Developing Your Own Purchasing Home Page On The Internet

Author(s):

Dr. Alan Raedels, C.P.M.
Dr. Alan Raedels, C.P.M., Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207-0751, 503/725-3728.
Dr. Lee Buddress, C.P.M.
Dr. Lee Buddress, C.P.M., Assistant Professor. Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207-0751, 503/725-4769.

82nd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1997 

Abstract. More and more purchasing departments are developing web pages. This paper first presents the characteristics of a good web page. Once the decision is made to create a web page, its purpose must be concisely defined. The elements of a web page, such as title, graphics, color, background, and content, are then presented. The information should be organized in a logical fashion considering both the user's needs and the maintenance of the information.

Why Have a Purchasing Web Page? Much has been written about the uses and potential uses of the Internet by purchasing [Raedels & Buddress, 1995]. Applications include communicating with suppliers, obtaining supplier and product information, and placing orders. For commercial applications the focus of the Internet has been as a marketing tool. A more recent development has been the use of web pages by Purchasing departments to facilitate communication both internally and externally. A web page is a file of information directly accessible on the World Wide Web or on an organization's Intranet. A web page has no relationship to how many printout pages it requires.

Purchasing is discovering the benefits of World Wide Web (WWW) visibility. Web pages allow access to information by both current and potential suppliers anytime from anywhere. A web page can save a buyer time by not having to answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) and promote consistency since everyone gets the same response. The downside to the use of a web page is the time it takes to maintain and update the information. It may also reduce person-to-person contact. A search of the Internet reveals that the public sector is leading the way in the use of purchasing department web pages.

Internet or Intranet? The Internet is a worldwide network of over 40,000 networks connecting over five million computers ranging from PCs to supercomputers through a standard communications protocol. It is estimated the Internet is used by over 20 million individuals in over 75 different countries and the number is growing daily. Internet users have access to thousands of discussion groups; library catalogs and databases; gigabytes of software programs, text files, images, and music; electronic books and journals; the latest satellite weather maps; product and supplier information; and electronic mail.

An Intranet is the application of Internet technology to internal communications. The Intranet runs on TCP/IP networks, the same as the Internet, which allows use of the same types of servers and browsers as are used to access the WWW. This makes the information accessible by every member of the organization regardless of hardware. The key difference between the two is that the Intranet provides a channel for communication between internal users while the Internet provides a channel for communication between individuals in different organizations.

What Makes a Good Web Page? There are a number of characteristics of a good web page. They are as follows:

Informative: The information needs to be useful for the intended audience. An example of a page which gives very little information can be found at http://www.car.volvo.se/businessinfo/briefpres/ purchasing.html. The page only gives the country breakdown of the supply base. An example web page that provides access to a wealth of information is the Fluor Daniel Hanford, Inc. Acquisitions page at http://www.hanford.gov/pmm/pmmhome.htm.

Fast loading: A web page needs to load quickly. The more graphics on a page, the longer the load time. Although graphics create eye appeal, they slow down the loading process. An example of a slow loading page is Sony's flowchart showing how to become a Sony supplier at http://www.sony.co.jp/CorporateCruise/Procurement/flow/flow.html.

Readable: The information should be presented in a logical and easily understood fashion. An example of how not to present information can be found at the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad Purchasing Department page at http://www.justnet.com/cei/purchdpt.html. The page is solid text, no headings, and no paragraphs.

Well organized: A good web page has an index which links to other parts of the page or to other pages. Each page should have a consistent focus and should be organized such that it is easy to maintain. Additionally a page should not be so large that it takes a long time to load. There is a fine balance between page size and the time it takes to access a new page.

Creating Your Home Page. The first step in creating a Purchasing Home Page is to determine the purpose of the page. The strength of the Internet and Intranet is they facilitate the transfer of information from one source to many destinations. Potential objectives might include:

  • Publishing of bid requests,
  • Identifying potential suppliers,
  • Providing answers to frequently asked questions,
  • Providing copies of forms, and
  • Data collection.

Another issue which affects the purpose is whether the focus of the page is towards customers within your organization through an Intranet or towards the public and suppliers through the Internet. If you need to look at both, you may be better served to create two different home pages aimed at the appropriate audiences. Additionally, your web page needs to undergo regular changes to cause people to return to it to look for updates and new information.

Elements of a Purchasing Home Page. The basic elements of a purchasing home page include title, graphics, colors and backgrounds, content, revision date, and internal links.

