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Driving procurement efficiency for MRO supplies

An innovative approach to getting the parts you need

RS ConnectPoint® has been developed to offer a fast, convenient route to structured MRO procurement for customers where access to a PC isn’t possible for every worker

For every £100 you spend on the procurement of indirect materials, the associated process costs could add up to over £200. When you're buying hundreds of products, that equates to a sizeable extra cost from an essentially unproductive activity. In the rush to get an urgent replacement part, corners can sometimes be cut – ad hoc and unapproved suppliers are used, hours can be spent trying to identify the right item, and quality can be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

In busy industrial environments the challenge can be even greater. The person needing the item might not have ready access to a computer. Placing an order can mean they’ll have to leave their regular workstation to find an available computer to source and order it. Or they might have to visit another part of the building and initiate a formal purchase request. All of which is an unproductive use of their time.

In some cases, an employee might end up circumventing established procedures altogether, putting existing MRO purchasing strategies in jeopardy. That could mean buying something from a local supplier leading to admin headaches when trying to rationalise invoices, orders and payment approvals.

The impact of Covid-19 on people, businesses and the economy is going to be long-lasting. Those businesses with operational sites have had to adapt and fast. Whether it's changes in demand, fewer people and crucially the safety of employees with the introduction of social distancing measures, the need to operate even more efficiently and safely has never been so important.

Our annual research with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) found that 41% of procurement professionals state a lack of spend visibility and control as a day-to-day challenge. When co-workers place ad hoc orders that lack of visibility can become a real headache. You can find more on that, and related issues, in our 2019 Indirect Procurement Report, The Future of MRO.

RS ConnectPoint® is an intuitive touchscreen terminal that allows a user to quickly connect to the RS PurchasingManager® platform, where they can find the exact part they need and order it. It also connects to our nationwide network of 16 RS Local centres, so the customer can speak to their nearest centre. All without having to spend valuable time away from the workshop or lab.

RS ConnectPoint® is built on the highly scalable and low-cost Raspberry Pi hardware platform. RS Components already has a strategic relationship with the Raspberry Pi Foundation as one of its primary distributors.

Simple, effective and convenient
Users are issued with a QR code or a unique PIN to log into an RS ConnectPoint® terminal. Not only does that give them access to RS PurchasingManager®, but because it also connects with the customer’s nearest RS Local branch a customer can get help and advice too. So as well as sourcing parts and placing orders, they can track an existing order, get safety information, request data sheets, or find answers to specific questions.

The desire to keep things simple extends to the RS ConnectPoint® communications interface too. Customers can talk to RS Local staff via a message service that operates with a familiar, intuitive look and feel. It also has a facility that allows customers to live-chat with the RS technical support team.

“The inspiration behind this initiative was simply to help customers eliminate unproductive and wasteful activities from the purchase process,” says Alex Davies, Head of Value Added Services at RS Components.

“If a situation arises in which somebody needs to order something, but they end up unnecessarily walking around waiting to place orders for relatively low-value items, looking for a computer or going to talk to a procurement officer, that’s not the best use of their time.”

“RS ConnectPoint® is not industry specific. You could put it in a food factory, a university faculty – it could go anywhere. It's diverse and very flexible"Alex Davies, Head of Value Added Services, RS Components

He also believes innovations like RS ConnectPoint® demonstrate how RS Components strives to keep up with customers’ evolving expectations. The prevalence of eCommerce in people’s daily lives is starting to affect business purchases too, Davies says: “We’re seeing retail trends creeping into B2B thinking, and customers increasingly expect you to be an omnichannel business – they want to choose how they transact and communicate with you and they expect you to be available across all formats and platforms, whether physical or digital.”

An RS ConnectPoint® customer faced a legacy situation with multiple stakeholders needing both urgent and non-urgent parts on an ad hoc basis. But with just one person responsible for collecting requests, then sourcing and ordering parts, bottlenecks and delays were common.

The process was cumbersome, repetitive and lacked clarity. Orders would arrive via email, as written requests and sometimes verbally. Unsurprisingly, this was time-consuming and generated unnecessary processing costs. But using RS ConnectPoint® has helped the business cut the time taken to order MRO parts by more than half.

“Retail trends are creeping into B2B thinking, and customers increasingly expect you to be an omnichannel business"Alex Davies, Head of Value Added Services, RS Components

One of the ways in which RS ConnectPoint® is using innovative thinking to address today’s routine challenges, is through the simplification of item identification. Getting the right replacement part quickly can save costs and time. Getting the wrong one can compound an already challenging situation.

So, rapid, accurate identification is a real value-add. RS ConnectPoint® comes with ImageFinder, an exciting technology that lets the user take a photo of the item they need, before presenting them with a list of matching parts. While it’s currently in Beta, this is another step forward in reducing complexity, boosting convenience, and saving time.