How Universities Handle Device Procurement Amid Supply Chain Woes

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, however, device replacement efforts were impacted at U of I and a number of other schools, including the University of Colorado Boulder.

Departments within CU Boulder generally manage their own device purchasing, in accordance with guidelines set by the University of Colorado’s systemwide Procurement Service Center, says Berkley Jones, program manager for IT asset management at the school’s Office of Information Technology.

Standard computer models from authorized vendors can be ordered for a negotiated price through a portal-based system, which has been in place since 2011.

During the pandemic, challenges such as labor shortages delayed computer purchasing requests, according to Jeremy Diaz, IT asset management coordinator within the Office of Information Technology. As a result, Diaz says, the university championed bulk orders of available devices.

“Lead times for monitors, desktop computers and some accessories, like docks and adapters, were particularly affected,” he says. “We encouraged people to order laptops well in advance. Many faculty and staff opted to delay receiving new computers.”

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Universities’ pandemic-era ordering experiences have led certain schools to adopt a different, sometimes anticipatory approach to procurement, according to Roy Mathew, national practice leader for higher education at Deloitte.

For some, that can include stockpiling items before they are requisitioned.

“We work with one that said, ‘We have a warehouse; we’re going to store 75 to a 100 PCs at any given point in time,” Mathew says. “So, when somebody calls up saying, ‘I need a new device,’ we actually have that in stock, as opposed to placing the order and then waiting to get it. That’s the type of proactive planning that happened at quite a few places.”

Early in the pandemic, when the demand for faculty and staff laptops at U of I exploded, the liberal arts and sciences department found itself in a fortuitous position. Months before the outbreak, the LAS acquired roughly 100 devices for future use in the ATLAS Share program, which lends computers to undergraduate students in need.

“That was just luck,” Wood says. “Because shortly after the pandemic hit, there was no availability of laptops. We had a big pool of them that we had purchased for our loaner program available to distribute to faculty and staff to take home.”

Other devices, though, proved difficult to source, such as Lenovo mini docks that can be used to connect laptops to external monitors. To obtain compatible devices, the department began working with vendor partners such as CDW, which was able to draw on its relationships with manufacturers to locate possible alternatives.

“Our vendor partners, CDW included, were affected, as everyone was, by supply chain problems,” Wood says. “But they were good at helping us identify other brands that would work.”

Wood and another member of the purchasing committee that negotiated campuswide equipment prices began meeting regularly with the school’s CDW representative prior to the pandemic. When it ramped up, those meetings allowed CDW to give them a breakdown every other week of what items were accessible — and what fulfillment timeframe they were looking at for products that weren’t — so the college could adjust its plans.

“Of course, this was especially helpful during COVID, when we knew the USB-C mini dock, for example, was 220 days out before it would be available,” Wood says. “Meanwhile, we could see that they had 60 of the Kensington units in stock.”

While Wood says the pandemic-related shortages have since notably improved, he still confers regularly with a CDW representative to discuss product availability, then passes the information on to his team.

“They can let the faculty and staff know how long the delays might be or what products they could go with that are in stock,” he says. “That continues to be a valuable service.”


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