BY STACEY CURRY GUNN
When it comes to buying things to keep U of G running, Randy Graham is determined to find the best values around. As a procurement and contracting officer in Purchasing Services, he is responsible for sourcing and buying products and services related to University maintenance, operation and repair.
Jotted across the whiteboard in his office on a typical day are notes about deadlines for new plant-growth chambers; bar-code vials; and tenders for electrical services, plumbing and janitorial work at Kemptville College and College d'Alfred.
“It's never dull around here — we seldom buy the same things every day,” says Graham. “I spend a lot of time sourcing information and staying up to date.”
He also spends his time negotiating purchases, reviewing established contracts and dealing with complaints if things don't run smoothly.
Graham has worked in Purchasing since 1987, when the department was located in Day Hall. In his early days, he was known as a “buyer,” and every day he plowed through stacks of paper (with the help of an assistant who typed things for him). There was no computer on his desk then, he recalls. “We had a network system, but only certain people were allowed to use it.”
Today, Purchasing is located on the fifth floor of the University Centre, along with most other Financial Services units. Most of Graham's work is computer-based — from sourcing information via the Internet to preparing spreadsheets of cost analyses.
There's still too much paper floating around for his liking, however, despite major steps the department has taken over the years to streamline its purchasing processes and the comprehensive website (at www.fin.uoguelph.ca), which provides information for U of G employees who need to buy something. (Purchasing also regularly offers information sessions through Human Resources for employees who want information about purchasing processes.)
The University does a lot of buying every year. In 2003/04, Purchasing Services helped departments buy goods and services valued at $123 million (not including construction projects, hospitality or books.)
To make University buying as efficient and cost-effective as possible, the department has negotiated numerous supplier contracts that cover everything from stationery supplies to computers and farm products. The contracts, all listed on the website, vary from a few items to numerous items for which the pricing and terms and conditions have been established.
“We set up different ways of buying to make it easier for our customers,” says Graham. “They're designed to save the University time and money. They get us the best price and the best service.”
Of Guelph's 69 supplier contracts, Graham manages 14. His cover electrical and plumbing supplies and services, general hardware, appliances and repair, towing, document shredding, wearing apparel, audiovisual equipment, electronics, long-term car rentals, laundry and linen services, janitorial and building materials.
Most of the contracts provide a paperless purchase and pay method. Customers can buy from the supplier's website, and the University receives a consolidated electronic bill.
If there is no applicable contract and the item to be purchased costs less than $1,500, Graham suggests using a procurement card (Visa), available from Purchasing Services. The other option is to use a low-value purchase order form. For items greater than $1,500 not covered by a contract, Purchasing will help in the procurement by bidding, if required, and issuing a formal purchase order.
Graham says about 40 low-value purchase orders cross his desk every day, and often they're for things that could be covered by supplier contract.
“I always encourage customers to use our website for information first. We spent years developing it, and it's a convenient tool. The new version of the site, just up a few months, is more user-friendly, too.”
He adds that University employees are also encouraged to call one of the department's six procurement and contracting officers if they don't know where or how to buy an item.
All items costing $25,000 or more are subject to a formal bidding process through a request for proposal (RFP). Graham works on about 50 RFPs a year, and some of the more complicated ones can take up to two months to prepare. He enjoys the RFP process the most, he says, because of the order and security it confers.
“It doesn't matter if it's $1 million or 10 cents, it's all in writing. It's a nicer way to do business when everything's up front like that. You know everything is covered, so you're not liable for things.”
RFP openings are official affairs. Graham's manager, Cynthia Shanahan, opens the bid documents and reads the information to a recording clerk. Also present are an internal auditor to monitor the process and representatives from the department involved in the purchase. The low bid doesn't automatically win, stresses Graham. The final decision on awarding the tender belongs to the department.
“It's not all about dollars and cents. There's a perception out there that we go only by low bids, but we award a lot of contracts on the best value for U of G. Just because something is cheaper doesn't mean it's better for the University.”
Graham's focus on getting the best value for each dollar spent is something that goes home with him as well, sometimes to his wife's chagrin.
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