University buying must help push research boundaries

1 March 2012

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1 March 2012 | Angeline Albert

Buyers must help university researchers “push the boundaries of the possible,” and stop them viewing purchasers as a “nuisance”, the University of Nottingham’s director of procurement told SM.

Jim Reed admits that in some universities, procurement is seen internally as a nuisance and in other cases the function stays away from research buying because it’s considered “too difficult”. He believes buyers in universities can measure their success by how much they help researchers buy, how much academics freely ask procurement for help, and the low number of incidences that require the function to step in and solve poor buying.

Reed said purchasing for an academic institution is a very different to the private sector. Reed, who joined the university a year ago, said: “It took me three months to work out that I could not do what I am good at.”

Leveraging the supply chain, cost cutting and reducing the supplier base may not offer real value to a university, he said. “A researcher can’t get a standard item from a standard catalogue because it may not help them push the boundaries of the possible in their research field. This is a game changer for procurement.”

And rather than the purchaser leading negotiations, they need to work jointly with their research colleagues – so the technical researcher helps with the specification, while the buyer ensures the specification is protected in the contract. “It’s not a leveraged business buy but a technical buy with a commercial protective wrapping,” said Reed.

Reed said: “Research items can be difficult to specify because the researcher’s work is a secret and no-one knows whether what they are trying to achieve will work.” Reed suggests purchasers lock down as much of the known functionality as they can in the specification. 

Reed intends to grow his centralised team of eight procurement professionals by employing an FM category manager and will harness the pool of procurement talent that already exists in the university by hiring up to five individuals from the institution.

He plans to negotiate with the heads of faculties to identify individuals with buying capabilities who will be embedded in departments to support some devolved buying.

 

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