Our University currently does not use a single, consistent route for purchasing and invoicing. Over the years different localised systems have been employed; reliant upon paper copies, local files, local knowledge and some good will.

In the coming weeks we will see changes to the way we buy and pay for things. 

Here, Carol Saward, our Head of Income and Payments, and Phil Sweeting, our Head of Procurement, tell us more about the changes and the benefits.


Tell us about the current situation with invoicing
Supplier invoices are distributed by different methods all over the University, often directly to departments with no central registration of these.

In a large number of cases, receipt of a supplier invoice generates the raising of a retrospective purchase order onto Unit4.

There is so much paper present in our current process too. Even if the supplier invoice received is in a pdf format, we print it off to complete our current manual paper based processing and sign-off business process before the invoice is sent to Payments for processing the payment to the supplier.

Why is the current system causing a problem for the University?
Currently, it is impossible to track any invoice, especially when dealing with supplier queries surrounding receipt of an invoice, or where an invoice is in the authorisation process for payment.

The raising of an official purchase order after the supplier invoice has been received means that the University is not able to meet its responsibility to provide a clear audit trail for authorisation of expenditure, whilst understanding its financial commitments for budget and forecasting purposes.

If the official purchase order is late in being raised, aside from not complying with our Financial Regulations, it slows down the payment to the supplier by making it difficult to take advantage of early payment discounts, can lead to late payment charges, and can even damage our relationship with the supplier.

Tell us about the benefits of the new system
We are introducing an ‘Amazon like’ ordering process known as a Marketplace.  This will enhance the current ordering process where we have compliant procurement frameworks with live stock levels and pricing through punch outs and catalogues to improve the end user experience. After the appropriate Unit4 authorisation workflow process, suppliers will receive an order electronically, will be able to process your order quicker and can send their invoices to us electronically via XML as opposed to current paper or pdf formats.

All supplier invoices will be received centrally whether in paper, pdf or XML format, which will include scanning and uploading onto Unit4 to enable paperless workflow processes to be completed.  This will improve our visibility over the entire purchase to pay process to track outstanding liabilities and have full visibility capabilities of the accounts payable process in real-time to improve supplier relationships.

The new system will increase transparency and usability of expenditure data for budgetary control and forecasting by using Unit4 as a centrally managed and controlled system that is accessible to multiple users.

Will it work with our existing systems e.g. Unit 4?
Yes, the new system will work and fully integrates with Unit4.

Tell us about the new marketplace. Do I go to it for all purchasing or just certain things?
The Marketplace enables access to supplier “punch outs” and catalogues which will enable an easier customer experience when placing orders.  Colleagues will be able to click a “go shopping” button in Unit4 which will enable them to access suppliers websites direct, showing live stock levels and improved pricing.  This will give colleagues an Amazon type shopping experience. The Marketplace will also compare prices across suppliers to help colleagues achieve best value.

Which suppliers are on it?
We will be going live with Office Depot, Fisher Scientific and Bunzl Cleaning initially but more suppliers will be added covering commonly purchased items.  We will give full guidance on the suppliers who will be available through the marketplace and release regular updates.

When will this all be launched? All at the same time?
The solution will go live in September for invoicing with a few marketplace suppliers but further suppliers will be added regularly.

Will training be available?
We will be running training sessions covering the new system along with any changes in existing processes.  It is likely these will be through Zoom sessions.  We will also have champions across the University who will be able to help with queries.

Any new considerations?

  • Paper invoices will be a thing of the past and there will be no need to handle paper invoices or keep local copies of them
  • We will implement a no purchase order no payment policy with our suppliers, therefore, it is essential that purchase orders are raised before buying goods or services

How do I get involved with the project?

  • Regular updates will be provide to all staff via Essex Weekly
  • If you are interested in becoming a champion for your area, please contact Carol Saward or Phil Sweeting.