Yudof makes history with e-commerce

by Todd Milbourn

With a simple double-click, University President Mark Yudof made Internet history Thursday.
That click confirmed the purchase of a teal iMac computer, the first product ever bought online by a college or university, according to University Relations.
“This event makes e-commerce a reality at the University of Minnesota,” said Shih Pau Yen, director of academic computing services who, along with the Office of Information Technology, sponsored the conference.
The electronic purchase highlighted Technology Days, a two-day symposium held in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building to address technology issues the University is facing.
The conference also featured exhibits sponsored by various colleges, faculty members and technology vendors from throughout the region.
“The University has a proud tradition and history of being on the cutting edge of technology,” said Bob Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost, who was keynote speaker. “These two days are a continuation of that.”
The symposium, also broadcast online, marked the University’s commitment to embrace electronic commerce and the emerging Internet-based economy.
“In a sense, it’s a redefinition of our land-grant mission,” Yudof said. “What was done for agriculture and industrialization, in the coming years, has to be done in the new economy for Minnesota to remain strong.”
Private-sector firms throughout Minnesota and the country are utilizing direct electronic commerce as a cheap and efficient means of doing business.
The University operates much like a traditional business, where many steps are involved between an initial product order and final delivery.
An order must travel through several levels of departmental approval and be followed by an extensive paper trail before the actual purchase can be made.
Critics of the traditional University system claim the process is inefficient, time-consuming and unnecessarily expensive.
“Any one purchase order costs the University a minimum of $75,” Yen said. “And that’s for the process, not the actual order.”
Yen said the implementation of a University-wide electronic purchasing system could reduce bureaucratic red tape and put the University in a better position to negotiate prices with vendors.
“We could be saving at least $4 million on purchasing,” he said.
However, such a system is still three to five years down the road.
“With this technology, we can’t be in the left lane, going 55 and holding up traffic. We’ve got to put our foot down and make these changes,” Yen said. “This is the first of those changes.”
Todd Milbourn covers science and technology. He welcomes comments at mmilbour[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3231.