Government agencies are typically not known for being on the cutting edge of national trends.
But Columbia and Richmond counties' school systems are about to enter the world of Internet business-to-business purchasing, uncharted territory so new that few local manufacturers have dared to venture there.
A local company, e2Procure Solutions Group, will provide the electronic marketplace through its site at www.e2procure.com. Lakeside and Greenbrier middle schools will be the pilot sites for the program in Columbia County, and the program will be tested at 11 schools and in five departments in Richmond County.
Greenbrier Middle School Principal Jeff Carney knows firsthand the headaches associated with the current way of doing business.
"Because we're a new school, we had to buy everything that's in this school right now, and it was a nightmare," said Mr. Carney, who opened the middle school this year. "The teachers first have to fill out a sheet with catalog numbers, pages, prices and then give it to the bookkeeper. The bookkeeper then has to find that item, put it on a purchase order and make sure it's all there. We've been doing it the old-fashioned way - in triplicate method. If this speeds it up, then we're all for it."
The Web site's service will offer school districts a business-to-business procurement service designed to streamline and reduce the cost of purchasing.
"One of the most antiquated areas is the time it takes to get a purchase order through," said Pat Sullivan, Columbia County school system's controller.
In Columbia County, both test schools will be given a purchasing card that they will use to charge and track purchases.
"We want to look at purchasing more online," Ms. Sullivan said. "Ultimately, our goal is to make this process more efficient, so we can get items into classrooms faster."
Ms. Sullivan said the school system was spurred to action because local stores are becoming more reluctant to accept purchase orders for supplies.
Wal-Mart, for example, stopped taking purchase orders Oct. 31, said Shirley Jackson, head customer service manager for the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Deans Bridge Road. Wal-Mart now requires businesses and organizations to apply for a Wal-Mart credit card.
Richmond County test schools and departments will use the Web site to purchase products but will not use the purchasing card service, said Donald Porter, a spokesman for the Board of Education.
Formerly known as e-schoolz.com, e2Procure Solutions Group was developed by Shankar Balan, chief executive officer of Augusta-based Palmetto Industries, and Fred Davison, former University of Georgia president and current president and chief executive officer of the National Science Center Foundation.
"Nationwide, we could save a little over $5 billion for the schools, and in Georgia we could save a little over $600 million," Mr. Balan said of the online service.
E2Procure Solution Group is a partner with GE Capital and Mastercard, and will develop a purchasing card that it will issue to the schools electing to use the buying system. Each card will have a number assigned it so purchases can be tracked.
The Web site will allow schools instant access to national vendor catalogs to buy products online. As soon as a school system receives its supplies from a vendor, that vendor is paid within 48 hours. All purchases are billed on one statement at the end of the month.
"The school system, instead of cutting 5,000 checks at the end of the month, only cuts one check, so it reduces the amount of labor," Mr. Balan said. "And when you aggregate your purchasing, you get better prices."
The school systems' efforts in streamlining the procurement process are part of a national trend of businesses and organizations forging online trading partnerships with vendors.
A provider of Internet statistics, eCommerce, projects business-to-business online commerce will rise from handling $185 billion in 2000 to $1.26 trillion in 2003.
"Companies are using the Internet to cut costs through efficiencies gained in the supply chain - either to cut search costs or enhance the effectiveness of their relationship with their supplier," said Tom Leigh, the Tanner chairman in sales management at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.