University of Toronto streamlines hardware purchases

The University of Toronto is hoping to get more use out of its enterprise resource planning investments by allowing staff to more efficiently purchase desktops, servers and other equipment.

Earlier this week the post-secondary

school said it had chosen Dell and IBM as its “Tier One” preferred suppliers, signing five-year deals that would see more than $50 million of products purchased through the two firms.

Sam Campisami, the U of T’s manager of strategic sourcing, said the school would be using SAP 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,” he said. “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. Tufts University in Medford, Mass., for example, allows users to purchase a Tufts Standard Image computer through Dell with software already loaded on.  This brings considerable economies of scale to organizations such as the U of T which may have different needs depending on the department, said 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 said. “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 said.  

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 said. “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 said, adding that some users would have to go to the IT department to make orders through SAP.

Paul pointed out that 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,” he said.

U of T is 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, Campisami added.


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