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Module 2: Commencement and Collaboration – Putting Ideas Into Practice

6.2 Procurement

At the commencement of your project you will need to consider the infrastructure, materials, and equipment you will need to successfully deliver on the project. An important first consideration is the procurement of any infrastructure and resources that are needed to initiate, manage, and execute the project. You should identify all the procurement inputs, tools, and techniques in order to deliver the outputs that will lead to the completion of the project.

There are many options available to obtain the plant, equipment, and materials required to conduct your research project successfully. The process you undertake to secure the required equipment and materials will depend on the internal policies and processes of your institution, the funding rules/agreements by which your project is bound, and the amount of risk you are willing to take to secure the equipment/materials. Decisions surrounding the purchase of equipment and materials should aim for the best outcome for every dollar spent. For expensive items of equipment or infrastructure you should also consider options other than purchasing, such as hiring or time-share arrangements.

Procurement of the necessary infrastructure, resources, and equipment can be fraughtful. While careful budgeting and planning will ensure some control of the process, there is always the possibility that things will not go according to plan. The following short example, based on the experience of a university project manager, outlines some of the real problems that can arise in the procurement process and describes the solutions which overcame these particular impediments. The following quote illustrates the importance of entering into any procurement arrangement with all the necessary information and appropriate detail.

Project manager:
"...We have had occasion when a purchase order has been raised to the wrong vendor, of a similar name. This usually comes from an end-user raising a requisition with insufficient information. The purchasing section has then processed to who they thought was the correct vendor. This has had a few different outcomes. These range from the vendor simply advising us of the error to one occasion when we actually ended up sourcing the products cheaper from the incorrect vendor. The message from this, of course, is to ensure that all the relevant information is on the requisition. To this end, we have instituted an online requisition system to minimise the possibility of this occurring. From the end-user viewpoint, always ensure that the original documentation is clear and correct, and check the documentation that comes back to ensure that everything is in order. Too much information is better than the bare minimum. The above also applies for orders raised in the wrong currency or the wrong amount. Other than simple human error, the main contributing factor is usually somebody not putting sufficient information on the source documentation."

Capital equipment

Good research depends on the right choice of equipment. A well-drafted equipment specification not only sets the quality and performance standards for the equipment, but also provides the greatest scope for maximising value for money.

Prior to making the decision to purchase equipment, it is a good idea to identify and review the major costs and components of the equipment purchase to see what might be modified or omitted. Consideration should also be given to purchasing good second-hand equipment. Before purchasing equipment consider:

  • What are its basic functions?
  • Are they all necessary?
  • Can they be simplified?
  • Can they be performed in some other way?
  • Are performance requirements too stringent?
  • Can standard methods and off-the-shelf equipment be used?
  • Can operations be combined?
  • Can the use of the equipment be shared with other research groups?
  • Where can waste be reduced?
  • What is the environmental impact, including costs of waste disposal?
  • What are the staff cost implications in terms of numbers, expertise, etc?.

If you have made the decision to purchase a piece of equipment, the following issues should be investigated, as they will help you through the procurement process at your university:

  • Know when and how to use the management structure of the institution.
  • Know when and how to use the university approvals process (e.g. requesting waivers of tender processes).
  • Know the policies of your institution.
  • Know who is responsible for purchasing and policy decisions surrounding equipment at your institution.
  • Know where/when to ask for approval and assistance.
  • Assess any specialist training and precautions required.
  • Factor in any foreign currency fluctuations (affecting fieldwork costs and ordering equipment from overseas) that might impinge on your equipment costs.

The following table illustrates the advantages and risks associated with some equipment procurement processes.


Process

Advantages

Risks/impediments

Global tendering process

Institutional process

Can be slow and bureaucratic

Second-hand equipment/plant

Price, speed

Possible compromise on quality; faults; not cutting-edge; difficult to get parts/repair; no warranties/guarantees

Materials, consumables, and other resources

You should discuss your materials/consumables needs with your business manager, head of department, or mentor. The types of materials and consumables you require will be highly dependent on the research field and discipline in which you are operating. This can include specialist chemicals and reagents, biological materials, phenomics, data sets, etc. The list is as long and diverse as the research undertaken at your university. Your business manager will be able to advise you of any preferred suppliers or existing procurement contracts which may affect your purchasing decisions.
Some issues for you to consider surrounding the purchase of materials:

  • Volume required/frequency of purchases (quantity discounts).
  • Will you order yourself, or are there university procedures that require you to order through facilities and services, or your local area?
  • Do you (your team) require any specialist training?
  • Are there any special precautions that must be taken with these materials? (check with your OHS representative at your university).
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