How to Order Lab Supplies: Without Spreadsheets and emails

Ordering lab supplies without emails

Is your team still using Spreadsheets for creating and tracking purchasing orders? 

Most Biotech or Pharma companies start their purchasing process with emails and spreadsheets. 

In the beginning, there are only a few scientists and then the lab grows and you need to purchase more lab supplies, capital equipment to get the experiments running. 

At some point, the email-based approvals for purchase become unsustainable. 

Moreover, investors require better cost controls and visibility for compliance purposes.

If you are a CFO/controller of the company, you probably have the following questions and concerns:

  1. Do I have enough cash to cover the expenses till the next raise? You don’t want to run out of money.
  2. Getting a better handle on the burn rate so that you can calculate the cash flow needed to sustain the research. 
  3. Concerned about the efficient use of your resources i.e time spent by scientists in value-adding activities like doing experiments vs. spending time managing spreadsheets for order tracking and chasing emails for approvals.
  4. You are concerned about effective inventory utilization  You are worried if you are purchasing too much or too little inventory.

If you are thinking about these questions, you are not alone. 

We have helped many Biotech companies’ finance teams answer these questions and gain better cash flow visibility. 

In this article, you would learn:

  1. How to improve lab productivity by automating the purchasing process. We will show you a step-by-step process to improve the productivity of your team by at least 40%.
  2. How to automate the purchase approval flow for better cash flow visibility.
  3. How to track lab supplies at a central place so that you can track usage and speed up the research process. 

But before we get started, Download the order tracking sheet and centralize your order tracking in a single place. 

Purchase Order Tracker Template

Let’s get started.

Lab Supplies Request process and efficiency loss

The main issue with the manual spreadsheet process is the loss of efficiency and your inability to track expenses unless the books are closed at the month-end. 

Let’s first look at what a typical process looks like, where are the choke points for efficiency, and what we can do to unplug those efficiency blocks. 

We are going to assume that lab technicians are requesting a purchase that is approved by lab managers and finance. 

The current process looks like this:

Lab Supplies purchasing process

Step 1: Request lab supplies

If you do have an approval process for purchasing lab supplies, then the first step is for the lab technician to request the purchase. 

This could be done by spreadsheets or you probably have a requisition form that needs to be attached with the request for purchase. 

Most companies resort to just sending purchase requests via email. 

You first have to go to different vendor websites, then find what you are looking for, then enter that information in a requisition form and then send an approval request. 

The challenge here is not that the request process is manual. It also takes more time to have the purchase request approved because the lab manager might not have enough information to approve the request. 

Step 2: Approve the request for lab supplies 

Once the request is ready for approval, the request is sent for approval before the lab technician can actually place the order for lab supplies.

There are a couple of challenges with this manual approach:

  1. The first issue with manual approvals is that it takes time.  The lab manager might forget to approve it on time and would need multiple reminders. Not all lab managers are like that!
  2. The other issue is the approval matrix. How do you know who all needs to approve the purchase requisition?
  3. If you have a multi-level approval process, then the lab technician needs to remember each and every person who needs to approve.
  4. The lab manager might want to know if we already have items in inventory and that takes time to find out. 
  5. Or different approvers might want to know if there is a budget available for purchase. 

Due to these reasons, email-based approvals are not effective 

Step 3: Order lab supplies

Once all the approvals are in place, the lab technician then needs to place the order with the vendor. 

There is a duplicate effort here:

First, the lab technician has to go to a vendor website, find what they want to purchase, get the total cost and send for approval.

And once it is approved, the same effort needs to be duplicated on the vendor’s website to place the order. 

Some vendors don’t have online ordering and they request a purchase order. 

That is another additional step and if you don’t have a purchasing system, you now have to create a purchase order on a spreadsheet. 

Step 4: Tracking purchase orders

Once you have placed the purchase order, you need to track the purchase order and that becomes another spreadsheet!

Here are the things that need to be tracked:

  1. Has the vendor accepted the purchase order?
  2. Are any items in the backorder?
  3. What is the expected ship date and do you need to expedite the shipping?
  4. Once you have the tracking information, you want to track the delivery, etc. 

After receiving the purchase order, the next step is to let the AP team know that you have received the purchase order so that they can pay the vendor on time.

Step 5: Managing Lab supply inventory 

You got the product, now you need to track what has been consumed and what is being used by whom.

Theft is not an issue for many companies, but if you are not keeping a track of what is being used and by whom then there is definitely a potential for theft. 

If you don’t have an inventory system, you probably have another spreadsheet for tracking the lab inventory.

You of course need to track who is using what inventory but you also want to track the expiration dates and lot numbers so that you can easily trace back the usage to the lot number.

Tracking inventory also allows you to book costs for different experiments.

So if your finance team wants granular spend visibility, they probably want to track expenses at different projects/experiments. 

A simple way to order lab supplies- Automating the lab supplies purchasing process

So how do you go about simplifying the lab supplier’s purchasing process?

In the sections below, we will cover a step-by-step process and show how you can improve the lab’s productivity. Specifically how a purchasing system can help simplify the process for lab purchases and order tracking

Step 1: Automate the requisition process 

The first is to automate the purchase requisition process so that you are not spending endless hours chasing the managers for approval.

Here are the key ingredients of a purchase requisition process. 

  1. Get rid of manual purchase requisition forms and implement an electronic purchase requisition process. 
  2. Reduce the time spent on creating purchase requisitions by leveraging the data defaults wherever possible. 
  3. Use smart rules to set up cost accounting defaults so that the lab technicians don’t have to worry about choosing the right chart of accounts.
  4. Use catalogs wherever possible, more on this in the catalog section.

