Education eProcurement 101: Examples, Software, Benefits, and More

In an era of rising prices, budgetary constraints, and uncertain enrollment numbers, there is increasing pressure to streamline processes, reduce costs, and do more with less.

Today’s higher ed institutions are experiencing a significant drop in tuition revenue, contributing to a 70% increase in the number of colleges facing financial distress. This situation is particularly critical as many states are facing their own financial challenges, prompting a closer examination of higher education budgets. The strain extends to K-12 schools, where budgets are struggling to keep pace with rising prices. Several states have been forced to enact cuts and scale back financial support to local schools.

For procurement teams and financial administrators, the picture is clear. You need to find greater efficiencies and reduce costs wherever possible without sacrificing quality or essential services. It is a tall job and a critical one.

eProcurement helps educational institutions overcome these challenges and accelerate the entire procurement lifecycle. In this Education eProcurement 101 guide, we will explain the objectives and benefits of eProcurement, the different types of eProcurement tools and solutions, how to select an eProcurement system, and the best practices for a successful implementation. We start with an eProcurement definition.

What is eProcurement?

eProcurement is key to efficient procurement practices within educational institutions, facilitating the seamless acquisition of essential goods and services. Through digital tools and automated workflows, eProcurement optimizes each phase of the procurement process — from sourcing to purchasing to managing vendors and contracts — leading to substantial savings in both time and financial resources.

By integrating technology-driven solutions, educational entities can integrate their procurement procedures, enhancing overall operational efficiency and resource allocation.

Today’s eProcurement tools also leverage the cloud for Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. This allows greater mobility for remote and hybrid teams as well as making eProcurement software available across districts or campuses to authorized users. Cloud-based eProcurement tools enable digital communications across the end-to-end procurement lifecycle, connecting buyers and sellers.

Benefits and Objectives of eProcurement

Using an eProcurement system produces tangible benefits almost right from the start. Some of the key objectives eProcurement software helps you achieve include:

Efficiency and Cost Reductions

By streamlining workflows and automating complex purchasing processes, eProcurement presents significant advantages in terms of operational efficiencies and cost reduction. It is estimated that as much as 80% of manual tasks associated with paper-based workflows can be automated to reduce workloads and accelerate the procurement lifecycle.

Key Benefits:

  • Electronic requisition management allows for the efficient creation and monitoring of purchase requisitions.
  • Automated digital approval workflows expedite the approval process and enable faster decision-making in procurement activities with no more lost paperwork sitting on someone’s desk.
  • Seamless integration of purchasing systems with financial/ERP systems eliminates data silos and creates a synchronized flow of data, enhancing financial planning and more efficient resource utilization.

Shortened Procurement Cycles

An eProcurement system allows educational institutions to streamline procurement cycles, reducing transaction timelines and delivery timeframes. Given the recent challenges in obtaining essential goods promptly, there is a pressing need to expedite approval processes to prevent fulfillment delays.

Key Benefits:

  • Expediting the process of sourcing products and services from preferred vendors while adhering to established purchasing regulations.
  • Access to a database of products, services, and pricing from preferred providers allows for swift and informed decision-making.
  • Comprehensive management of the entire procurement cycle optimizes operational efficiency and accelerates timelines.

Compliance and Transparency

eProcurement tools are equipped with robust compliance features that enforce strict adherence to purchasing policies and regulations, promoting transparency and accountability within the procurement framework.

Key Benefits:

  • Audit trails provide a transparent record of procurement activities, enhancing visibility and tracking compliance with institution policies and regulatory standards.
  • Permissions controls ensure that only authorized personnel can engage in specific procurement actions. Role-based access controls (RBACs) can segment different types of users based on roles and approval status.
  • Digital record-keeping mechanisms automatically track procurement data, promoting transparency and seamless auditing procedures.

By consolidating your procurement process, you can encourage buyers to use preferred vendors and pre-negotiated contracts to maximize savings. This dramatically reduces maverick spending, which can add up fast. A study by the Hackett Group reported that nearly a third of all indirect spending is off-contract.

Data and Analytics

Comprehensive data collection and analysis enable schools and universities to derive valuable insights to aid strategic procurement planning and inform purchasing decisions.

Key Benefits:

  • Data on contracts, vendors, purchase decisions, performance, and order fulfillment provide a comprehensive overview of procurement activities.
  • Real-time reporting dashboards help track activity against budgets and alert for overruns or non-compliant transactions.
  • Insights allow educational institutions to compare and negotiate better pricing, terms, and conditions with vendors.

Bidding, Tendering, and Marketplace Management

eProcurement platforms can also be used to manage the tendering and bidding process between buyers and sellers. The software provides a platform to facilitate requests for quotes (RFQs) and bidder responses in a single place for faster review. This significantly accelerates the bidding process and fosters competition among bidders.

Key Benefits:

  • A transparent approach to procurement helps educational institutions engage with a diverse pool of suppliers and vendors.
  • Access to online marketplaces displays a wide array of products and services, providing educational institutions with greater choices and competitive pricing options.
  • Fosters a more dynamic and efficient marketplace, ensuring that educational institutions secure the best value for their investments.

Different Types of eProcurement Solutions

Educational institutions have several options when it comes to implementing eProcurement software. The right solution depends on your organization’s size, needs, and budget. Solutions include:

Purchasing Cards

Purchasing cards (P-cards) offer a simple way to digitize some procurement spending. These commercial credit cards look like regular cards but come with built-in controls and reporting tailored for business expenditures. Employees can use preset limits and expense coding right on the card.

