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Haslam Supply Chain Students Gain Real E-Procurement Experience in Class Project

August 12, 2020

Two professors in the Department of Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business recently created a semester-long gamified buyer-supplier project to give students experience dealing with the digital changes coming in supply chain management.

Randy Bradley and Sining Song used the concept in his Supply Chain Information Technology class and her Global Strategic Sourcing class, which required coordinating both of their classes for an entire semester. The classes worked together on an integrated final project supported by Negometrix, a commercially available e-procurement and contract management platform.

Song’s buyers were tasked with analyzing the market category, developing a scorecard with criteria weighted to their specific companies and evaluating and selecting suppliers. Bradley’s class served as the suppliers, analyzing their product offerings by choosing real companies with real financials to represent and responding to the proposal requests within Negometrix.

Emerging technology products were used, including GPS-enabled wrist scanners, AR-enabled headwear and smart clothing, to mimic future procurement assignments. The cutting-edge nature of the products challenged students to dig into unestablished industries and determine the most relevant information to ensure an uninterrupted flow of goods.  

“The project gave the buying teams a good sense of the process they’ll use in the workplace and required them to use all the major concepts and sourcing strategies they learn in class,” Song said.  

The duo gave the students limited resources – places to look for market information, financial data and equations for measuring a company’s financial health – but left students alone to learn the e-procurement platform and process.

“We purposely did not provide the students training on the Negometrix platform,” Bradley said. ”We told them, ‘When you go to work, you might not always get trained on the solution that’s there.’”

Jan Siderius, founder and CEO of Negometrix and president of Negometrix USA, and Clare McInerney, Negometrix consultant, kicked off the project for the students. McInerney served as the client service representative for the duration of the project, supporting the students as they learned to use the software.

On the final day of class, buyers announced their chosen suppliers on a live video call and discussed their scorecards and reasoning. Apropos real evaluations, different companies weighted similar criteria differently, with some buyers emphasizing sustainability and contract pliability and others a supplier’s transparency and culture. All, however, took a detailed look into every supplier’s financials to establish their stability and assess risk.

“We’re looking for a big enough company with enough cash on hand to do heavy R&D since we care about innovation,” student Matthew Beltrondo, said.

Beltrondo, representing a buyer team sourcing AR goggles for the medical field, said that “quality assurance is more important than price because it’s the medical field.”

Ethan Craig’s team took a different strategy but ended up choosing the same supplier. “Our main focus was not raw financial health, but year over year return,” he said. “After that, it was contract terms and where they were willing to offer discounts and rebates.”

Students taking both classes got to experience the project from the supplier and buyer sides. From his experience as a buyer, David Jo, whose supplier team carried its category, learned to provide ample, detailed information.

“We chose a company that answered every question to the utmost detail and provided us with extra sources via email,” Jo said. “When suppliers just answer yes or no to a question the lack of information made us trust them less.”

Buyer teams learned to design requests for proposals (RFPs) and develop and set up questions to make the best use of the e-procurement platform. They paid particular attention to how the type and volume of questions could affect the evaluation outcome and incentivize rather than deter suppliers from submitting a bid.

Creating an environment that challenges students to make the changes necessary in the supply chain industry drove Song and Bradley to collaborate. They felt the most accurate assessment of students’ learning and abilities was a problem-based learning approach that simulates one they would face on the job.

“These are graduating seniors; once they’re done with my class they’re supposed to go to work,” Song said. “There’s always a disconnection between what they’ve learned in class and real work. This experience gave them a sense of what’s expected.”