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Office Depot works to improve office-supply service at MIT

Office Depot, MIT's partner for purchasing office and computer supplies, has been working with the Institute since last summer, but service during the initial months of the partnership was not satisfactory, and the Reengineering Supplier Consolidation Team has worked closely with Office Depot to correct problems such as delays because of items being on back order, lack of communication about when back-ordered items would be received, incorrect merchandise being delivered and billed, or unit-of-measure errors. In addition, there was a lack of overall communication to guide the community through this new process.

There has been continual improvement in all service levels from Office Depot and increasing use of this procurement process by the community, despite the early problems. As of mid-March, Office Depot has a 96.2 percent success rate for desktop delivery of in-stock items within 24 hours. This is a dramatic improvement from the 82.7 service level of November 1995.

The Supplier Consolidation team continues to believe that the partnership provides the easiest and most cost-effective way for MIT to buy office and computer supplies. The team appreciates the patience, cooperation and understanding shown by the community during the transition to this new way of doing business.

The following answers to the most frequently asked questions from the community provide information about issues and procedures of this partnership.

Q: Why isn't there a stockroom on campus for office and computer supplies?

A: MIT decided that it must focus on its core missions of teaching and research, rather than areas like warehousing and distribution of products. Office Depot made a commitment for next-day delivery with a 98 percent service level. This means that all MIT orders for products in stock at their Billerica warehouse would be delivered the next day, thus eliminating the need for and expenses of maintaining an on-campus stockroom. Though Office Depot has not yet reached the 98 percent service level, MIT expects it to do so.

Office Depot currently warehouses 17,000 products in its Billerica facility. It has committed to deliver the standard catalog items, any MIT "laundry list" items, plus products unique to MIT, like printed envelopes, within 24 hours.

If you have special departmental requirements or questions, please contact the Office Depot customer service representatives at x3-4670. If you need additional assistance, contact Diane Shea, MIT's manager of partner relations, at x3-8370.

Q: Whom should I call when I have questions regarding deliveries, back orders and pricing?

A: All questions regarding back orders, delivery status and pricing can be directed to Office Depot. They have an on-campus sales and customer service team to assist the community. They are located in Rm 18-SB90, the telephone number is x3-4760, and the fax number is 252-1500.

Q: Why did MIT choose this company as its partner?

A: Office Depot was chosen because it was the major supplier used by the former Office of Lab Supplies. The company was familiar with many of the products that were purchased by the MIT community and was willing to make the needed expansion in product lines to satisfy the Institute's unique requirements. They committed to investing the resources necessary to service MIT (reduce costs, handle desktop delivery, improve service levels and provide benchmarks to measure performance, satisfaction and consumer buying behavior) and develop key technologies such as electronic commerce.

Q: When will pricing information be readily available to the community?

A: Currently there are two MIT "laundry list" forms provided by Office Depot with corresponding price lists that are updated periodically. These forms list approximately 200 of the most popular products ordered. One is for standard office supplies and the other is for computer supplies and unique MIT items. Call the on-campus staff at x3-4760 if you would like to receive a pad of either of these forms. Early in April there also will be a new product listing, with prices, of approximately 800 most-purchased items ordered through Office Depot.

MIT is developing an Electronic Catalog (ECAT), a World Wide Web purchasing system in conjunction with Office Depot and VWR Scientific. When ECAT is introduced to the community, all Office Depot products will be listed along with their MIT-negotiated prices.

Q: What is the procedure for handling recycling of empty toner cartridges?

A: To ensure that customers receive the best possible prices and that they are being environmentally conscious, Office Depot will pick up any used toner cartridges. If you want to use this service, call the on-site Office Depot staff at x3-4760, and their delivery person will pick up the cartridges for recycling. They return the cartridges to suppliers who recycle and refill them. Office Depot sells recycled cartridges as well as a variety of other manufactured brands. (Please note that making deliveries to offices within 24 hours is the top priority, so it may take longer to pick up toner cartridges for recycling.)

Q: How do we know that MIT is getting the best prices for the products and services provided?

A: Diane Shea, the manager of partner relations, and Rob Clark, Jr., of the Audit Division, review competitive prices on a regular basis to ensure that MIT is saving money. It's important to remember that the saving is in the aggregate and not necessarily realized on each and every individual product. Consolidating suppliers saves money overall in better prices but it also reduces the work in finding sources, approving, pricing, making individual purchase orders, receiving and paying individual invoices. Partnering with an outside supplier specializing in these kinds of products allows MIT to reduce administrative work.

Q: If Office Depot doesn't supply something that used to be available from the Office of Laboratory Supplies, how do I buy these products?

A: Most of the commonly used items that the MIT community purchases are available through Office Depot. A new catalog listing about 17,000 products stocked in the warehouse in Billerica is currently being distributed to MIT customers who have done business with Office Depot. The new catalog also contains an insert with ordering information specific to MIT. If you haven't received a copy of the catalogue by the end of March and would like one, call Office Depot at x3-4760. If some unique items are not available through Office Depot, call Diane Shea at x3-8370 in purchasing and she will help you contact the former OLS supplier.

Q: Do we have to use Office Depot? Is there another source we could buy from?

A: Using Office Depot is encouraged but not mandated. There are many incentives offered through this process including: an extensive product line, desktop delivery within 24 hours for in-stock items, and greater savings for many products. They are also the Institute's supplier for generic MIT interdepartmental and outgoing envelopes and other specialty MIT products such as forms, labels and memo pads.

In addition, using Office Depot simplifies paperwork. They are considered an internal provider. You can order your supplies on the EREQ system using function 12 and your order will print out at Office Depot's printer on campus and will be processed by one of their team members. You also can order supplies using only a requisition; there is no need to issue a purchase order. Customers buying from Office Depot are automatically charged on their monthly statements for their supplies through an electronic interface with MIT accounting systems. There are no additional invoices to be processed.

The MIT community can buy whatever brands they prefer. Most of the commonly used items are available from Office Depot, but if they are unable to meet specific requirements, customers should call either Diane Shea, x3-8370, or Steve McCluskey, x3-8348, in purchasing for advice about alternate suppliers.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 20, 1996.

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