P-cards provide an efficient way to pay for high-volume, low-cost goods without having to issue individual purchase orders. They reduce petty cash usage and streamline the purchasing process for items like office supplies, maintenance parts, and small-scale services.

Modern P-cards have robust cost controls to limit spending within thresholds and restrict certain purchase categories or preferred vendors. Some P-cards can also integrate directly with accounting systems.

 eProcurement Software

eProcurement software is designed specifically for automating and managing the entire procurement process for organizations. These platforms provide end-to-end support for the full procure-to-pay lifecycle.

Online Marketplaces

Online Marketplaces represent centralized hubs where multiple buyers and suppliers come together. Educational buyers can browse catalogs and compare pricing across a network of vendors. Online marketplaces streamline sourcing, allow electronic transactions, and provide market intelligence.

E&I’s online marketplace connects schools and universities with a portfolio of supplier contracts in a pre-loaded, secure environment. You can take advantage of pre-negotiated terms, compare them to your contracts and pricing, or add your own supplier catalogs for greater flexibility.


EqualLevel, sponsored by E&I, is a fully digital supplier network for eProcurement, enabling your users to shop the same way they would on any eCommerce site. It comes loaded with E&I contracts, and you can also add non-E&I contracts. Features include:

  • P-Cards & purchase orders
  • Intuitive reporting
  • Member-specific pricing
  • Punchout from ERP
  • Approvals & workflows
  • Non-E&I Contracts
  • Full administrative control
  • eInvoicing
  • ERP integration
  • Data & analytics
  • Custom branding

How to Select eProcurement Software

When you are evaluating eProcurement solutions, there are several key factors to consider. First, look for an eProcurement partner that specializes in the education sector. They understand the institutional environment and the unique challenges you face. This will help you implement a system that meets your needs and is backed by experts who know the educational space.

Other key factors include:


Being able to work online, whether in the office, remotely, or across campus, is crucial for education procurement teams. A cloud-based eProcurement platform allows approvers, requesters, and other authorized users to manage the process on the go via secure mobile apps or browsers.

Integrations with Accounting Systems

A robust eProcurement solution should seamlessly integrate with your existing accounting or ERP system to enable automated data sharing. Unintentional data errors from manual re-keying or out-of-sync data among different platforms can cause significant problems. You need tight integration that provides an accurate, consistent, and comprehensive view of spend across the organization.

Supports the Entire Procure-to-Pay Cycle

Look for an end-to-end platform that fully supports your organization’s procure-to-pay process — from sourcing to payment. A unified system streamlines workflows and provides total visibility and control over the entire procurement lifecycle. Piecemeal solutions that only address parts of the cycle can lead to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Customized Approval Workflows

Configurable approval workflows are essential for efficient procurement operations. With customizable rules in place, orders and invoices can be automatically routed to the right people based on things like spending thresholds, budgets, and procurement policies. For example, requests up to a certain amount might only require a departmental approver, while larger amounts might require a controller sign-off.

Real-Time Budget Tracking

Real-time visibility into budgets during the procurement process keeps spending in check. Leading solutions provide alerts and warnings when spending approaches budget limits. Some may even put hard stops in place to prevent budget overages. This level of tracking allows approvers and requesters to make smart purchasing choices based on available funds.

Spend Insights and Reporting

Robust reporting and analytics should provide clear insights into spending with granular details about where the dollars are going, trends over time, and breakdowns by vendors and categories. Complete visibility empowers data-driven decisions around suppliers, contracts, and spending.

Ad hoc reporting also enables procurement teams to quickly pull reports for different stakeholders as required.

Digital Audit Trails

Any eProcurement solution you choose must have comprehensive audit logs to support compliance with purchasing policies. Detailed audit trails track all activities across transaction lifecycles for transparency and accountability.

Three-Way Matching

Automating three-way matching between purchase orders, receipts, and invoices is an important accounting control in eProcurement. Matching ensures amounts align before releasing payments, reducing discrepancies and exceptions.

Vendor Management

Vendor management capabilities help track preferred suppliers, contracts, pricing/discounts, and more. Maintaining organized vendor data ultimately leads to better relationships and contract compliance. eProcurement systems can also help you identify poorly performing vendors so you can look for alternate sources.

Why Choose E&I Cooperative Services

E&I Cooperative Services offers a unique eProcurement model tailored specifically for education. As a member-owned organization, E&I leverages the collective purchasing power of thousands of schools and universities to deliver significant cost savings and process improvements.

Unlike traditional vendors, E&I acts as an extension of your procurement team. Member rebates help align incentives so E&I can strive to maximize savings for schools.

Key benefits include:

  • Competitively Solicited Contracts: E&I offers a broad portfolio of competitively solicited contracts across a wide variety of categories. Members can utilize these discounted pricing agreements with vetted suppliers.
  • Spend Analytics: Tap into E&I’s Strategic Spend Assessments to analyze expenditures and uncover savings opportunities. Benchmark against peers to inform data-driven decisions.
  • Peer Networking: Connect with fellow members to share insights and best practices. The cooperative model facilitates collaboration.
  • Tailored for Education: E&I’s sole focus is on schools and universities.

For any educational institution looking to elevate its procurement strategy, E&I delivers an ideal combination of purchasing power, marketplace access, and education community expertise. The member-owned model creates true alignment between E&I and its members, maximizing savings and

See the broad membership benefits available when you sign up with E&I Cooperative Services.


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