Scientific purchasing and lab supply ordering have been around since we’ve had labs. But it wasn’t until 1999 and the invention of PunchOut technology that the entire process was reconfigured to include digital procurement opportunities. Suddenly, scientists and lab managers alike could order the supplies they needed to execute innovative projects delivered right to their laboratory door in a much easier way than before.
But let’s not jump ahead. Scientific purchasing first began to emerge as an industry within itself with the digitization of the procurement process, but it had a long life before then.
Scientific Purchasing From Then to Now
Initially, all lab supply communications were conducted via fax machine. A lab manager would simply fax their supply order over to a large vendor and the lab vendor would deliver the requested goods in due time. With a single line of communication during this process (the fax itself) there left a potentially gaping margin of error.
To create a more personal and thorough procurement process, the industry retained the use of large vendors but pivoted the procurement process to incorporate the sending off representatives to obtain the orders in person. Large vendors, many of which are still active to this day — like Thermo Fisher— found sending their reps to manually procure contracts with labs to be a natural response to the impersonal, stagnant nature of fulfilling orders placed by fax machine. Not only did this adjustment lead to a minimization of errors in the order fulfillment process, but it established that the relationship between labs and vendors could be more personal than transactional.
In the past two decades since the introduction of PunchOut ordering systems, the laboratory world has seen a complete transformation. Of course, the digitization of any industry would spark a transformation, but there was something special about the way the scientific world embraced this new technology. Suddenly, the lab supply procurement process became customizable, intuitive, and more expansive than ever before. In large part, due to the evolution of order procurement technology that has culminated in the creation of the e-commerce marketplace industry.
Improving the Lab Supply Ordering Process for Scientists
The shift to a digitized procurement process was the rising tide that lifted all boats. The shift was essential for lifting niche retailers and suppliers to the same level of business as the name-recognized large vendors, due to their ability to be more visible to consumers and therefore reach an even playing field for the first time. It was also an essential shift due to how it impacted the lives of scientists.
For a long time, order procurement was one of those activities that got a bad rep for being time consuming and strenuous. It required lab managers and scientists to keep careful track of their supplies and equipment, then be familiar enough with their vendor that they could time purchases to arrive just when their in-house stock of that supply was running out. Search functions were limited and the software that supported this PunchOut procurement process was just plain old. Shipping delays and items being out of stock have been around since the early days of shipping and supply procurement, so this process was not without its flaws. Order procurement quickly became the job that no one in the lab wanted to do.
Digital procurement offered a more streamlined way to conduct a process that was historically difficult to simplify. There used to be a widely held belief that the key to good business was the integration of the human experience. For example, vendor reps were included in the order procurement process because the involvement of human interaction was intended to make the process more approachable. On the contrary, it took the removal of this same human interaction and the introduction of digitized systems to actually bring the lab supply order procurement process to a hyper-functioning level.
The Lab Supply Procurement Process Today
In 2021, the lab supply ordering process couldn’t be more streamlined, due in large part to it being a completely digital experience. Gone are the days of manual order processing and here is the dawn of e-commerce marketplaces. These marketplaces are the natural progression of an industry that refused to settle for anything less than a proactive approach and full transparency into the supply chain and available supply options.
The benefits of using a lab supply marketplace include:
- Easy to use searchable electronic catalogues of supplies
- The ability to compare prices and services of multiple suppliers
- Giving lab managers a greater insight into the supply procurement process
- A heightened degree of familiarity with vendors and their shipping reliability
The evolution of scientific purchasing due to digitization of the procurement process was a natural shift that has improved the lives of scientists, lab managers, and vendors alike. And luckily, that means it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. For more insights into how digitizing the lab supply procurement process has improved the scientific industry, here are 7 benefits of digital procurement for life science R&D.