Did better scrubbers increase the demand for dirty coal from Illinois?

An article in Bloombergbusinessweek (September 15,2014) describers the surging demand for high sulphur Illinois coal coinciding with Clean Air rules that demanded scrubbers in power plants that even the emissions across all coal deposits. With lower costs and located closer to coal fired plants, Illinois coal demand has surged as the quality of scrubbers installed as increased. Is the use of poorer quality coal whose gases can be purged good for the environment ? Should inputs to power plants also be regulated or should emissions be checked while providing flexibility to power plants?

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Does hospital consolidation increase prices or efficiency?

An article in Bloombusinessweek (September 11,2014) describes Partners Healthcare in Boston that is responsible for 28% of physician and hospital visit dollars in Massachusetts and that has seen a 60% increase in prices charged compared to competitors. The company now owns several hospitals and coordinates across them to enable efficiency. But this efficiency has increased market power and prices rather than decrease costs. How should the market be structured so that efficiency is passed on as lower costs? Should hospitals be required to use third party information providers to standardize data so that it is easy for patients to switch providers ? Should prices for procedures be made public to enable comparison ?

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Should more livers be transported to save sicker patients?

An article in Bloombergbusinessweek (september 15,2014) describes a pln to increase the zones over which livers would be allocated to assign livers to sicker patients needing liver transplants. The estimate is that it will save 554 lives over five years but increase the livers transported from 50% currently to 75%, given the need to transplant within 18 hours. But costs are expected to decrease by $246 million given that it will save sicker patients. Will liver donation rate decrease if donated livers are assigned to patients that are not local? Is it fair to permit the factor of 10 difference in liver availability based on region to protect the volume of donated livers? How should the optimal tradeoff be determined, and should it be the decision of the donor to assign the region over which recipients will be chosen?

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Could New York city reduce its taxi fleet by 40% if its residents shared cabs ?

An article in the New York Times (September 1, 2014) titled “If 2 New Yorkers Shared a Cab…” suggests that 40% of the current 13,5o0 cabs in New York City could be eliminated, along with the associated road congestion is riders in close proximity shared cabs to destinations. The analysis was done by a team at MIT that analyzed data regarding 172 million rides collected by New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.  Will such efficiency generated by sharing, the associated cost benefit and sustainability impact be sufficient to get customers to share cabs ? How much additional ride time would passengers be ready to tolerate per dollar saved and energy saved ? Will riders need to be certified (rated) as acceptable or connected through social networks to increase adoption ?

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Are southern US states now the “least expensive production sites in the industrialized world”?

An article in Bloombergbusinessweek (September 4, 2014) titled “The U.S. South Rises as a Manufacturing Hub” describes an article by BCG’s Harold Sirkin claiming that South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee represent the “least expensive production sites in the industrialized world”, with wages at around $15/hour and over 410 new projects (the highest in 20 years). The  rising Chinese wages (from 82 cents an hour in 2001 to $4.93 per hour now), rising gas prices from $20 a barrel to $100 a barrel in the same period, and strong state incentives to attract production.  Should relocation decisions for local manufacturing be driven by current economics or a longer term strategy to capitalize on local production and short lead times ? Given expanding markets in Asia, should production similarly be distributed across the world to balance economies of scale and response flexibility ? What productivity expectations should be expected to maintain global competitiveness for US manufacturing and how should local educational organizations foster skill development among factory workers to enable such long term productivity gains ?

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“Parcel” aims to mediate between shipper, carrier and customer

An article in Mashable.com (February 12,2014) and available at http://mashable.com/2014/02/12/parcel/  describes the company Parcel (https://fromparcel.com/) that permits customers to have their online packages delivered to a Parcel shipping address.  Customers then provide details such as preferred delivery time, doorbell ring or not etc so that the packages arrive when customers are available to receive. The service costs about $5 per package.  Is a disintermediated supply chain with shipping efficiency and speed focus by ecommerce shippers, and customer convenience outsourced to Parcel, the optimal solution for providing deliveries to customers ? Will Parcel’s last mile convenience solution be replaced by deliveries to local locker locations with flexibility for pickup any time ? Should carriers like USPS, FedEx and UPS change their delivery flexibility to adapt to consumer preferences or accept the role of companies like Parcel ? 

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Verifying conflict-free refiners proves difficult for the US Commerce Department

An article in the Wall Street Journal (September 6, 2014) titled “Conflict Minerals Prove Hard to Track” descries the Commerce Department list of over 400 refiners with a statement that finding which smelters have minerals that can be tracked to funding militia in the Congo has been difficult. The reason is the small miners in the Congo and the untraceable sources of minerals such as gold traded in China. Given the difficulty in certifying smelters, how should US firms be expected to comply with the requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act that requires firms to identify their sources and track conflict free content ? Is there an alternative to such bans of content from specific regions given the modern global supply chains where source materials are mixed ? What reasonable compliance schemes should companies be expected to have to comply with the intent of the law ?

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