Research finance procedures, like all procedures, are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The finance procedures must not block the research: this is fundamental. There are many aspects to this, but here I would like to focus on just one: what does a researcher who already has funds to engage in research need in order to get-on with the financial aspects of the research?
Suppose a good university-based researcher has modest funds that have been earned through carrying out research for clients, who have paid an agreed price for what was delivered, and all costs and overheads have been met. These funds are now available to the researcher to engage in further research at the researcher’s discretion. In this restricted case, where it is presumed and accepted that the researcher has full discretion as to how the available funds should be used to further the legitimate research objectives of the researcher, what does the researcher need as a minimum from the finance system of the university?
The researcher needs the ability to spend effectively, efficiently and without delay. Research is both a science and an art. It is not routine. Good research always takes place under time pressure. Those who can save time, while maintaining quality and focus, have a strong competitive advantage. At a given moment the researcher might find that they need a glubgoggle with an integrated twickletimble and double red-green tweekledoobers. The only place this can be found is in in East-North-Eastern Upstumble. The price is four hundred million Upstumbilian periwinkles, which is about €137, and this is at least twenty times the cost of a glubgoggle with an integrated twickletimble and double red-green tweekledobers (one ‘o’), which despite the coincidental similarity of its name is different and would be entirely unsuitable.
Ideally, having received a firm quotation (including delivery cost and date) for the glubgoggle with an integrated twickletimble and double red-green tweekledoobers (two ‘o’s!) within twenty minutes from Glubgoggle Corp in East-North-Eastern Upstumble, the researcher either arranges the immediate payment to Glubgoggle Corp (where required, as is often the case) or directly issues an official purchase order. This is done within ten more minutes and the researcher continues with their research. Subsequently, with a bit of luck, the glubgoggle with an integrated twickletimble and double red-green tweekledoobers arrives. The research account is debited with the amount that has been spent. At any moment the researcher can refer online to a clear financial position statement and a full historical listing of all transactions for the research account.
Perfection does not exist in research finance procedures, or anywhere else. It is possible to imagine ways in which procedures, individuals who are involved, or the lack of personnel or resources could introduce delays or unnecessary additional costs or wastage of the researcher’s or other persons’ time. Only the very best universities or research establishments would have a glubgoggle index close to 100%. However, all universities and research establishments would be expected do their best to keep their glubgoggle index as high as possible.