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A strategic alliance with local farmers.

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I always tell my students that they need to look around at their surroundings to see what is happening and see if they can link it with the  syllabus in any way. Doing this will make it easier to remember concepts and ideas.

I was lucky enough to visit Germany recently to do some work. I noticed an unusual vending machine and it made me think of strategic alliances.

Strategic alliances can come in a variety of forms including the very large formal Joint Ventures such as Sony Ericsson (a 50:50 JV between Sony and Ericsson) and co-operation agreements such as the airline alliances of Sky Team and Star Alliance.

What was unusual about the vending machine that I saw? The thing that caught my eye was that the vending machine sold fresh farmers produce such as milk, eggs and sausages rather than the typical selection of snacks that you would find in vending machines.

Farmers are facing a tough time at the moment. Distribution channels can be a problem for farmers. If they sell through the large supermarket chains they can end up in a weak negotiating position. Selling direct to the customer is something that a lot of farmers don’t have the skills or facilities to undertake.

Some further investigation found out that a number of farms have collaborated with a vending machine manufacturer to stock these machines in several towns in Germany. This alliance is helping both parties. The farmers for example now have a great new distribution outlet. The customers also appear to be pretty happy as they get fresh local produce in a convenient location. The fact that the “middle man” is removed also means that the produce is priced very competitively.

Will we see this expanding to other items and other parts of the world?

Iceland, Computers and PESTEL Analysis

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One of my best ever trips was when I visited Iceland. It is a fantastic country with some great people and some truly dramatic scenery. There are also some very large whales and some very cute puffins!

Their financial crisis has been in the headlines over the last year or so but there was an interesting piece of news that was recently reported. Iceland has a year round cool climate and chilled fresh water. At the same time the number of computer servers that are needed around the world to store the ever increasing amount of data that the world is generating is growing rapidly.

A key component of data storage is to keep the servers cool. With Iceland’s below average temperatures it means that the cost of cooling servers is significantly less than in other countries with average or above average temperatures. Some businesses are now putting the cool Icelandic climate and the increasing server storage demands together and data parks are being designed and built in Iceland.

The cool temperatures and developed business environment in Iceland make it an ideal place for such a scheme to work.

Now, back to the exams. What exactly does this news have to do with exam? Given the exam is just around the corner I’m hopeful that I don’t need to explain what PESTEL analysis is and I’ll leave it up to you to decide which out of P, E, S, T, E and L the cool climate of Iceland relates to!

Not-for-profit organisations face several challenges.

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I had to recently go into hospital for a minor operation on my knee. The nurses and doctors were fantastic there and thankfully everything is now fine with my knee.

The hospital I was in was a classic not-for-profit (NFP) organization and during my time there it really made me appreciate the challenges that NFPs face when setting objectives.

Hospitals have a significant number of stakeholders with a high level of interest. Patients like me are stakeholders with an obvious high level of interest in matters. Other local individuals who are not patients are also interested in case at some stage they need to use the hospital. The doctors, nurses and admin staff are also stakeholders with a keen interest in the activities and the government is another stakeholder interested in the hospital.

In summary, NFPs are different from most other organizations when it comes to stakeholders in that there tends to be a wider range of stakeholders with a high interest in a NFP organization than compared with other organizations.

Another issue that occurred to me during my stay was that there are a number of objectives that the hospital needs to balance. Two obvious ones are the quality of care given to a patient when he’s in the hospital versus treating more patients.

A final area I thought about was the classic finance term of Cost Benefit Analysis. Costs within hospitals are easy to measure but the benefits can be inherently difficult to measure. For example, how would they measure the benefit of reducing the waiting time for a knee operation by one month or 6 months?

You are not necessarily expected to be able to provide all the answers to the challenges of running a hospital in the exam but it is important to have an understanding of the challenges that a NFP organization faces when running its business.