Wilfrid Laurier University: Transforming the student experience through procurement

Wilfrid Laurier University: Transforming the student experience through procurement

With exchange agreements with more than 70 universities and 25 countries around the world, Laurier offers not only an intimate student experience, but global opportunity for its students.

The student experience is one which continually drives Laurier to deliver essential student-focused solutions. Its excellent reputation has seen it ranked as number one in student satisfaction in Canada by the Maclean’s Ranking of Canadian Universities for the second year in a row, and second in experiential learning. Additionally, its students and alumni were ranked number one for volunteerism by LinkedIn in 2015, which is part of its core mission. 

But how does procurement come into play across its operations?

Supporting more than 19,000 students, the procurement team has overhauled its traditional ways of working and implemented new digital tools to remain ahead of the curve.

“We support the students in procurement by working with the faculties and departments, making sure they get what they need at the best possible value to facilitate teaching and research. Our students are the core of everything,” explains Director of Procurement, Tracey Ens.

Joining Laurier in 2011, Ens has witnessed how the procurement function has changed, which has been revolutionised through the use of new technologies.

“It’s in the last five years that procurement has shown that we deserve to be at the table. I think what's really driven that entire entity is technology,” she says.

“When I arrived, it was how procurement 20 years ago used to be. The faculty and staff on campus wanted to do things the right way but really didn't know what that way was. Procurement were seen as rule enforcers. Whilst this is true to a certain extent, we needed to make sure people understood the ‘why’ of what we need to do and how it could help them.”

Relationship building

The use of public funds has seen the value of transparency become increasingly vital throughout the transformation of Laurier’s procurement function. The organisation is required to run formal process for any contract with a total contract value over $100,000.

Nonetheless, the establishment of Ontario’s Broader Public Sector Accountability Act in 2010 provided ample opportunity for Ens to deliver key direction within procurement, whilst strengthening relationships with Laurier’s partners and suppliers.

Doubling in size has also supported the evolving role of procurement at Laurier. Although the team remains small, Ens states that this remains advantageous, particularly in avoiding any duplication of work. Each member remains able to cover for one another, and each individual is able to make their role their own without the need for micromanagement, leaving them empowered.

Such an approach has also influenced the university’s relationships with its end users on campus.

“Laurier is a small campus. By taking the time to learn about people's roles, you can ask them to try out new ways of working,” comments Ens. “Most people will say, ‘yeah, I'll give it a try’, because they know I've done X for them and this is how they can reciprocate. That's been a huge plus, knowing that I have people on campus I can call who are willing to try things, even though it might not be easy while we're working out the kinks – that's been critical.”

Technological advancements

With an aim to add value across Laurier’s services, Ens notes that the right mindset remains essential, particularly when investing in new technologies.

Partnering with Jaggaer has enabled the organization to transform its procure to pay (P2P) system. Meeting with all departments individually and providing essential training to all staff has been paramount to its successful implementation and demonstrates how digital tools can further enhance its procurement operations.

“The Jaggaer system has been incredibly instrumental in reporting data analytics and contract management,” notes Ens. “The cost savings we were able to obtain by putting in this P2P system was much better than anticipated. Jaggaer has erased a lot of our past redundancies and streamlined the whole process.

“It's also difficult to put a value on soft cost, so we also hired an external consultant, Huron Consulting. Through their consultation on campus, we were able to realize how much of a benefit it was to end users to use this system on campus and how much time was saved by using this new system. Our return on investment (ROI) went down from four years to two.”

Seamless payment services

Ens is clearly passionate in delivering tailored solutions across Laurier’s procurement function. The organisation’s partnership with Bonfire Interactive is one such example, where it has eradicated all paper-based tendering processes and fully automated a number of others, whilst implementing a new credit card programme with Scotia Bank.  

“Electronic Fund Transfers (EFT) and cheques can become an expensive way of paying vendors, so we're also now in the midst of implementing Visa Payables Automation,” explains Ens. “Along with our Accounts Payable department, we have started a drive to get vendors on campus to take Visa as a method of payment and it's been very, very successful to date.

“Our suppliers have been a big part of our success. They also were willing to try things because of the relationships which have been built over the years. When it comes to credit card payments, Big Kahuna, our athletic supplier, was one of the first ones to sign on for that, as well as Telus Mobility,” she continues.

“Whilst we have transformed different areas of our department, we have also overhauled the audit function for our corporate card program through partnering with Scotia Bank using VISA’s Visa Intelligence Compliance Audit tool. We have approximately 1,400 cards, and procurement has to accommodate the size of that.

“There was a need for a better audit programme, and so we hired someone who could help us transform the function to be what I consider the best university credit card audit programme in Canada.”

Ongoing developments

Although the procurement team at Laurier has delivered numerous benefits to its students, the industry is facing a number of uncertainties surrounding developing regulations. The establishment of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement in Canada will bring new levels of complexity to Laurier’s procurement operations, as well as Laurier’s internal governance.

“It's also interesting to watch the negotiations with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and it's too early to tell exactly what the ramifications are going to be,” reflects Ens. “It's also very early when it comes to the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe to see how this factors into Canadian public-sector procurement in reality.”

Nonetheless, Laurier’s procurement team will continue to navigate the procurement of goods and services its students will need, particularly around research and teaching. Encompassing complex research grant requirements for the buying of goods, coupled with a multitude of other legislative requirements, Laurier will also continue to support professors in the training of students and drive further student engagement for the future.

“Enrolment continues to increase and we're seen not as a viable alternative, but as students’ first choice,” concludes Ens. “We have great student experience, great facilities, world-class teaching, a small campus, tonnes of student groups and intramurals, and it’s a great region of Canada to live in.

“Laurier is absolutely one of the best schools in Canada. I personally think it's the best school in Canada - who wouldn't want to go here?”

Tracey Ens