KCDA Selects Online Purchasing to Cut Costs, Increase Efficiency and Improve Productivity


Schools today are under increasing pressure to cut spending without compromising education. One of the areas under closest scrutiny is purchasing supplies, furniture and equipment. The purchasing function is changing as many districts decentralize the process, using site-based management to purchase at different levels (e.g., annually, monthly, daily) as needed. One way vendors have responded to this is through the introduction of e-commerce. Unfortunately, many e-commerce solutions have proven inadequate, unworkable or overly complicated.

The King County Directors' Association (KCDA) was aware of this checkered record when it began exploring e-commerce solutions. KCDA is a nonprofit purchasing cooperative founded in 1938 by a group of school board members in Washington state. Its purpose is to save money through volume purchasing; meet full bid law requirements; manage centralized receiving and distribution; as well as offer a single source for school supplies, furniture and equipment requested by its owner-members. Today, KCDA serves 300 public school districts in Washington, as well as associate member schools and public agencies in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, totaling about 5,000 schools.

KCDA's management realized that e-commerce could help school districts work faster and more efficiently while saving them money. And it would benefit KCDA by enabling the co-op to forecast needs more accurately so it could offer the right inventory at the right time, which would keep costs down and save districts money. The challenge was finding a system that met all of KCDA's criteria, was easy to use and offered proven reliability. KCDA's management had been watching the growth of e-commerce alternatives for assisting school districts and decided they had to address an e-commerce solution to maintain service levels and remain competitive. Since members aren't required to purchase from KCDA, the co-op must compete for their business. Over the years, it has increased service levels and methodologies to keep pace with the growth of its membership.

E-Commerce Solution

After performing due diligence, KCDA's management selected an e-commerce system that promised to meet all criteria, the Spize IT Business-to-Business eCatalog System. The system includes:

  • An online catalog with illustrations, descriptions and prices of all items currently available.
  • User profiles to establish purchasing authorities and determine what information individuals can access.
  • Approval limits.
  • A workflow function to accelerate the approval process, reduce paperwork and improve productivity.
  • Multilingual support.
  • A security program that assigns each user an encrypted password.
  • In addition, the eCatalog System is easy to use and scalable, which allows the system to grow as more members sign on. It's also modular, which allows KCDA to add new functions such as e-procurement. Spize IT completed the Web site to KCDA's specifications, allowing the co-op to offer several unique capabilities, such as workflow, to speed up the purchasing process by accelerating the approval process.

    Teachers and others who don't have approval authority can shop the online catalog, place the items they want to purchase into an electronic shopping cart, and then either "park" the cart for future action or submit the order to go through the district's approval process. Approved carts are turned into sales orders and shipped. The eCatalog System software processes all requests flawlessly, allowing KCDA to deliver products quickly and accurately, as well as bill on a timely basis.

    Since most members accessing the eCatalog are not computer experts, the system had to be easy to use. Today, using the eCatalog is as easy as using a paper catalog. Members logon to the site via a Web browser, so no additional software is required. Shoppers then find product categories and on-screen menus that make it easy for them to find items or just browse. In addition, an overview screen displays the current status of any order, so buyers can see if their orders have been approved and when they will be delivered.

    Smooth Operator

    KCDA began alpha testing the eCatalog System in October 2001, entering members into a test database and dealing with some of the minor problems that occur when any new system is installed. KCDA's management also wanted to measure the system's ability to handle the workload to ensure they could add more districts without causing a disruption in service. Finally, when the day came for the "go/no go" decision to see if the system actually worked under live conditions, KCDA gave its final approval.

    Districts started coming online during the first week of January 2002, and the system continues to operate smoothly today. Initial reactions from member districts are favorable. Although it's still too early to make any qualitative measurements, the initial findings are positive. KCDA's management believes the system will also help the co-op be competitive in districts where teachers and sites are allowed to purchase from alternative purchasing agents. The KCDA co-op allows members to buy without having to bid, so they can take advantage of the e-catalog procurement program.

    In addition, online procurement is proving to be effective in districts that are decentralizing purchasing. Because site-based management makes purch-ases at different levels, they're discovering KCDA makes the purchasing cycle easier, faster and more efficient. Member districts are already discovering the benefits of KCDA's online e-catalog, including:

  • Easier order entry. In the past, purchasing agents created a paper order that was mailed or faxed to KCDA staff, who manually keyed data into the system. Now the entire process is done electronically, which increases order accuracy.
  • Faster delivery. Previously an order might take 24 hours or longer before it was entered; now it's entered immediately. As a result, about 60 percent of regular orders are shipped the same day. The rest are either shipped the next day or picked up by the district on a scheduled basis.
  • Flexibility. Districts can order items annually and/or on a regular basis or as needs arise.
  • Savings. KCDA can now operate more efficiently, forecasting needs faster and providing a more timely inventory system, which keeps prices affordable.
  • The schools created KCDA to serve the schools. It is strictly educational, offering services the schools have told them they require. By making the purchasing process faster, more efficient and easier to use, the co-op helps its member school districts increase productivity, service and savings at levels they believe are better than anyone else can offer.

    Ron Ricketts
    General Manager
    King County Directors' Association

    Contact Information
    Spize IT
    Irvine, CA
    (949) 492-7598

    This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.