News - November 18, 2009

EBS: how user-friendly is it?

The electronic ordering system EBS was introduced in Wageningen UR four years ago. At the moment about 56 percent of purchases go through the system. From 1 January 2010, the EBS is compulsory. What are the advantages of collective purchasing?

Tijs Breukink, Executive Board
'In the past each order meant a lot of work for the various units, such as ordering, registering chemicals, invoicing. Invoices had to be sent for approval by the organization and put into the bookkeeping system by hand. That was time-consuming too. The EBS doesn't change these processes but makes sure they are carried out efficiently and electronically, which saves time in the end.
  'It also means that all purchasers can make use of collective contracts. This saves us 12 million euros a year. That money can go to education and research at Wageningen University and Van Hall Larenstein, and can enable our institutes to set more competitive rates.'
Loes Helbers, management assistant, Safety and Environment, Facilities and Services
'I've been working with the EBS for four years. I think it's a good system, though it took some getting used to at first. The one day course was certainly not enough to understand it. It takes some perseverance to get to grips with the EBS.
  'We have to deal with internal services through the internal EBS. That involves lots of steps, such as the rubberstamping. Often the contact person doesn't have the necessary data to hand, such as ledger number and cost centre. Then it can take weeks for an order to be completed. But once it's done, the finances are automatically dealt with. This is handy for Finances, but in fact you are shifting part of the work.  
  'People are always worried by a new system. But I'm making a go of it. If we all decide to use this system, then we should all get on with it. That's just how it works in a large organization.'
Herman van Eck, lecturer in plant breeding.
'It takes me one phone call to arrange for a bus for our annual student field trip. That is quicker than explaining to the admin staff that a bus needs to be ordered. You're not ordering a simple item like a roll of Sellotape. There's more to it: the number of passengers, the destination, the times. The bill came today. The admin staff discreetly let me know that this won't be possible from now on. Then we had a look at how you arrange a bus through the EBS. After looking in vain for a while we gave up. Why is it actually that no other procedure for the odd bill can exist alongside the EBS? Who benefits from this? Maybe you can save on one bookkeeper through automatization, but it's more work for the chair group. Could I please be allowed to concentrate on education and research?'
Nicole Poldervaart-Jenje, head of the purchasing department
'The EBS consists of over one hundred catalogues with products and services. For anything that's not in it, people can add a preferred supplier and a description of what they need. We check whether we have suppliers with good prices. Sometimes we reject orders, for example for office supplies that have not been ordered by our contract supplier. What people often forget is to purchase small things, such as a journal subscription or a lunch, through the EBS. Those things are so easy to arrange over the phone.
  'There is resistance in some departments because people feel it's going to take up more time. And that's true when you first start using the system. But the people in charge of the budgets don't get piles of invoices on their desks any more. The registration of chemicals is linked to the EBS as well. These advantages are sometimes overlooked by users.
  'As a purchaser, the EBS is a great system to set up. You can buy more efficiently and arrange good contracts. But it is a big project to get it implemented throughout the organization. The PSG and ASG experimental farms find it difficult because the staff are not at their desks much and don't handle many orders. For them we are looking into the options. VHL is going to join in from next year, but that process is still ahead of us. If all goes well, the implementation will be easier for them because we'll have solved a lot of problems already.'
Maria Vonk-Pereira, office manager of the Forum library secretariat
'When it works it's a great system. Then it's very simple. If you have all the details to make up an invoice, it works incredibly fast. But the problem is that you have to know the cost centre. And you have to know who to send the invoice to. Now these orders are often handled by individual staff members. They make an order, ask for the boss's signature and send it off. We then have to figure out who to send the invoice to. Actually we need a list of all the EBS purchasers. That could be a solution. So I'm not unhappy with the EBS, but I wouldn't say I'm happy with it either. For the time being it's quite a lot of hassle.'
Peter Tamboer, Facilities manager Animal Sciences Group
'In the ASG the system is working well, technically and organizationally. Right now we are focusing on reaching a one hundred percent score with EBS. You maybe shouldn't expect to get all the orders going through this system, although that is the norm set in the ASG. That last five percent are more trouble than they're worth, and these are mainly exceptional cases. For goods the system works just fine. If for some reason you can't find an item in the catalogue, you can always call up the Purchasing department, and they can usually find the item, no problem. For foreign orders or internet orders, it is harder to use the EBS, but you can deal with this by making up an EBS bill internally, so that at least the costs are in the system. For services, like getting a vet in, you have to submit an EBS number that should be on the bill.  That might be a bit of a hassle, but in the end the system is efficient and economical because it takes a lot of work off the hands of the administration and you always have an up-to-date overview of your budget.'