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Bulk-buying program could save OU millions

Ohio University is piloting a new centralized-purchasing program that could save the university millions.

The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs is now testing the Bobcat Buy program, which allows departments to purchase office supplies, equipment, furniture and contracts, among other items, through a centralized catalogue and partner vendors.

Using this program, OU expects to save about $7 million during a two-year period, said Laura Nowicki, director of Procurement Services. These savings were built into the university's deficit-reduction plan for next fiscal year, which addresses the expected $27 million shortfall in state funding.

OU signed a five-year contract with the procurement company SciQuest to develop Bobcat Buy and will pay a $176,800 annual software fee, which will come from the General Fund. The university also paid a one-time implementation fee of $346,750 last year.

OU hopes to roll out the system to every department on campus within the next 12 to 15 months, Nowicki said. The program is mandatory for every department on campus.

"Any good or service you would be paying a vendor for could be loaded into Bobcat Buy," Nowicki said.

Department heads or college deans must approve purchases of items or services that cannot be bought through the Bobcat Buy program, as well as any purchase that exceeds $25,000 for goods or $50,000 for services, Nowicki said.

OU has been working with SciQuest for about a year to develop and integrate Bobcat Buy at the university. SciQuest allows OU to negotiate better prices with vendors because the university will be buying in bulk as a single entity instead of as individual departments.

"If we buy from vendors that are partners in Bobcat Buy, and we can get the same items for much less than if we were out individually buying them ... we can save a lot of money per year. That's an opportunity to reduce expenditures in the budget," said Becky Watts, chief of staff to OU President Roderick McDavis.

Bobcat Buy also eliminates the need for paper invoices and purchase orders because the system is entirely electronic.

"We're having to learn a few new things, but that's to be expected ... A couple of things have gone through lightening fast, so I think it's going to be great," said Cindy Strickland, the management services coordinator for the Voinovich School, which is in its first week of testing the program.

Of the 14 public universities in Ohio, seven use a centralized electronic purchasing program such as this one, Nowicki said.

"(This program) has proven enormously successful in other states," she said.

Before coming to OU last March, Nowicki implemented a similar system at Case Western Reserve University


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