Mobilizing for COVID-19 and beyond...

Behind the scenes but on the frontline

UCSD Medical Center 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Procurement’s role in strategic sourcing has become increasingly vital and visible. In an everyday world, procurement and supply chain functions are behind-the-scenes operations to which few people give a second thought. But as supply chains have been disrupted worldwide, even those who never considered where their toilet paper comes from have thought about it now.

With five campus health centers and 10 large research campus operations to outfit, UC Procurement is the hub of supply chain operations throughout the University of California (UC) system. From the moment pandemic-fighting supplies like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) became scarce, this centralized role in sourcing critical items took on greater immediacy and significance.

UC Procurement Strategic Sourcing mobilized swiftly in response to the crisis. “UC benefits from having experienced and talented supply chain professionals that can quickly pivot from negotiating long term contracts to helping our campuses find and procure personal protective equipment and other items that were suddenly in high demand and short supply,” said Justin Sullivan, UC Procurement Executive Director of Strategic Sourcing.

The Strategic Sourcing team quickly established a daily systemwide Supply Chain status meeting with over 100 commodity managers, contract managers, data and sourcing analysts, eProcurement and communications staff across the UC system. This daily information exchange and centralized coordination allowed UC campuses to share sourcing and “spot buy” (immediate one-time purchase) opportunities to help reduce product lead times and match supplies quickly to locations where they were most needed.

“It’s been an extraordinary opportunity for our systemwide and campus-based commodity managers to coordinate for maximum efficiency,” said Sullivan. “Daily reporting and sharing information on the best available deals, and developing the flexibility to shift resources rapidly helped us optimize operations and respond quickly in an extremely high-pressure situation,” Sullivan said.

During the initial phase, Jeremy Meadows, Associate Director for Strategic Sourcing, ran the daily status meetings and oversaw efforts to reach suppliers and track available goods and services. “We had to be creative and flexible in our supplier outreach and sourcing methods,” said Meadows. “As the need for PPE skyrocketed, we had to engage non-UC suppliers along with current UC suppliers to source high-demand items.”

Meadows tapped the UC Procurement communications team to launch a supplier outreach campaign and create an online centralized repository to collect supplier responses and organize and track available PPE goods. “We also pulled together an ad hoc team to vet supplier offers so commodity managers could act quickly and with confidence,” said Meadows. “And our Analytics team tracked back-ordered reports to monitor lead times on critical items.”

As the pandemic matured, UC Procurement’s focus expanded to plan for reopening campuses and health centers in the most safe and thoughtful manner. Daily meetings were reduced to twice weekly, with one session focused on strategy and contingency planning for reopening, and the other continuing with current supply chain offerings and updates.

Looking further into the future, UC Procurement is transforming this crisis into an opportunity. “Demanding times highlight the need for new approaches and bold solutions,” said Bill Cooper, UC Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer. “We’ve shown that we can mobilize and respond heroically to dynamic sourcing challenges and now our goal is to apply the same agility to optimizing our organization and practices systemwide.”

As the University of California faces unprecedented financial fallout from the pandemic, UC Procurement is a bright spot in a darkened sky. “Our strategic and collaborative sourcing methods already create significant savings for the University. But procurement and supply chain operations can also be powerful revenue-generating engines,” said Cooper. “COVID-19 will significantly stress the University’s financial posture for several years to come. UC Procurement’s new frontline is to be a major contributor to the restoration of UC’s financial and operational stability.”