Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Expedition planning #3 - The purchasing jigsaw

Seismic experiments require seismic stations, which don't exactly come cheap. You would think that once funding has been secured, the rest would be easy. Read on to find out how purchasing anything in a university context is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

Once the funding is approved, it has to be made accessible, i.e. put into a university spending account which you can order from. At this stage, you often have to pre-decide how much of this money will be used for "investment" (i.e. for purchasing items which cost more than a certain amount and which have to be inventoried), and how much will be used for running costs. You had better get this part right, because university accountants will most likely refuse to change anything once it's been decided.

The next step is publishing a public Equipment Search, in which you state what it is you would like to purchase, and give the criteria on which you will judge offers made to you by the various companies which make or distribute the equipment you are searching for. Once the search is officially over, you must chose one of the competing bids, and justify your choice using the criteria you published in the search itself.

Then you can have a purchase order made out by the university. This requires the presence of a person qualified to draw up the order (this is not left to scientists - oh no!), and of the person who is responsible for the university account being used to make the purchase (which is often a senior scientist). Of course, the probability of both of these people being present at the same time (or at least soon after one another) is a function of the distribution of public holidays, and the of tendency of people to go on vacation. This latter factor is the most important one during the months of July and August.

Then, finally, you can send off the purchase order, arrange for shipping to a customs broker, and arrange for the customs broker to deliver when the university will be open again after the holidays. You hope, of course, that delivery will be made in time for you to test the equipment you have purchased before sending it on to the underside of the world for your crazy seismic experiment in Antarctica.

If you think this is more than enough to give you a head-ache, you are not alone! Maybe once I'll have done this a few more times it will all seem easier. For the moment, it's not fun at all...

[Image credits: Weston Boyd]
Keep up to date with the latest developments at http://sismordia.blogspot.com

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