Rouages: "Projecting an economic and social context 

Laure Vailhé is Head of the Purchasing and Contracts Department. Together with Natacha Seling, one of the team's six public purchasers, they implement the University's purchasing policy within the General and Institutional Affairs Department. This month, they tell us all about their mission in the Rouages series produced by the UM.

The second floor of the Institut de Biologie in downtown Montpellier is the setting for this latest episode of Rouages. In this succession of rooms, which houses part of the purchasing and contracts department, twelve agents work to implement the purchasing policy voted by the UM Board of Directors.

Under the aegis of the General and Institutional Affairs department, Laure Vailhé, head of the department, coordinates operations with a view to constant improvement: " The Purchasing and Contracts department was one of the first processes to receive ISO 9001 certification in 2013. Continuous improvement is truly the DNA of our department ", explains this jurist whose 19-year career in the civil service has taken her through: the Maison des examens in Paris; the University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne ; and finally the purchasing mission of the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research before joining the University of Montpellier in 2018. " After these positions in central administration I wanted to get back to the operational side... and Montpellier, where I'm from."

80 million purchasing budget

In this new challenge, the challenge is no more and no less than to supply the equipment and services essential to the smooth running of the University, and to provide expertise and advice on the purchasing strategies to be implemented. We have three types of purchasing," explains Laure Vailhé, " recurrent purchases that cover the University's needs: maintenance, caretaking, office supplies, IT equipment, etc.; one-off requests such as the purchase of scientific equipment or services; and the heritage component with building works and maintenance." 

All this for an overall purchasing budget of around 80 million euros each year. " And even if my department "only" handles purchases over 40,000 euros, that's quite a lot of contracts ," comments the manager with a smile. So the watchword in her department is unequivocal: planning! " We're subject to regulatory deadlines, and often to lengthy purchasing procedures, and my role is to plan this activity, taking into account the workload. This requires flawless organization!

Making a purchase a reality

To meet the needs of the university community, Laure Vailhé has surrounded herself with six public purchasers, including Natacha Seling. After ten years as a management assistant and medical information technician in a private clinic, a stint in the medical archives at Necker Hospital and a position as head of the nursing school bursar's office, she left Paris in 2016 to join the University of Montpellier. First it was Polytech, then the personnel training department in the HR department, and finally the purchasing and contracts department after passing a competitive examination. " It's a job that requires a lot of curiosity and quick thinking. You have to be able to see the big picture of each requirement and respond to it as effectively as possible", she explains.

As a buyer, her main mission is to help people who have a need to make their purchase a reality. " I work closely with project owners to draw up coherent specifications. Price, guarantees, possible maintenance services, duration of the contract... Everything must be scrupulously drafted to publish the advertisement that will make the public contract accessible to future candidates. " We need to be concise, extremely transparent and sufficiently precise to ensure that companies understand our needs and can provide us with an appropriate financial and technical proposal. Above all, we must leave nothing out, because anything that is not written into a contract cannot be implemented! "


This role can extend to the analysis of applications and bids, if the purchasing and contracting department has been identified as the bidder. Price, technical proposals, delivery times and performance methods are all evaluated to establish a ranking and select the "right" candidate. " We manage a lot of contracts at the same time, and it takes a great deal of adaptability and organization to handle them all at once..."emphasizes Natacha Seling.

For services common to the entire university community, such as catering and security, Laure Vailhé and her team have been developing user satisfaction surveys for some time now. " These surveys enable us to monitor performance more closely, so that we can review our requirements when drafting the next contract ", adds the public purchaser. We go out to meet companies to make sure that our specifications are in line with reality, and that what we're asking for is feasible for them," explains the head of the department. These meetings also enable us to discover new offers, which we can then try to promote.

Openness and adaptation

For Laure Vailhé and Natacha Seling, it's this openness to the economic world and to society in general that is the main attraction of their chosen profession. " You have to be able to anticipate and project an economic and social context over 3 or 4 years. We've seen companies that look good on paper but end up in receivership, and in such cases you have to know how to bounce back to ensure continuity of service," explains Natacha Seling. The integration of environmental and social clauses has also considerably transformed and enriched the profession, as Laure Vailhé points out: " We've gone from a very legal profession, where we drew up specifications with penalties, termination conditions, etc., to a profession that is constantly seeking to adapt to the realities of today's world. It's much more intellectually stimulating!