Analytics 2012
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    Welcome to the official blog of the 2012 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research in Huntington Beach, CA. Whether you are lucky enough to attend or just wishing you were here, stay informed on all of the exciting events taking place. A big thank you to our guest bloggers.
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    It was a great conference as usual.  After a day to reflect, here are my top 5 takeaways (not necessarily in order):

    (1)   Google Insights for Search
    Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, gave a compelling keynote that made great use of this free tool.  Check it out if you haven’t done so already.  It’s a great way to identify market trends based on search frequency.  The data goes all the way back to 2004, and you can download the results to combine with other data sources.

    (2)   It’s not just about the analytics
    Congratulations to TNT Express, winners of the 2012 Edelman Award.   My biggest takeaway from their presentation had nothing to do with their network optimization models.  Rather, it was how they built an entire optimization “ecosystem” centered on their GO (Global Optimisation) Academy.

    • “(In addition) to adopting OR tools, TNT Express has teamed up with the Tilburg University/TiasNimbas Business School (Netherlands) to create a two-year management development program in transportation network optimization. Called the GO Academy, the training has been delivered to more than 150 managers from TNT since 2008.”

    Lots of companies have advanced optimization capabilities, but TNT have added huge value to the organization – and set a great example for other companies — through leadership, education, training and change management.

    (3) The role of Analytics in Decision-Making
    We’re always looking for better ways to describe what we do and how we add value through Analytics, and I thought a few of the speakers had particularly interesting angles.

    • Thomas Olavson of Google described his team’s role as “replacing intuition with data-driven decisions”.
    • Colin Kessinger of End-to-End Analytics reinforced the role of leadership.  “Math supports the decision-making process, but the math doesn’t make the decisions”.  Don’t expect an analytical model to give you “the answer”.
    • Both Colin and Glenn Wegryn of P&G focused on visualization & interactive decision support.  According to Colin, “This is what gets you a seat at the executive table”, and Glenn provided the evidence when he described the weekly “immersive business reviews” for P&G’s executive team (with a great picture of the huge hi-def screens that surround the conference room)
    • Focus on the “so what” or the “why” – not the “what”.  Reports are a dime a dozen.  How are you going to help drive better decisions?
    • A neat quote from Glenn Wegryn:  “We bear gifts – in the form of rational business insights”.  (In my words, “Geeks bearing gifts” — OK, that’s a really bad pun…)

    (4)   Simpler is Better
    The simplest approach that solves your problem is usually the best one.  Several speakers hit on this point in different ways.

    • There is “no correlation between analytic complexity and business value”, according to Glenn Bailey of Manheim.
    • Chris Fry of Strategic Management Solutions paraphrased Einstein – A model “should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”.
    • Before you jump into a big, complex analysis with expensive 3rd-party software, make sure you really understand the problem you’re trying to solve.  Colin Kessinger advises that if you can’t build and understand a prototype in Excel, you don’t really understand the problem and you’re not likely to be successful with a complicated off-the-shelf software solution.
    • Thomas Olavson echoed the sentiment that “small steps lead to big wins”.  He favors analytical building blocks and rapid prototypes, and cautions against looking for “grand unified theories”.

    (5)   50 Minutes with the 5 minute analyst
    It seems only appropriate to make the 5 Minute Analyst my 5th highlight.  In a very interactive conference session, Harrison Schramm of the Naval Postgraduate School shared some fun and thought-provoking “toy problems”.  Be sure to check out the 5 Minute Analyst column in Analytics Magazine.  The most recent column is available here.

    Please let me know your comments.  It’s been fun being one of your Conference Bloggers and I look forward to continuing these interesting discussions.  Until next time…

    Final thoughts
    by Aurelie Thiele

    I really enjoyed the Analytics conference – and not only because Lehigh University had a strong showing, from being a finalist in the UPS George D Smith Prize to counting a young alumnus on the Memorial Sloan Kettering team that won the INFORMS prize to listening to the director of marketing intelligence at Bayada Home Health Care describe the work former student Ana Alexandrescu ’10, ’11G did in using analytics to help identify home care patients more at risk of rehospitalization.

    I attended plenty of fascinating talks, from the Intel presentation in the Edelman competition to the talk on analytics in insurance by an IBM professional, and met many wonderful OR professionals, such as the future boss of my doctoral student who is graduating this month.