Title: Every page should have a title that indicates that it is a purchasing home page and the organization. Example: PSU Purchasing Department.

Graphics: Graphics are both a blessing and a curse of the WWW. The blessing comes from the fact that sites can be made more visually appealing through the use of graphics while the curse comes from the fact they slow down the loading process. Graphics should be kept small; Wilson [Wilson, "12 Web Page Design Decisions"] recommends keeping graphics files under 40,000 bytes. Graphics are best used to provided visual continuity from page to page and augment information such as pictures of products in addition to specifications. If pictures are appropriate, small pictures can be displayed on the page and the user is given an option to view a larger version.

Colors and backgrounds: Colors can be used to brighten a page on both the background and text. Make sure the text color contrasts with the background. Textures can also be used on the background for an enhanced visual effect. The danger is that they will make the text difficult to read.

Content: There is a wide variety of information that can be included. Based on the examples in Exhibit 1, the information can be categorized as administrative, products and components, forms, resources, and requisitioning.

Administrative content might include announcements, newsletters, organizational structure, points of contact, mission statement, supplier certification process, certification criteria, and policies. For example, Sonoco identifies the buyer who is the contact person for each commodity and Sony diagrams the process of becoming a supplier.

Products and components information can include product specifications, bid documentation, design information, project schedule milestones, and change information. For example, Sony shows pictures of products for which it is looking for suppliers.

The forms section could include copies of supplier evaluation forms, statement of work templates, and requisition forms. Resources could include information on systems contracts, links to supplier catalogs, and links to other resources.

A requisitioning segment for internal users could allow the requisitioner to fill out the form on-line.

Revision date: Each page should have an entry indicating the last time the information was modified.

Internal links: Each page should have a link to the organization's home page, the purchasing home page, and the page's index, if appropriate.

Web Page Organization. A major issue in web page design is how to organize the information. Putting everything on one page makes access relatively quick once the page is loaded but may involve loading information of no interest to the reader. At the other end of the spectrum is putting one topic per page which necessitates loading a large number of pages which can be just as time consuming especially if the user is printing the information. I would recommend that the top page be an index page. The determination of whether to put information on a separate page depends on the continuity of subject matter, amount of graphics, and expected frequency of revision. Additionally, each page should have a unifying logo or graphic as well as consistency of appearance.

Maintaining Your Web Pages. Once the pages are created someone will need to review them regularly to ensure the information is correct and current and someone will need to revise the pages as necessary. Content issues need regular review, probably monthly, by purchasing personnel. The actual programming changes can be done by someone in purchasing, the corporate webarian, or a third party firm.

Summary. A Purchasing Home Page can provide an effective tool to improve communications between the buyer, seller, and user through improved access to information. The keys to effective use of a purchasing web page are concise definition of purpose, effective design of the pages, and regular updates.

References

NAR Group, "The Exploding Internet Market," http://www.nargroup.com/intranet_02.html.

Raedels, Alan R. and Buddress, Lee, "How to Use the Internet and Other Online Services," NAPM InfoEdge, November 1995, Vol. 1 No. 5, pp. 1-16.

Wilson, Ralph F., "12 Elements in Planning Your Business Web Site," Web Marketing Today, Issue 23, October 14, 1996.

Wilson, Ralph F., "12 Web Page Design Decisions Your Business or Organization Will Need to Make," http://www.wilsonweb.com/articles/12design.htm.

Exhibit 1: Example Purchasing Home Pages

Site URL
The University of Texas at Austin http://www.utexas.edu/admin/purchasing/vhdbk.html
Cornell University http://www.univco.cornell.edu/purchasing/purchasinghome.html
Idaho State University http://www.isu.edu/departments/purch/
Fluor Daniel Handford, Inc. http://www.handford.gov/pmm/pmmhome.htm
U.S. Dept. of Energy, Office of Procurement and Assistance|Management http://www.pr.doe.gov/
Ames Research Center http://procure.arc.nasa.gov/acq/acq.html
NASA http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/procurement/
Brother International http://www.brother.com/E-procurement/e-procurement.html
The Chicago & Eastern |Illinois Railroad http://www.justnet.com/cei/purchdpt.html
Reynolds Metals Company http://www.rmc.com/pur/pur_top.html
Sony Corporation http://www.sony.co.jp/CorporateCruise/Procurement/index.html
Volvo Car Corporation http://www.car.volvo.se/businessinfobriefpres/purchasing.html
Sonoco http://www.sonoco.com/supply.htm

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