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May 29, 2014

Survey details complaints about office-supply distributor SUPRA

The reception for SUPRA Office Solutions, Pitt’s office-supply distributor on the PantherExpress e-commerce site, continues to be overwhelmingly negative among Staff Association Council (SAC) members, as captured in a survey reported at its May 14 meeting.

The survey of 89 members found that just 10 percent said SUPRA was an improvement to any degree over Pitt’s previous purchasing system, while only 17 percent thought it was equal to the previous system. More than 72 percent of respondents believed the change made purchasing less effective, including 28 percent saying it was somewhat less effective, and 27 percent choosing “much less effective.”

SAC members’ main concerns were: higher prices; previously ordered brands now unavailable; fewer chances to order in small quantities; a search engine returning irrelevant results, rather than a list from lowest to highest price, and a more cumbersome and time-consuming ordering process. Survey respondents were more pleased with delivery speed, although not with delivery accuracy or locations.

Among the more detailed survey responses:

• “I asked about searching by price and was told to search by Pitt Core. This still does not put the items in an order of cheapest to highest so I have to spend time searching. Many searches bring up such large quantities that it is difficult to search. I have found minimal items are cheaper in SUPRA; however, I have found numerous to be more expensive. Examples: One-third-cut hanging folders are 73 percent more; manila folders, 34 percent more; 10×13 self-seal envelopes 59 percent more; colored hanging folders are more; blue pocket folders were four times the price, so I was not able to purchase from SUPRA. Items before were delivered the next day unless on backorder. Now, it’s hard to tell if an item will come the next day or will be shipped and arrive in a few days.”

• “SUPRA is great at letting me know the progress of my order but I found the navigation to be slightly inefficient. It’s also not clear and concise on the quantity of what you’re ordering. You have to continue to click through and still don’t always know how much you are ordering. My last order was bigger than I thought it would be, which is great because I’m well stocked. However, I don’t like that I can’t calculate the amount of items like I could before.”

• “Main page is not as user friendly. One has to go to the browse catalog first in order to find things and then enter a bunch of numbers into a table without really knowing if they are correct. The initial search for an item does not show prices — this is not good.”

• “The PantherExpress punch-out interface is terrible. The default page tells us about ‘Updates and action items’ when really I just want to find some batteries/pens/Kleenex. Clicking ‘Manage Orders’ on the top nav from the catalog brings you to ‘Messages.’ There are too many categories in the catalog navigation. If you search for something and have a lot of product results, you can sort by every asinine thing except for price, which I would judge to be the most important criterion. If you click ‘Manage Orders’ from the customer service page, all the catalog/left navigation is weirdly disabled. There is more — I would recommend some user testing. Overall, I like the speed of your service, but really dislike your site’s lack of usability.”

• “Bring in a secondary supplier (such as Target Office was to Office Depot). I don’t recall a time where departments were limited to a single supplier of office supplies. Having a single supplier of office supplies that is more costly and provides poor service drives departments to move away from using the contracted supplier, thus defeating the purpose of a contracted supplier.”

Kevin Maloney, the University’s director of strategic sourcing and PantherExpress System Solutions, responded to the survey with a letter acknowledging members’ opinions.

“We have found that the website is not very intuitive and causes frustration in searching for the best price,” Maloney wrote. “We determined that less than 10 percent of the office supplies buyers went to the website training we had at the February 26th supplier launch event. So we sent out a communication to all buyers on Wednesday, May 7th pointing them to the OSCI Consolidation Initiative Page where many resources are available to assist buyers in using the website, including an ‘On-demand Webinar: How to shop the SUPRA punchout.’”

Maloney concluded: “The SAC survey results were shared with the supplier. Our May 7th communication announced a central process for supplier inquiries to capture all inquiries so that they can be measured and reported on. We are continuing to work with the supplier on improvements to the website and will report progress as it is made.”

He also recommended that those using SUPRA and wishing “to locate the ‘core items,’ where one will find the best pricing for Pitt … use the ‘Shopping Lists’ on the website that contain only the core items.”

