Sandia LabNews

Time is money

New Just in Time search tool enables quicker, streamlined service from Sandia suppliers

Just in Time team members look at a laptop in the mailroom
SIMPLIFIED SEARCH — From left, Monica Contreras, Leanne Wortman and Shannon Mulligan pitched an idea to simplify the way employees purchase items through Just in Time suppliers. They hope the new online process, which debuted Aug. 1, will save employees time and benefit more small businesses.

They had 90 seconds to convince executives that they could improve the Just In Time ordering process and save the Labs money, if they only had funding.

The JIT program enables employees to procure small-value, commercially-available goods and services directly from Sandia suppliers. JIT contracts are selected by a team of subcontract professionals through a competitive process and provide value-added services such as order entry, technical consultation and onsite maintenance and repairs.

Sandia’s previous JIT inquiry process involved searching through massive catalogs for items ranging from safety glasses to chemicals, and supply chain buyer Leanne Wortman, subcontract manager Monica Contreras and year-round business intern Shannon Mulligan knew that process could be time-consuming. They also said calling multiple suppliers to find items isn’t ideal, but when employees and Sandia buyers do call around, local small businesses often benefit.

So, in a minute and a half, Leanne, Shannon and Monica presented a potential solution that’s as easy as filling out a two-question form. Their idea was one of three winners of the third annual internal competition held by Sandia’s Fueling Innovations team, a group that aims to fund ideas and increase the capacity of Sandia’s business community to solve problems.

“The goal of the tool is aimed to help end users, not just buyers,” said subcontract manager James Brimhall, a member of Fueling Innovations. “Anyone responsible for buying needed a quicker way to find suppliers and items without having to do a lot of research.”

The pitch competition took place last November and the team’s idea received funding in January. The new tool debuted Aug. 1, after months of work and testing.

Sandia employees purchasing items can find the JIT inquiry tool on the JIT homepage under “What Can I Buy?” Users select an item category, add requirements and a description and then submit the query.

Suppliers are notified automatically by email, and they can respond directly to let customers know if they have the requested item under contract. If not, a quote can be provided.

While the tool does not replace any ordering processes, it helps end users find items faster than before. “This tool is supposed to help anybody who’s looking for a commercial off-the-shelf item to determine if it’s available through a JIT supplier,” Leanne said.

Simplifying the process is only one benefit. When employees buy through JIT, they also save the Labs money because orders touch fewer hands on their way to customers.

For example, Leanne said, when employees purchase computers through the small, woman-owned HUBZone Sandia supplier rather than the manufacturer, the computers are properly tagged and prepared by the supplier rather than by Sandia employees.

If a computer is purchased through the supplier, “once it’s in the system, it’s done,” Leanne said.

“JIT suppliers are already aware of all of our policies, and their prices have been locked in,” Monica said.

Shannon, who works in Sandia’s small business program, emphasized the benefit of using JIT to support small businesses.

“Roughly 80% of our JIT suppliers are small businesses,” Shannon said. “This year, our small business goal is that 54% of our purchases come from small businesses, so if more people go through JIT, it will help us reach that number.”

The team stressed that all Sandia employees can use JIT, and if they do, there could be a significant impact.

“This tool touches a lot of areas: the technical line, the small business program and JIT suppliers,” Monica said. “A lot of areas are involved and impacted.”

Fueling Innovations

Eleven teams participated in last year’s Fueling Innovations internal competition. Six finalists presented ideas to executives, and three winning teams were funded. The two other winning proposals included an improvement to the Labs’ Oracle contractor cost management invoice query, a tool that is heavily used by those managing contractor costs, and a project to incorporate machine learning in expense report tracking.

The next competition will take place in October this year. Teams have already begun submitted their ideas to Fueling Innovations.