is that we are going to be the best procurement platform in the K-12 world. Whatever it takes to do that, we need to make sure that we're doing that every day when we come into work. What I can do to make them successful is to make sure that they have the professional development, guidance and mentorship that they need to be able to achieve that goal.”

“Being innovative and being a mentor, and being able to share those experiences with younger, less-experienced procurement professionals and enlightening them to the possibilities of things like e-procurement bidding and digitisation of the contractual process is one reason I came to Spring Branch.”

“We became ISO certified in Baltimore County, and I follow much the same model as ISO, which says what you're going to do, do what you say and then prove it. I think that it enables you to be the best that you can be. And that's why we apply for nationally recognised certifications and peer reviews. The achievement of Excellence in Procurement from the National Procurement Institute, the Quality Public Procurement Department from the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP).”

“Here in Texas, we have the Texas Association of School Business Officials. They have the Award of Merit for purchasing operations. Applying your procedure and policies to these outside organisations and having your peers review them, and awarding you a plaque or certification for doing things right gives you something tangible that you can show your employees and say, ‘good job, you’re doing it right.’”

“We also go to the schools and walk around where they can see the children learning in the classrooms or playing basketball, and that helps them to gain a more solid understanding and appreciation for what their role and their mission are here in the public school.”

Fair, Inclusive, and Transparent (FIT) Procurement

Throughout his procurement career, Gay has strived to offer a fair and equitable bidding environment designed to encourage and provide equal opportunity to minority and small business participation in all contracts. Over the past 10 years, BCPS has issued State and County funded contracts valued at $1.94 billion with a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), Disadvantaged Business or Small Business Enterprise (DBE/SBE).

In 2010 and again in 2014, Gay also had the honour of receiving the award for “The Most Inclusive School Administrator of the Year for Minority Business” from the Maryland Washington Minority Contractors Association, something in which he holds great pride.

Unlike the private sector, in public procurement, relationships are created through the bid and contract process. It’s within this process that Gay needs to ensure fair access to all vendors.  “If I need to buy textbooks, I have to issue a public bid. I have to advertise, and I have to take all commerce. I have to make sure that what I consider with the procurement environment is Fair, Inclusive, and Transparent (FIT). 

“I still think there's a lot of room to be innovative in areas like e-procurement and digitisation of the procurement process. I have been a leader and an innovator in bringing e-procurement platforms to the K-12 environments that I work in. And that has created huge efficiencies and the ability to save large amounts of resources. We are able then to redistribute and reuse those resources throughout the organisation.

“We took an organisation that was mostly paper-driven and turned it into a digital-first organisation, which has in the last three years created a savings of about $4 million. So that’s really brought a whole new way of thinking to the district. Measuring things like savings we’ve captured through the purchasing process that frees up resources that can then be used in the classroom, that's very important to me. And that's what's guided me through my career in public education.”

“We have limited budgets that are based on tax rates and tax dollars that are in revenues that are collected. So, you need to pride yourself on being able to get the biggest bang for your buck. I've been very fortunate in that a lot of the initiatives I've brought to play have saved more than $75 million for the public schools for which  I've worked for. And those dollars go back into the classroom to educate children.”

The COVID Challenge: Building Agility with Amazon

Realising the efficiencies gained from technology, Gay is leveraging the powers of the Amazonian giant to shift from transactional to strategic procurement.

“When I started with Spring Branch, I noticed that some of the processes that we had in place were extraordinarily bureaucratic, paper-driven and time-consuming. And I realised if we could automate and streamline our processes, we could then reorient and refocus our staff on what I consider to be the strategic process of procurement, rather than the administrative, which is essentially issuing purchase orders, receiving and paying invoices. 

Gay’s goal of transitioning to strategic procurement practices led him to become an early adopter of e-procurement. “We have an electronic ordering system. We use Dynamic Punchout Catalogues to create a shopping environment, if you will, for our end users. One of the key ones we use is the Amazon Business platform. We're able to leverage the Amazon platform and order just about anything that we could possibly need on a campus digitally and have it delivered within 24 to 72 hours.”

“It's been estimated that if you use a digital procurement process versus the old-fashioned paper process that you save about $73 per transaction. When you have that kind of soft savings in your process, that returns a lot of time and effort back to the principal and to the teachers. Those are hours that can be spent on things like working on curriculum, putting effort into the education side things instead of administrative tasks.”

“We've only been on the Amazon platform for about two years, and we've generated more than a half-million dollars in savings. And of course, we got hit with COVID and having a platform like that available to us was absolutely the best decision we could have made as far as being able to get the supplies we needed to move to a digital education program, which requires an entirely different supply chain than in school learning.”

“You have to have the tools that students and teachers need for remote learning, which requires a whole different supply chain. And then, after labour day, we came back to the campuses. We now have about 81% of our students back in the classroom. Again, that takes additional preparation of supplies such as gloves, cleaning and sanitation supplies, plexiglass shields for desks, different types of masks for students of different ages, sanitising products that aren't harsh on the kids' skin yet still effective against germs, different types of filters for cleaner air supply, etc. It’s a long list of supplies with complex requirements, and it’s been quite a challenge for us, one that Amazon helped us to meet.”

DocuSign CLM, Mitigating Risk and Increasing Efficiencies

As the world began to procure the supplies needed to combat COVID-19, spiking demand far beyond the norm and planned for, supply chains became fraught with issues. Mitigating risk and securing supplies delivered on time and as needed was critical to avoiding stockouts. Gay’s trusted vendors, and well-tuned inventory and order management, kept him safe.

“We’re very lucky. I have not had a real delay in any of those supplies because we've used contractors and contracts that we already had in place that had very robust supply chains. We left the classroom back in March of 2020, and we didn't come back until September of 2020. That gave us time to get all of those supplies into place and make sure that each teacher in a class term had plenty of all the necessary supplies without risking deadstock, and so our strategy was to ensure a steady supply versus an oversupply.”

Digital Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) ensured proper management of those vital contracts. “In July of 2019, Spring Branch ISD implemented the use of DocuSign CLM for contract lifecycle management.  We've been able to restructure all of our contract templates and negotiate some very complicated contracts using that product. Having one of our most important processes on a digital platform during COVID was a lifesaver. I must say, that was a very good decision on our part to make that all work for us.”

“I can now send my contracts back and forth between vendors electronically, and we’re able to track changes. We can then negotiate over the changes. And with the push of a button, all the changes are then incorporated into a brand-new document. We get signatures electronically. What used to take maybe a couple of months of negotiation meetings and mail, we now do digitally, and in 24 to 48 hours, we’ve got a contract.”

Gay also mitigates further risk against fraudulent requests for payment using PaymentWorks. “It takes several days for one of my staff members to track down just one request from a vendor. We get anywhere from 20 to 40 requests a day, and a lot of them are fraudulent, which is why we have a partnership with PaymentWorks. They verify bank accounts and tax ID numbers. They will verify and ensure that our payment actually goes to the right account and the right vendor.

I'm sleeping better at night knowing we’re not going to send a check accidentally out to the wrong bank or the wrong vendor because I have a good solid verification process in place."