Observatory Case Study: Anne Arundel County Public
Anne Arundel County Public Schools used our services to
deliver improved spend and contract visibility. We talked to Debbie
Groat, Supervisor of Purchasing, about her experience to
"Spikes Cavell demonstrate a real shining example of how
spend analysis should be done."
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Tell me a little bit about your agency?
Anne Arundel County Public Schools is among the 50 largest
districts in the nation and consists of 125 schools, 12 of which
are high schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, we educated 76,303
students. Like any other school district, we are very interested in
achieving a high level of student success across the wide range of
programs we offer. Our aim, across all departments, is to work to
provide the best opportunities for our students.
Can you describe your procurement function and where
and how it fits into the organization?
Purchasing at AACPS is centralized and takes care of
everything from construction to commodities. It doesn’t consist of
just the direct teacher and student needs either. We take care of
over 140 buildings in the county and, when you consider
maintenance, facilities, logistics, operations and food services,
the responsibility is very large. Our expenditures total
approximately $200 million a year.
The Purchasing Office consists of a staff of 15, and is
structured under the Division of Budget and Finance, which reports
to the Chief Operating Officer. The office deals with all
procurements above $25,000 and processes around another 350
quotable procurements under $25,000.
In a program of this size we do have some things we need to
delegate. Delegated activities include open requirements contracts,
a procurement card program, and small procurements that are valued
under $1,000, that authorized employees can work with
We utilize a CGI Advantage ERP system and carry out
electronic quoting through eMaryland Marketplace. This is the State
of Maryland’s procurement portal where request for quotes are
advertised to bidders and bidders can respond electronically. It’s
a “one-stop-shop” that you won’t often see in other states. We also
have a procurement card program which we use for our small
procurements and textbook purchases. We’re not using our ERP system
to manage our contracts – we have some home-grown tools for doing
Would you describe the procurement function's role as
mainly tactical or mainly strategic?
Our approach is mainly strategic. We have centralized our
operations to best provide value-added services. If we cannot add
value to a procurement process, we reevaluate our services or we
delegate that responsibility.
We are constantly evaluating our procurements and how we
handle them. We monitor best practices across the nation and are
very integrated with our colleagues on a national level. We
participate in a number of national purchasing consortiums, and
through that active involvement we are able to find the best price,
best quality, and best service to support our teachers and
We want to make sure schools have everything they need for
the classroom while simultaneously trying to stretch the dollar as
far as it will go.
What do you see as the top three challenges for
procurement at Anne Arundel County Public Schools over
the next 12 months?
The first thing that comes to mind, in these difficult
economic times is that with money as tight as it is, there’s
obviously going to be a great interest in the procurement team
working to stretch every dollar in the budget. Therefore, we’re
looking for new points of leverage and are using the Spikes Cavell
Observatory to do that. We’re looking at rebidding or renegotiating
contracts that we already have with contractors to improve upon the
value and services that we get from those relationships. With our
larger contractors, there is some relationship management and
partnering that goes into that process in order to make sure we’re
getting the best product, service, and price.
Additionally, we’ve found that in this tight economy the
state legislative process focuses a lot more on regulatory issues
than new projects and new spending because there isn’t any money to
spend. In Maryland, we’re seeing new regulations on green spending,
eProcurement, and on what types of products can be used in schools.
Those regulatory changes certainly can create some systemic changes
in a district and have an impact on the contracts you have in
Lastly, in the K-12 environment, schools are looking for
assistance with certain procurements that they handled on their own
in the past. One source of income for schools is the percentage
they receive from vending machine sales. The schools have lost one
source of fund raising because kids aren’t spending as much at the
vending machines as they used to and are more likely to “brown bag”
their lunch and drinks. For the schools, it is like getting hit
from both sides. They lose some appropriated funds due to tighter
district budgets and they’re losing vending commissions at the same
time. So they’re looking to us in the central purchasing office to
find out what else they can do to improve their fund-raising
You've been working with Spikes Cavell to deliver
improved spend visibility. What were you hoping to achieve when you
undertook the data transformation and spend analysis
We try to do things cooperatively as much as possible and I
use my connections to the Metropolitan Washington and Baltimore
Regional Cooperatives as much as I can. In order to do that more
effectively, I needed to know where the opportunities for
collaboration in our region are that I didn’t think of because we
didn’t have the spend visibility across multiple organizations
before. One of the first things that came out of the Spikes Cavell
data was the possibility of working with universities and colleges.
