Intrinsic Schools is a new, progressive charter school organization based in Chicago, Illinois. Intrinsic Schools is focused on bringing technology into the classroom and creating a new model for education.
So far, Intrinsic Schools has opened one campus – but the company is growing fast. For the coming school year, Intrinsic’s student population has more than doubled. And by 2019, Intrinsic plans to have five standalone campuses.
But, even the most innovative, tech-savvy organization needs help with their processes.
For Intrinsic, Procurify was that help.
Here”s what Brian Kates, director of finance and operations at Intrinsic Schools, had to say.
First things first – can you describe what Intrinsic Schools does? And, can you give us a sense of the history of the company?
We are a relatively young organization. We are a charter school in Chicago, Illinois – what that means is we are publicly funded school, but we operate out of the major school district. We serve a primarily low-income population. We are authorized by the public school district – there is a lot of reporting that we send to them – but we are independently run and managed. We decide what type of curriculum we offer, for instance.
So, we will serve Grades 7-12, when we get to full enrolment at our first school. Last year, we served just Grade 9. We had about 200 students last year, this coming year we will have 450, and in the 2015-2016 school year we will have about 900 students. Now, we are only talking about our first school here, we plan to have about five schools by 2019.
We use what’s called a blended learning model. What that means is we leverage technology to put our teachers to better use. We have one-to-one laptops for all of our students – all of our students use Chromebooks. The bulk of their work comes to them through technology and online software. The benefits of this system are that it is easier to manage a course, and also it allows teachers to give quicker, real-time feedback so students always know where they are in their course. The other piece is that you can use online software to teach basic skills such as addition or subtraction. That allows a teacher to focus on critical thinking skills, for example. We are really hoping to create a new model for education.
We’d like to ask a two-part question: Can you describe the size and scope size of your procurement process and who oversees it?
Our total budget for next year is US$6.5 million. A little over half of that is tied up in personnel and the rest is split between equipment, supplies and services that we are purchasing. For next year, for example, about $3 million worth of expenses will run through Procurify for us.
As the director of finance and operations, I am involved in a lot of that process. We have an office manager at the school and she is the primary person for requesting purchases at the school level. So, if a teacher needs something their request will always funnel through our office manager. From there, we have a four-tiered approval process. Anything less than $2,500 is approved by the principal, or myself. Anything less than $25,000 get approved by our CEO. Anything less than $100,000 gets approved by our board treasurer and anything that is more than $100,000 we take to our board and they have to pass a resolution on whether or not to approve the purchase.
Within that process, we are documenting all of those approvals. Prior to bringing on Procurify, our purchasing was a primarily manual process. It wasn’t very streamlined – it was very easy for a quote to get lost in the shuffle. We weren’t in the Stone Age, but we certainly weren’t using the technology available to us.
Because you’re in education, are there any nuances or distinctive characteristics to purchasing or procurement in your field? Is there anything unique to procurement/purchasing for an educational institution?
There is – mainly in that you have taxpayer money, so there is a lot of scrutiny. In education, and it varies from state to state, there is a lot of very specific guidelines we have to follow for how we procure things. For instance, there could be a mandated, blind RFP process we have to follow and we have to take whoever is the lowest bidder.
In general, people want to make sure there are tight fiscal controls, so that whenever we purchase something it goes through the specific process and the necessary approvals are always recorded and tracked. And, we have to show that we follow that process exactly. Being able to have all of that information contained within one system like Procurify makes things much, much easier for us.
What pain points did you historically experience in your purchasing process? What was going wrong? What was difficult?
The biggest challenge for me was that we have a purchasing process – and some people are good at following it, and some aren’t. So, the easier we can make that process, the more discipline one will have to follow that process. What we were doing before wasn’t as streamlined and visibility into how the process worked took more effort.
So, for someone like our CEO who doesn’t like process as much as I do, if she wants to buy something it is much easier for her to use Procurify and see everything that is going on. If there are 10 things for her to approve, she can see them, see the line amounts and it all gets done very quickly. It is moving workflow out of email and into good, solid systems.
Also, we were looking for something that tied into our budget seamlessly. For example, if people need quick access to view whether we have enough money left in a particular budget line item to make a specific purchase, Procurify helps individuals to better manage money rather than myself always being the gatekeeper for that.
And, lastly, we really wanted something that was easy to use, like Amazon. I wanted to sit down with my office manager, who doesn’t have much of an accounting background, and show her something that she would be able to figure out and navigate without trouble.
Okay, now for another extended question: Now that some help has arrived what does that allow you to do? Does this open up potential capital cost savings down the road? Or, have savings been found in areas such as increased employee efficiency or a decrease in admin time?
In terms of how much time was spent on our process, which equates to money, Procurify has saved a lot of my time. It is also a lot easier to get people bought into the process. That is the biggest piece for me. I’ve got much better adherence to our purchasing process than I did before. People have very quickly bought in – the process is easier for them now. It is easier to make a request and receive supplies, and they notice if they get things faster as well.
So, was there anything in particular about Procurify that most impressed you, or that you found most beneficial?
The big decision points for me were certain functionalities, such as approvals and being able to upload our budgets. There are a lot of systems that have those functionalities, but the simplicity of design and how easy it is to navigate Procurify was key. In past lives, I”ve worked with decade-old Oracle systems where there are people whose only job is to navigate the incredibly complex and cumbersome Oracle system. I wanted to make sure we didn”t have something like that. Any person that we hire can figure out Procurify in an hour without much difficulty.
The piece I’ve been most impressed with is the customer service. The responsiveness from the company has been amazing. I’m a bit of a night owl and there are plenty of nights when I’m up at midnight or 1 a.m. and I don’t ever expect anyone to respond to me when I send emails out that late, but I have sent emails at that time and I’ve gotten responses in minutes.
The last issue for us was knowing that Procurify will continue to grow and add functionality as it goes. When we had our demonstration, it was great to hear that more and more functionality is being planned and added. It was very clear that the culture of continuous improvement was there.
How important is having remote access to Procurify? You will have different locations – is remote access a particular benefit? And, was our mobile app an important factor in your decision to adopt Procurify?
When we started looking for a solution, one of the big issues for me was it had to be cloud based. We are certainly moving to an era where people work remotely frequently and we wanted to be able to access the system from anywhere. For us, we are moving to a place where every person in the organization will work with a Chromebook, so at some point in time we may not even have a server, so we really need to be cloud based. That option is very important to us. Remote access was non-negotiable.
The mobile app was a strong selling point. For our employees that do travel, the ability to take a picture of a receipt and upload an expense report is so much easier than the old process and much easier for me as well. I don’t have to hand my accountant a stack or receipts and a report that may or may not be filled out. It is done instantly.
If you could distill your thoughts on adopting Procurify as your procurement/purchasing solution, what would it be?
The biggest thing for us is increasing efficiency, having really good transparency on the purchasing process and making sure everything is streamlined and tied together well. It’s all about having a system that is clear and easy to use for our staff.