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April 17, 2014

Purchasing complaints aired at SAC meeting

The University’s office-supply distributor on the PantherExpress e-commerce site, SUPRA Office Solutions, drew the ire of Staff Association Council (SAC) members at the group’s April 9 meeting.

Member Pamela Rikstad volunteered that she found the prices for some supplies higher than previous prices. “I feel I need to shop around to see if the University is getting ripped off,” she said. And she labeled the supply search function “ridiculously challenging.”

“Their prices are more expensive,” contended Tammeka Banks, head of SAC’s staff relations committee. “I don’t know what else to do … I just spend the money because that is what the University chose …,” rather than using her P card to make a purchase outside the system.

Monika Losagio, SAC vice president of finance, said she knew “administrators who are equally unhappy. … I certainly myself have had some issues — mostly pricing.”

“People are like, why do you care?” added Rikstad. “Well, nobody is increasing my operating budget. …”

In response to the complaints, Kevin Maloney, director of strategic sourcing and PantherExpress system solutions, told the University Times after the meeting that “changes are sometimes hard for the purchasers, particularly those who have good relationships” with a previous distributor.

SUPRA’s five-year contract replaces the previous University deal with Office Depot and Target Office Products as distributors, and Maloney says his office has projected a $1.3 million savings for the University over the life of the contract.

These savings will come through “low administrative costs” and “elimination of time spent on comparison shopping by providing the best total cost from one source,” according to the University’s SUPRA website.

Maloney says he has been in contact with SUPRA nearly every day since the March 3 rollout —three times a week currently — “to enhance the site” and make savings easier.

“Since we’ve started on March 3, there have been 9,000 items purchased,” he reported. “In terms of the feedback we’ve received so far, it’s very minimal compared to the total volume” of purchases — just 1 percent of purchases have resulted in inquiries, which include complaints, he said. “We’ve gotten quite a few compliments on delivery and quick resolution of problems,” he added.

In particular, he said, Pitt is working to improve the “punch-out” — the transfer from SUPRA’s site to the supplier of a particular item. As for improving the search function: “Those are the things we’re fine tuning …,” Maloney said. “This is not the first time we’ve heard of it.”

The University also is aiming to help purchasers find the best price through cross-reference lists for paper, for instance, that allow selections chosen under the previous system to be found via SUPRA. Maloney’s office plans a similar guide to ink and toner soon.

Lindsay Rodzwicz, vice president of public relations for SAC, promised that the organization would look into the issue.

In other news:

  • Andrew Stephany, chair of external relations, announced that his committee had secured agreements with several local organizations to get staff members discounts on events and services, and were working on others.  Through the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, staff members this summer can get a discount on guided walks through Schenley Park and half off the $10 admission price to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. SAC also is seeking deals with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, as well as the Carnegie Museums, he said.
  • Hillary Koller was elected head of the operations committee unanimously during the meeting’s closed session.

—Marty Levine