We do piggy-back on some of their contracts, but we don’t currently
sit at the table with that consortium to discuss opportunities. It
became obvious that there were areas of overlapping spend where we
need to sit down with that group and have some
The second reason for undertaking the spend analysis project
was the belief that once the data was transformed and in front of
us, savings opportunities would quickly become apparent. We felt
that there must be other opportunities but we didn’t have the data
in front us before to see or to take advantage of them. We made
assumptions from the more limited information we had previously and
it was nice to have some of those assumptions confirmed. Now we
have the factual evidence to support our assumptions and are
therefore able to more easily identify opportunities and make
decisions and change for the better.
What has better spend visibility enabled you to achieve
It started a number of conversations with community colleges
in our county and neighboring counties regarding quick win projects
that we could do together.
As more schools districts and other local organizations get
added to the Observatory, we hope to collaborate further across the
region. In the meantime, the data from the Observatory supports the
collaborative discussions we are having with Montgomery, Baltimore,
and Wicomico County school districts.
What are you anticipating better spend visibility will
help you achieve in the future?
This is where the tail wags the dog. Legislators are pushing
for more transparency in Maryland’s K-12 districts. Baltimore,
Montgomery and Howard County schools are all required to publish
their spend data online already. We’re not regulated and we’re not
required to do it yet, but it is the right thing to do and we want
to provide this information to the public as quickly as possible.
Baltimore County Schools is already working with Spikes Cavell
to publish their spend data to spotlightonspend, and we are pushing
to publish ours on the same platform.
Transparency wasn’t the initial reason why we wanted to
transform our spend data with Spikes Cavell, but it’s a
competitively priced way to accomplish it quickly. In addition,
you’re going to get more people involved in the spend analysis side
of things and looking for savings opportunities.
Very approximately, how much ($) has better spend
visibility enabled you to save Anne Arundel County Public Schools
I don’t think we could actually put a number on that yet,
but it has most definitely made it 100 percent easier to see where
the money is spent and to identify the opportunities. However, it
may take weeks if not months to determine the total dollar value of
In particular, when we put up spotlightonspend, we feel that
alone is going to pay for itself compared to what it would have
cost us to create and maintain a spend transparency website
Do you think you could have undertaken the data
transformation and spend analysis project without external
In order to bring together data from multiple school
districts as we have, I think it would have required a champion for
the cause through one of our consortiums. However none of them are
staffed or have the resources to hold or transform the data the way
Spikes Cavell has. It’s always a possibility but it’s not probable
that it would have occurred.
As an individual organization, we have some reports where we
can look at our spend data, but it’s not presented in as easy to
access or understand format as Spikes Cavell presents it. I would
say, dollar for dollar, it would cost more for us to transform our
data ourselves than it was to purchase a finished, polished product
from Spikes Cavell.
How did you find working with Spikes
I think that Spikes Cavell is a shining example of how spend
analysis should be done. Our relationship with Spikes Cavell is
very open, honest, and collaborative.
The training was particularly useful. We didn’t just get
trained to use the tools and then left alone. It was a little bit
at a time, as you needed it, when you were ready for it, and there
was always more advanced training available.
The staff is 100 percent accessible, so if there are any
questions, if there’s any need to run anything, there’s somebody
there to help you. I think the entire staff is top-notch.
You have one word to describe Spikes Cavell to a
colleague or peer. What would that one word be?
The first word that came to mind was “partner.” In the
purchasing world, the use of that word has a heavy weight attached
to it. When you work with contractors you don’t always get treated
like a partner, and you particularly don’t get treated like a
partner by all the people that you’re in contact with at a company.
It’s clear that all of the people that I’ve worked with are vested
in the success of Spikes Cavell and the relationship that we
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About Anne Arundel County Public Schools, MD
Anne Arundel County Public Schools is the public school district
serving Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The AACPS school system is
the 5th largest in Maryland, and the 43rd largest in the United
States. The district has over 5,000 teachers supporting a
comprehensive curriculum from Pre-K through 12th grade.
TAGS: spend visibility, observatory, anne arundel county, schools, procurement, case study