SAC President Rich Colwell, SAC administrative assistant Leah Abriani and SAC member Pamela Rikstad met with Maloney to present the survey results.

“I believe they’re going to address the issues,” Colwell said. “I believe the meeting was very positive. Both sides learned.”


In other news:

• Andrew Stephany, head of SAC’s external relations committee, says that planning for the July 20 Pitt Day at Kennywood “is full steam ahead,” with ticket prices set at $22 each. This year tickets will be available only through the SAC website and not at the William Pitt Union ticket office.

The picnic menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, salad and drinks also has been set.

“We’re not going to have the same sorts of giveaways” through raffles, he announced, since SAC is not licensed by the county under the state’s small games of chance/local option law. “While I don’t think there will be enforcement agents crashing our Kennywood Day, I don’t want to give the University that headache,” Stephany said. Instead, gift baskets and other items given away last year via raffles will be awarded this year as prizes for scavenger hunts and similar activities.

• Ken Doty, chair of SAC’s health, safety, IT and transportation committee, is speaking with Pitt Police in an attempt to arrange for different sorts of active shooter trainings. Currently, the police department is offering a four-hour training in how to run from, hide from or fight off a person with a gun inside a Pitt building. Each department- or building-specific training includes teaching hands-on physical defense techniques and simulating an active shooter situation inside participants’ offices.

At the request of staff who have not received the training or whose department supervisors have not okayed the time and space necessary for the full training, Doty says he is asking Pitt Police about the possibility of holding active shooter trainings that are shorter and offered to people from multiple departments, perhaps even on a weekend. He also is inquiring whether Pitt Police might be able to advertise empty spaces in a department’s scheduled training, allowing staff members from outside that department to participate.

Pitt Police Chief James Loftus was not available for comment by press time.

• SAC member Karen Dick asked whether the University offered training that might prevent an active shooter incident, particularly for staff members who work with students and encounter a student who seems distressed. Contacted after the meeting, Tevya Zukor, director of Pitt’s Counseling Center, said his staff offers workshops on “identifying and referring distressed students” that last about an hour. “That also includes how to maintain your own safety when we’re concerned about a student whom we’re interacting with,” he said. “Anyone who calls and asks for this sort of training, we’d be glad to work with them and set that up.”

• SAC member Fiona Seels urged the organization to push Pitt for more support for breastfeeding mothers, creating a stronger policy and an updated lactation room list with more spaces in more departments. When contacted after the meeting, Human Resource’s Office of Affirmative Action, Diversity and Inclusion, which handles the issue, referred the University Times to the office’s lactation website (, which lists 16 lactation rooms in 15 Pitt buildings, including two in the Cathedral of Learning. “HR’s official policy now is ‘talk to your supervisor,’ but that assumes your supervisor is on board,” Seels said. The University Senate’s equity, inclusion, and anti-discrimination advocacy committee is looking into possible improvements to Pitt’s lactation room services, she pointed out, and SAC ought to do the same.

• The SAC Council of Campuses, an annual meeting of staff organizations on Pitt’s five campuses, will be hosted by SAC in Pittsburgh this summer, at a date to be determined. “It gives us an idea of what direction we can go and how we can help them,” says Colwell. “We are the voice for the regionals, and if we don’t know what’s going on… .”

• SAC will have a bench installed on campus in honor of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, it was announced at the chancellor’s recent farewell reception. The bench, and a companion bench honoring the chancellor’s wife, Nikki Pirillo Nordenberg, will be installed outside the chancellor’s office window, likely this summer. SAC also created a one-time Chancellor’s Education Award Fund, for which it is accepting contributions via the SAC website. The award will have the same eligibility as the SAC Book Fund award (, although the book fund is expected to be modified soon to allow awardees to spend the money on other academic needs.

• Staff relations committee chair Tammeka Banks said her committee is working on an all-staff survey to find out “what do they want us to do … what are their big concerns?”

• SAC has canceled its August meeting and will hold all future meetings in 102 Benedum Hall unless otherwise announced.

—Marty Levine