Pipettes to pencils: A holistic look at purchasing practices

Initiative aims to improve administrative effectiveness, efficiency

With the goal of spending its money more directly on matters at the heart of its mission and enhancing service to faculty, staff, and students, Johns Hopkins University recently began a study of its purchasing practices.

Led by an advisory committee of faculty members and administrators, the procurement initiative was launched last month to discover previously untapped opportunities ensuring the best customer service from vendors and savings in the costs of goods and services purchased by JHU.

"This is not just an administrative challenge but a core academic issue," says Robert Lieberman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "I see this as one piece in an effort to make it possible to push the university's mission even further. This initiative aims to direct more resources toward the things we as a faculty care the most about: research and teaching."

This examination of the university's purchasing activity, conducted with assistance from Deloitte Consulting, is the first phase of an administrative excellence initiative launched in August.

Looking at how researchers, faculty, and staff buy everything from pipettes to pencils is a first step toward finding meaningful ways to save money and improve service in a relatively short period of time, according to committee co-chairs Gerald "Jerry" Hart, professor and chairman of the Department of Biological Chemistry in the School of Medicine, and Dan Cronin, senior associate dean for finance and administration in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

"The opportunities we identify together will help principal investigators make the most of their grant funding and will help all offices and departments stretch their budgets, freeing the university community to focus its resources on mission-critical work," the committee co-chairs said in a universitywide broadcast email.

Daniel Ennis, senior vice president for finance and administration, says that the university is evaluating its procurement process from a position of relative strength, staying ahead of any financial challenges the institution may face in the future, such as cuts in federal funding.

"We have always thrived on our secret sauce: the energy and creativity of our faculty in successfully competing for grants and other funding sources," Ennis says. "We are now looking to our community to apply that same energy and creativity toward ensuring higher levels of administrative services at a lower cost."

To make sure that the people who are most affected by this work are heard, the advisory committee posted a survey online for 10 days in August. The goal of the survey, intended to reach primarily those whose jobs involve purchasing, was to gain insight into how money is spent and to begin to look for opportunities where the university can make better purchases across the divisions.

The committee will continue to seek input from the Johns Hopkins community over the course of the 18-week study to confirm its findings, examine any trade-offs, and make a plan for achieving economically meaningful savings and service enhancements.

Faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students directly involved in purchasing are encouraged to stay engaged in the process by asking questions and offering suggestions via email at http://JHUProcureProject@jhu.edu.