Associate Vice President, Accounts Payable & Procurement Services
Julie Jones is a somewhat recent arrival to Drexel, having joined the Campus Services division as Assistant Vice President for Procurement in the winter of 2018. One of her goals in the position is ensuring that Drexel’s procurement functions are aligned with local economic inclusion goals, and transforming local procurement practices built incrementally over the past several years into a set of well articulated policies and priorities.
Her training is in computer science systems and information: with a BS in information systems and a masters in management of information systems, she spent the first half of her career teaching college courses in programming, information technology ethics, human-computer interaction, and project management.
The supply chain portion of Jones’ career started at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, where she spent seven years in their IT area working on supply chain systems – accounts receivable, accounts payable, and contracts. The process of reporting and developing metrics around diversity spend as a federally funded agency was her first exposure to how a large institution implements economic inclusion goals.
“My procurement bug started there,” she says of her time at the Housing Authority. PHA was good about prioritizing the development of good process, with supplier engagement built in from contracts through purchasing through payment. “I learned there that you never want to lay good tech over bad process. You start from the beginning with great process and layer your technology and tools over that.”
Considering Drexel’s $300 million annual spend, Jones notes that there is some work to do with system configurations and best practices around procure to pay systems. Drexel uses the procurement system software Smart Source, which is full of features and functions that can be better deployed to support our supplier inclusion strategy. She and her team are going to be busy this year getting additional training on Smart Source as they work towards fitting software to best support a transparent and comprehensive supplier engagement process.
Staffing to support economic inclusion goals is also a key priority: “I am looking at our staff, our structure, and the positions to see what we have and what we might need. We have a staffing plan that will cover the different areas of procurement, and I have made room for a supplier inclusion position that will be dedicated to helping me re-evaluate our process with suppliers.” Jones notes that she sees overall supplier inclusion and local inclusion as complementary but distinct goals. “Our director of supplier inclusion position incorporates our local economic inclusion goals and focus.”
Jones is enthusiastic about joining Drexel. “When I work for an entity I’m passionate about it. At Drexel we are in a powerful position and our community and city has expectations of us.” She takes those expectations seriously and sits on Philadelphia’s Anchor Procurement Initiative, as she did when she was at La Salle University, as one way of supporting this work city-wide. The Initiative works across the “eds and meds” and other large institutional buyers to better connect our city’s local suppliers to institutional supply chains.
She views Drexel’s students as the primary client of Procurement Services, though. The goods and services that a university purchases affect just about every aspect of being a student. More to the point, however, the way a university engages in democratic practices and the extent to which it can engage students in the work can elevate what is an otherwise banal administrative function. “At Drexel we are real and want outside of the box thinkers in this area. We encourage our students to think, do, and be passionate about their work, and if we are going to serve them best we owe it to them to be the same.” Jones wants her team to hold economic inclusion goals as an energizing feature of the university’s business operations, and to be able to share the work with students. “We’re not just pushing papers.”
About the kinds of tools and skills that Jones believes are needed for this work, “as cliché as it sounds, there has to be passion for the work to understand conceptually the change you will make and the effect it will have.” Having been raised by a father who was both a veteran and a small business owner his entire adult life, she is deeply committed to the idea of buying local.
She also emphasizes that animating the work of institutional procurement with a big-picture approach is important.
“I’m not a box checker. I want to enter into supplier relationships that benefit both Drexel and our vendors. At the end of the day our students are my primary client, and vendor relationships have to benefit the university but we can have productive relationships with suppliers who are not just present in our system but succeeding.”
Jones lists additional items in her toolkit:
Finding and partnering with other institutions of similar type to combine procurement forces and elevate small suppliers
A willingness to partner with everyone who is committed to a local inclusion agenda
Dedicated staffing and resources: “You have to have dedicated resources, and depending on your spend and size that will vary. You need people dedicated to the initiative to make it successful.”
Being both process driven and data driven. “You have to be able to quantify what you are doing not just to check boxes, but to understand your whole picture.”
To procurement professionals who are beginning to design a strategy for their institution, Jones urges bravery and authenticity.
“Be brave. Have integrity, and be sincere. If you are those things, everything else falls into place."
Authenticity calls for understanding your institution’s context and setting.
“Don’t set out to carbon copy someone else’s program. Set out to gain knowledge and best practices among your peers, but take a look at who you are. We have a university president committed to economic inclusion, and a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation and commitment to our community and so our program will be unique to that. You have to make your program unique to your own institution and its community.”
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