    The conference was extremely well-run and to finish I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the INFORMS people who manned the registration booth for long hours, and the prize committee members who spent a lot of time evaluating submissions and maintain the high standards of INFORMS – in particular those who participated to multiple committees, such as Susan Albin, Cindy Barnhart, Mike Gorman and Bob Smith (with apologies to the ones I am forgetting). Their work is much appreciated.

    Although this year’s accomplishments will be hard to beat, I’m looking forward to next year’s analytics conference already!

    The short answer is much more than 10 times the goodness of the article. Harrison Schramm presented six short case studies on how you can frame difficult questions in an easy format using assumptions and bounding cases. Gaining insight into a problem in a short amount of time somes may provide the answer to if we need to go deeper and if the effort is worth it.

    If you missed the brief, check out his article in the Analytics online magazine.

    There was one theme that spanned thru a variety of presentations – almost as if the theme was a growing entity that intended to take over the world thru subliminal messages.  That theme was “Culture”.  Some examples follow:

    - The best leaders don’t manage people, policy and systems – they intentionally manage culture.

    - The Edelman Finalist met the difficult task of demonstrating how their Analytic/Operations Research techniques improved their task, project, or company.  Getting the right people to either support or utilize their technique was a key point in many of their presentations (I admit to not attending all of them).  That is a statement of culture.

    - The Edelman Award winner, TNT Express, demonstrated that they intentionally undertook a plan to infuse their DNA with Operations Research – to move to a new culture.

    - Decision Coaches arise as a new profession – some cultures can adapt easier to this than others.

    In the end, it is all about culture.  Saving the organization money is good.  Increasing profits is good.  Growing a culture of Analytics / Operations Research is good that endures.

    Rick Carter and I co-hosted a pretty lively Birds of a Feather session yesterday on best practices in Spreadsheet Modeling to improve productivity and reduce errors and risk. Before going any further, for the participants, here’s the auditing tool I mentioned – I think a new version is due out soon.

    Among the ideas we discussed:

    Data cleaning & validation

    • Work from the “edges in” to make sure you’ve captured all necessary data
    • Compare relevant “sums” to some external data source to make sure nothing is missing
    • Look for outliers — data points that don’t look “normal.  Look for min and max values; sort the data, run histograms and scatter charts

    Modeling practice

    • Standardize cell colors, e.g., input cells blue, decision variables red, outputs green (or whatever color scheme you prefer)
    • Maintain integrity of source data; don’t perform ANY operations on the original data set
    • Use revision control.  Tools are available that can capture an audit trail, or to track which users have which version of a model.

    Error Prevention

    • Use Peer Review (best practice from software development)
    • Use an auditing tool
    • Keep it simple!  If a non-technical person can understand your model, you probably got it right.  Try your spouse or your children!

    We hope the attendees enjoyed the session.  Let Rick or me know if you have any follow-up questions or comments.

    Check out the SPRIG – Spreadsheet Productivity Research Interest Group.

    Beyond “OR +”
    by Ivan Oliveira

    Yesterday I was treated to excellent presentations and discussions about real world price optimization, how very large corporations derive value from analytical teams, how to integrate with systems to answer big (troop drawdown big) questions, trying to figure out what Big Data means in our profession, and how our analytical work plays vs intuitive decision making.

    These experiences show that our community has indeed embraced the broader analytical message. It wasn’t long ago that it was sufficient to single out a closest analytical area and tack it on to a favorite OR field. As if there was hesitation in stepping too far out of our individual OR comfort zone, as if we felt compelled to expand our tool set, but weren’t sure we really wanted to. Closest depended on who you were, I guess, and what your area of applications was; to some it seemed to be statistics, to others it was data mining, and to others forecasting. But even very recently it felt that there was resistance to the fact that OR is part of a much bigger whole, a whole that is much much bigger than “OR +”. After yesterday I am convinced that we are past that.

    Take optimization, for example. Optimization consumes data, forecasts, predictive models, and statistical information. It feeds simulations, what-if analysis, trade-off analysis, and decision support systems. It has to work in a seamless environment, provide answers that can be easily understood, and adapt to changing business needs. It is often subservient to the all-mighty GUI and has to play nice with data systems. It is a cog in a machine, and we get that. Value doesn’t come from a 10% faster MILP solve, it comes from enabling a business user (who knows nothing about cutting planes but knows everything about cutting big checks) to make quick decisions about his supply chain, and to feel good about results and the experience.