The following screenshot shows how a requisition would look like in a purchase requisition process:

Purchase requisition for lab supplies

Step 2: Reduce time spent on approvals 

On average, companies can have up to 12 -24 hours long purchase order approval cycles. The longer the approval process, the more time it takes to place the purchase order and receive the products.

Here are some ideas on how to reduce the purchase approval cycle time:

  1. Setup automated business rules for approval so that the system can automatically figure out where the request needs to be routed for approval. That way Lab technicians don’t have to figure out who needs to approve a purchase. 
  2. Use the 80/20 rule for purchase approval. 80% of the purchases contribute to 20% of the Spend. So instead of focusing on approving every purchase, only approve the 20% of spend that contributes to 80% of the spend.
  3. Have a flexible process for approvals so that lab managers can approve the requisitions faster. For example: Allow for email approvals so that the purchase request can be approved via email. Alternatively, you can use a mobile app to approve the requisition from your mobile device. 

Here is an example of an effective workflow:


Step 3: Keep finance in the loop 

CFO’s care about cost control and so should you 🙂

The finance team keeps a close eye on the cash flow so that you don’t run out of money. That is why it is important for the finance team to review large purchases in advance so that they control the timing of the purchase order based on the projected cash flow.

So how do you involve finance in the approval process?

  1. You can set up the workflow as such so that all large purchases are approved by Finance. This can be set up with conditional rules in the workflow. 
  2. Provide detailed purchase order reporting to the finance team so that they already know what is committed. 

Here is how to include finance in the approval process:


The other benefit of involving finance in the approval process is that they can validate the chart of accounts assigned to the purchase. 

This allows for the cost to be booked to the right account and accurate financial accounting. 

Step 4: Use catalogs for easy purchasing

Why spend time entering purchase requisition data when you can simply choose what you want to purchase. 

If it is no different from the online shopping experience that you use for personal purchases. 

There are primarily two types of catalogs that you can leverage

External catalogs:

With external catalogs, you can browse the vendor’s entire catalog and pick what you want to purchase. This is called a punch-out catalog

Here is an example of a punchout catalog:


Once you have decided what you want to purchase, you can simply transfer the shopping cart to your purchasing system.

You can even automate the coding of the purchase requisitions so that the technicians don’t have to worry about entering the correct cost codes.

If you are concerned about limiting the purchase to selected items, then a punchout can also handle that. You can ask the vendor to limit the number of items or the type of item that is available for purchase. 

Internal catalogs:

Not all vendors can’t support a punchout catalog.

It could be that they don’t have the infrastructure to support it and there are some vendors who probably won’t issue you a punchout because your purchasing volume is low.

In that case, you can ask the vendor to provide you with commonly purchased products or services and you can create your own catalog.

Here is an example of an internal catalog:


Internal catalogs give you better cost control because you can limit what you show in the internal catalog and adjust pricing as you need to. 

Step 5: Automatically track vendor acknowledgments and shipments 

Once you have placed the order to the vendor, you need to track the lifecycle of the purchase order. 

Now it is more important than ever to track the purchase order because of the uncertainty in the supply chain. 

With a purchasing system, you can centralize the order tracking once the order is placed. 

Here are a couple of ways:

  1. Have the vendors acknowledge the order so that you know the product is available or not. If the order is back-ordered then the vendor should be able to easily identify those items.
  2. Allow vendors to provide the tracking information so that you can track what products are on the way and what is delivered. 
  3. Allow end-users to confirm that the product has been delivered by creating a full or partial receipt in the system.

Here is an example of how you can track purchase orders:


Lab Supplies Inventory tracking

So far we have covered the process for ordering the lab supplies.

But how do you keep track of that?

How do you know what you have in Inventory at any time? What lots have expired and can’t be used.

All these are important information that you need to know to effectively manage the inventory.

Here is what we recommend for tracking the inventory of lab supplies. 

Organize your inventory  by locations/bins

If you have multiple labs, you obviously can maintain different locations in an inventory system.

However, you might want to look at arranging inventory by different bins/locations within the same lab also. 

By organizing the inventory in different locations, it is easy to track and report on inventory. For example:



This also allows you to easily transfer the inventory between different locations so that you can make effective use of inventory.

Let’s say you have excess inventory at one location and a nearby location needs the same product, then it is just easy to transfer and keep track of the transfer. 

Release management to track usage

How do you track who is using what product in the lab?

That is where a release management process comes into the picture. 

A release management process not only helps you track inventory that is being released for consumption but also allows you to track the following:

  1. Who is requesting the inventory and for what purpose?
  2. If you want to track the inventory usage by projects then you can do that by simply attaching the release document to a project.

You get accurate usage reports and cost allocation to different projects.

Inventory reports for inventory valuation 

Want to know how much inventory you have at hand and the total value of the inventory?

That is where inventory valuation comes into the picture.

With the built-in Inventory reports, you can easily track how much inventory you have and what is the total cost of the inventory. 

For example, if you group up your inventory into different categories, for example, Chemicals, beakers, etc. then you also track the inventory value by these categories. 

Here is a sample inventory valuation report:


Now your turn!

In this article, we have covered an end-to-end process to help you reduce the time spent on purchasing and tracking inventory. 

By leveraging this process, most of our clients have seen results like this:

  1. 30% reduction in the approval cycle time. The orders are getting processed faster and the lab has what they need to run the experiments. 
  2. 40% less time spent on creating and tracking purchase orders. Purchase orders are easily created from catalogs and with central order tracking, you can track when the product would be shipped.
  3. 10 -20%  reduction in inventory through better inventory management

Curious to see how ProcureDesk can help you achieve these results?

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