It’s a challenge faced by any large organization public or private: How do you get the benefits of volume purchasing while at the same time giving your end-users total flexibility when it come to choosing their computing platforms?The University of Toronto, for one, has found a way by using its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to allow its staff to more efficiently purchase desktops, servers and other equipment.
U of T had chosen Dell and IBM as its Tier 1 preferred suppliers, signing five-year deals that would see more than $50 million of products purchased through the two firms.
The school then uses SAP software to create a business-to-business procurement system for its users. Dell products can already be purchased this way, and his team is in the process of setting up a similar relationship with IBM.
“We interface through a punch-out to their catalogue and have our own shopping basket,” says Sam Campisami, the U of T’s manager of strategic sourcing.
“We weren’t just looking at bottom-line costs, but what this could bring in an overall total value to us.”
Dell has long offered a service called Premier Pages, which aggregates relevant product information, costs and other data customized for each client.
This brings considerable economies of scale to organizations such as the U of T, which may have different needs depending on the department, says Dell Canada vice-president of advanced systems Debi Jensen.
“Because we can go into the level of granularity and detail, once the path is laid down they can pre-order,” she says. “They can alter that image as many times as they want and we will always take the current image.”
U of T sent out a request for proposal last winter to make sure it was “testing the market effectively” and that the choice of hardware available to the university wasn’t unduly constrained, Campisami says.
Marden Paul, director of strategic computing at the U of T, described the school as a highly decentralized organization that will continue to allow users to purchase from other vendors. The idea was to take advantage of the school’s volume purchasing power.
“I think that our user community and our technical community are very comfortable with these machines,” he says. “We never got the impression that there was something so much better out there.”
Purchasing decisions are often made at the local level, including the department, a lab or faculty.
“It could go right down to the professor or business officer,” Campisami says, adding that some users would have to go to the IT department to make orders through SAP.
Paul points out the needs of U of T users are particularly diverse. “They might be in a lab and have machines that withstand spills on the keyboards. At the server level, people might want more supercomputing power.”
U of T is also hoping that streamlining procurement through SAP will make it easier to determine user requirements across the organization and establish a clearer picture of refresh cycles.

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