    But we are still evolving. And to those of us still timidly dipping their toes in the Analytical waters, I say: jump in! You’ll have plenty of opportunities today.
    Big Data, Sparse Data
    by Elea McDonnell Feit

    It is clear that “big data” has arrived at INFORMS.  And I don’t just mean the very entertaining late afternoon panel discussion on Big Data hosted by Thornton May. Big data was lurking in every presentation I went to yesterday.  From Scott Nicholson, Data Scientist at LinkedIn, using their massive social network to understand the relationship between different professional skill sets or Hal Varian of Google using data on search queries to “nowcast” unemployment to Rex Davis of dunnhumby using their petabyte of loyalty card data to understand which products are substitutes, it is clear that modern analytics projects are built on a foundation of rich and massive data.  As someone who was trained someone trained in statistics and decision theory, I’ve spent half a career focused on the uncertainty we have when we don’t have enough data.  And when I see these amazingly rich data sets, it makes me wonder if my well-honed skills in extracting information from small data sets are still needed.  Should I forget confidence intervals and learn how to map reduce?

    But beyond the big data hype, I noticed another common thread across the presentations I saw yesterday.  As you dig into the mountains and mountains of big data, you often run into unexpected sparcity. As Hal drilled down into the search data, he mentioned that there are search queries that don’t appear very often even in the hundreds of millions of searches that are typed into Google every day. And, despite the power of a petabyte of market basket, Rex acknowledges that they still don’t know quite what to do with new products that have little market history.  So, uncertainty still exists if you know where to look for it.

    In fact, characterizing uncertainty may be more important than ever as we face situations where we know some things with near certainty (like 12 oz Coke is almost always the most frequently purchases SKU in a grocery store) and then run into other situations where we know very little (like how well scrapple, my favorite Philadelphia delicacy, would sell in a Southern California grocery).  Big data provides us with the challenge of measuring this uncertainty, incorporating it into prescriptive models and, most importantly, helping managers understand that even with petabytes of data there are still some things we just don’t know.

    So it’s about 0200 in the morning and I finally got a chance to login for some late night blogging.  There is so much going on throughout the day that I barely get a chance to blog.  I tried to blog on the go with the Word Press app, but I didn’t have much luck logging in.

    So first’s thing first….at a minimum I have to post a shout out to my colleagues at Booz Allen Hamilton for winning the Innovation in Analytics Award.  Only in Operations Research would you ever see Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM and the Cleveland Indians in the running for the same award.  Congratulations!

    Next up, Congratulations to TNT Express for wining the Edelman! I can’t wait to see their award wining presentation tomorrow.  The

    As far as the presentations go, I’d have to say that the presentations I have seen on Track 2 “The Analytics Process” resonate with me the most.  Managing organizational change and building/modifying the right infrastructure has been critical in the success of my projects.  I know its not something we normally want to tackle first, but it has become very apparent to me that nailing down this aspect of an Analytics project is critical to adaption and sustainment of the solutions delivered.   This is why I have always thought that us analytic types need to partner up with strategic policy types and IT/Developer types.  I don’t know of one person that is truly an expert in all aspects of developing and implementing an Analytic solution.  But when partnered up with non-Analytics experts, together, we would be a Problem Solving dream team!

    Another spectacular Edelman Award’s Gala.  Congratulations to the Edelman Prize winner TNT Express!  Congratulations to all of the Edelman finalist, a very impressive group of O.R. Practitioners.

    The room for the plenary panel on Innovation and Big Data was packed. I could hear the cogs in everyone’s brains cranking up to make sense of the hype and the hope around this this hot topic. The panel, moderated by futurist Thornton May, was stacked with interesting people from academia (Northwestern and Stanford) and tech companies who play in this space (Google, Teradata, and Zementis). My own company, SAS Institute, has been doing a lot of work in the area of high performance analytics and big data, so I was eager to hear what the panelists would have to say, as well as what would emerge from the crowd. Coolest idea I came away with? Blake Johnson of Stanford’s dream for the future that each of us have our own personal analytics cloud, where we would own and control all the data associated with us. Assertion made I think is too often overlooked in these discussions? Thomas Olavson from Google’s opinion that it is far too easy to get caught up in the cool modeling and lose sight of the business problem we are trying to solve. The MBA in me believes it is still crucial to start out with the question, not the data, and then determine what we need to do to answer the question we have that will drive value for the organization. Surprising angle? Thomas Olavson reiterating that it is all about the people – they are the ones who uses the technology to do interesting things, but we can’t forget the importance of getting technology to those smart people and then getting out of their way. A conference like this one reminds me of how many smart people are out there doing interesting things, which is a huge part of the value in being here. And my final question, who will win the Edelman competition tonight?

