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Observatory Case Study: Baltimore County Public Schools, MD

Baltimore County Public Schools implemented the Spikes Cavell Observatory to deliver improved spend and contract visibility. We talked to Rick Gay, Purchasing Manager about his experience to date.

“Spikes Cavell are out there in front leading the way and setting the pace. They don’t follow, they lead, and that’s where I like to be.”

Tell me a little bit about your agency?
I work for Baltimore County Public Schools; our county actually surrounds the city of Baltimore. We’re the 27th largest school system in the country and have 106,000 students, 178 schools and 17,000 employees. Our annual budget is $1.4bn of which approximately $300m is in discretionary spend and is administered by my procurement team.

Can you describe your procurement function and where and how it fits into the organization?
We have a staff of 17 that includes myself, five purchasing agents who manage solicitations, five clerical people that handle purchase order processing, a contract specialist, an MBE liaison and a data analyst. We also have a dedicated receptionist and administrative staff supporting the procurement team. We handle about 9,000 purchase orders a year, the majority of which are managed online using an eProcurement platform comprised of 55 vendor catalogues and more than 600,000 line items. We also have a very successful procurement card program with more than 7,500 cards deployed.

Would you describe the procurement function’s role as mainly tactical or mainly strategic?
These days we’re able to operate more strategically than we have in the past due, in large part, to the implementation of new systems and new processes. We now spend a lot less time, money and effort pushing paper which gives us scope to think about how we might continue to improve the way we do things.

What do you see as the top three challenges for procurement Baltimore County Public Schools over the next 12 months?
As you know we have been going through some really difficult economic times. This year we’ve had to find $50m in savings and next year it looks like we’ll have to save a further $22m. My first, second and third priorities are trying to make sure that my end users are able to stretch their short budget dollars as far as they can in support of our educational mission.

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 project?
Well, I had been working on my own databases and my own reporting structures for a number of years and was never able to fully commit the resources to do the job properly. When I saw the Spikes Cavell presentation, my initial thoughts were, “At last. This is exactly what I’ve been struggling to do on my own for a number of years and now here’s somebody who’s already done it, has proven that it works and can deliver it without a whole lot of effort and expenditure on my part.” And that’s exactly how it has panned out. For the first time we now have the right intelligence at our fingertips that truly helps us get a handle on where our money is going and who it’s going to. This has allowed us to really take a step back and ask ourselves whether we’re doing the right things in the right way.

What has better spend visibility enabled you to achieve to date?
We’re still analyzing the data and identifying savings opportunities but one of the early wins came from an unexpected quarter. The deputy superintendent asked, through a board member, for an accurate assessment of how much Baltimore County Public Schools spends on goods and services in Baltimore County and in the State of Maryland. We were able to go to the Spikes Cavell Observatory and have the answer ready in minutes when previously this was the sort of request that would have taken weeks. We were able to leverage the good news with our constituents, and that’s a good profile for procurement.

What are you anticipating better spend visibility will help you achieve in the future?
Well one of the things we’ve been able to do is participate in a pilot program whereby BCPS and four other school systems of various sizes are comparing and contrasting their spend data through the Spikes Cavell Observatory. We’re now at the point where we can start to analyze spending in common and leverage this for everyone’s benefit. The numbers are big. We’re talking $6M, $8M, $10M in some categories and that makes you a big player under any circumstance. For example right now in a lot of contracts if you’re getting say, 20-25% off list, that’s pretty good. Now by cooperating with our peers and colleagues we’re talking 30-35% and when you’re spending $8M, an additional $800k incremental savings is very meaningful. It also means a massive ROI on what we’re investing annually in the spend and contract visibility.

Do you think you could have undertaken the data transformation and spend analysis project without external help?
Definitely not. And that’s as much to do with not having the time, money or resources as it is the extra benefits of working with an innovative organization like Spikes Cavell. By way of example, a bill was passed in the legislature this year that mandated that Baltimore County Public Schools would support transparency by posting all of their transactions above $25,000 on the web. So our people started to look at designing it and everything that would go into delivering transparency. I then recalled that I’d had a conversation with Spikes Cavell about an add-on service for the Observatory called spotlightonspend that was designed to deliver the transparency required of us. So we took a look and it became obvious to us that it was already built and there was really no need for us to go through the expense, time and effort of designing our own site. I think once we deploy the system that will pay dividends as it definitely helps position us as a leader and good steward of the tax payers’ dollars. And we’re able to achieve this positive end as a direct result of our relationship with Spikes Cavell.

How did you find working with Spikes Cavell?
It’s really a lot of fun to work with an organization that’s innovative, that’s on the cutting edge and always thinks of something new to do that makes my job easier and more productive. I truly feel that we’re on the same wavelength and as a result it’s a lot easier to get things done.

You have one word to describe Spikes Cavell to a colleague or peer. What would that one word be?
Cutting edge. They’re out there in front leading the way and setting the pace. They don’t follow, they lead, and that’s where I like to be.

About Baltimore County Public Schools, MD

From the Chesapeake Bay to the Maryland–Pennsylvania Line, Baltimore County wraps around but does not include Baltimore City. With more than 800,000 residents, Baltimore County is diverse with residents living in suburban, rural, and urban neighborhoods, reflecting the nation’s blend of cultures and backgrounds.

Baltimore County Public Schools is the 26th largest school system in the US and the 3rd largest in Maryland. It’s $1.5 billion budget supports the education of more than 105,000 students at 174 schools, programs, and centers in the County.

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