When it comes to raising the bar of excellence for public libraries, the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) has been leading the way for over 100 years.  In fact, EPL was the first North American library to offer a bookmobile through a converted streetcar back in 1941 and also the first Canadian library to move to a computerized circulation system in 1979. Things haven’t slowed down since, as EPL was the first urban Canadian library to implement RFID technology back in 2007, and also the first in Canada to offer both a lending machine and a return chute off-site in 2010, and to develop its own iPhone app.

This impressive and growing track record of achievements means it was no surprise when EPL was the first Canadian library to be named Library of the Year by Library Journal magazine and Gale Cengage Learning in 2014. This award is the highest honour of its kind and recognizes a public library that most profoundly demonstrates service to the community; creativity and innovation in developing specific community programs or a dramatic increase in library usage; and leadership in creating programs that can be emulated by other libraries.

Libraries have evolved greatly over the years, and EPL’s Purchasing Division has made significant changes to ensure it continues to provide superior service to its customers and vendors.

“The Edmonton Public Library has changed significantly over the last 10 years to a service delivery model that is more responsive to customer needs,” says Sue Skilton, MBA, SCMP, Procurement Manager, EPL. “Today, EPL has grown from a place for books to a place for people that enables learning, engagement, creating and discovery. We provide not only access to books but access to movies, music, video games, eBooks, streaming music and videos, online learning services, in-branch programs for all ages, access to computers and digital literacy support, free WiFi and creative technology equipment.”

In order to keep pace with innovation and maintain a world-class library, EPL recognized the Purchasing Division needed to significantly change, and it was transformed from its reactive operational role into a strategic supply chain management role with a focus on strategic planning, demand management, logistics, product life management, risk management, enterprise resource planning software integration, reporting, inventory management and sustainable procurement practices.

As part of an organizational review, a number of challenges and opportunities were identified to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chain management services within EPL:

  • Review of Business Processes: EPL used numerous systems and manual recordkeeping in managing procurement and inventory processes; these processes were time consuming and resulted in identical information being repeatedly recorded in different departmental systems. The Purchasing Division launched a system-wide project to migrate EPL to the SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). This streamlined processes; eliminated duplication of work; reduced manual labour; improved approval processes; clarified delegation of authority, financial controls, performance measures/workflow tracking and planning of procurement activities.    
  • Strategic Procurement: EPL’s business processes were found to be limiting purchasing staff’s ability to perform as strategic and proactive professionals. Changes in the focus of service delivery to a more proactive nature and the implementation of a new ERP system enabled a shift from a transactional focus to a strategic focus. With the new proactive environment, the Purchasing Division has provided added value and cost savings to EPL.
  • Organizational Capacity: A review of resources needed to provide service under the new business model resulted in a shift of staff requirements. As a result, EPL recruited staff that possess the Supply Chain Management Professional (SCMP) designation to provide the value added services required by customers.
  • Education: It was identified there was an internal need to provide training on procurement and business processes. This began to be addressed in 2014 when EPL provided training for staff via online tools, awareness sessions and onboarding for new staff.

The implementation of the ERP system affected all of the 600-plus EPL staff and stakeholders, and could not have happened without the support of EPL’s Executive Team, along with numerous other departments in EPL who work collaboratively with the Purchasing Division.

Skilton shares, “The EPL Executive Team has been very supportive in changing business processes and implementing organizational changes within the Purchasing Division.”

The leadership provided during this project and the commitment to communication demonstrated by the procurement staff to its customers are examples of SCM innovation that contributed to EPL’s overall success.

Since the system-wide rollout of the new ERP:

  • Errors have been reduced
  • A delegated authority system has been developed
  • Delivery status updates are transparent to all stakeholders
  • Cost savings are captured and reported
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) have been established
  • SCM tasks are integrated in a single software package
  • Reporting capabilities have expanded
  • Policies and procedures have been aligned with industry practices

EPL recognizes achievements in supply chain innovation cannot happen without strategic SCM practitioners that are at the top of their game, and that is why it encourages supply chain staff to earn their professional designations, attend courses, seminars and conferences, and provides funding towards these professional development activities.

“EPL is a learning organization and acknowledges the importance of literacy and development skills,” adds Skilton. “In addition, there is acknowledgement that it is important EPL secures the right level of staff with skills to carry out the work in a professional and efficient manner.”

“In the case of the supply chain management area, skilled SCMA-trained professionals lead the processes to ensure best value is obtained for EPL.”