    The conference started with a great plenary speaker, Hal Varian, from Google.  He talked about the wealth of data available from Google’s Insights for Search tool.  I couldn’t wait to test it out.  I tried out “Analytics” to see how the term had been searched since 2004.  The result – a steady incline since late 2005.  Just as interesting as the temporal trend is the geographic trend, pictured below.  Happy trending!

    Data visualization (DV) is very hot. I attended the Tableau workshop on Sunday. It was sold out.

    This morning, Glenn Wegryn of P&G showed their Business Sphere- – floor to ceiling white boards to display real time data every Monday morning to top P&G execs- – DV in the Board Room.

    The nice thing about DV is that it can be used to analyze raw data or present the output from other analyses. Either way, it is about insights and communication.

    Very cool stuff.

    P&G’s Business Sphere

    Booz Allan Hamilton has won the first Innovation in Analytics Award.  See them reprise their winning entry at 3:40 today in Huntington South. 

    The purpose of the Innovation in Analytics Award is to recognize creative and unique developments, applications or combinations of analytical techniques. The prize promotes the awareness of the value of analytics techniques in unusual applications, or in creative combination to provide unique insights and/or business value. 

    In its inaugural year, there were over 50 submissions for this award.  After multiple rounds of vetting and review which culminated into a final presentation to the judges on Sunday, INFORMS is pleased to announce that this year’s winner is Booz Allen Hamilton for their  project: “Enhancing Immigration Enforcement with Decision Analytics”.  Booz Allen’s work on this project innovativelyapplied traditional operations research techniques to help ICE efficiently align their resources to remove serious criminal offenders.   Booz Allen’s implementation of analytics spanned over three years of client support where they developed a set of models that are used to solve challenging problems such as: forecasting the number of criminal illegal aliens, optimizing a technology deployment schedule, and minimizing the transportation costs of removal.  The impact of this work has resulted in a doubling of criminal alien removals leading to greater public safety for the American people. 

    Congratulations to Booz Allen for their exceptional work!
    Sunday at Analytics 2012
    by Aurelie Thiele

    I arrived in Huntington Beach, CA on Saturday with my fellow Lehigh team members Prof Tamas Terlaky, Prof Gus Gustafson and Rob Rappa ’11, ’12G – we came early because of our selection as finalists to the UPS George D Smith Prize, which recognizes programs that best prepare students to become operations research practitioners. The finalists made presentations to the judges on Sunday afternoon and the winner will be announced at the Edelman gala tonight.

    Sunday started on a high note with my realizing I had a view of the Pacific Ocean from my room at the Hyatt Resort & Spa. (It was already dark on Saturday when I checked in, so I only noticed the palm trees in the courtyard from my balcony and couldn’t see beyond that.) Then I met with my teammates and we rehearsed the presentation. Hours flew by until 4pm when we presented. We let our student Rob have the last word: he concluded our presentation with an extensive description of his time in the department, both as undergraduate and now as graduate student.

    Rob was particularly proud to go over the senior project he completed for Air Products with two other students  (their simulation is amazing!),  and his Master’s thesis where he is working under my supervision to identify the attributes of people who have defaulted on their student loans but are most likely to resume repaying if reached out to, based on over 750,000 real data points. He will be joining IBM Global Consulting Services this summer, where he hopes to become part of their advanced analytics group.

    Rob is attending the whole conference with us – we thought Analytics 2012 would provide a great venue for him to learn about the practice of operations research. He is so excited about it I wish we could send more of our Master’s students to conferences like this one.

    Had an interesting debate with SPRIG President Rick Carter yesterday after the Spreadsheet Guru contest, regarding Speed versus Scalability in spreadsheet modeling, specifically when deciding whether to manually enter data or automate with formulas.

    One of the things the Spreadsheet Guru contestants had to do was clean some messy input data.  Here’s an example.  From “Commonwealth of Australia Population in 2010 22.33 (in millions of persons)” you needed to isolate the country, year and value — in this case, Australia, 2010 and 22.33M.  This had to be done for 10 countries for 2 years.

    Most of the contestants (myself included) wrote some type of text formula.  Rick advocated just manually entering the data because the number of data points was so low.  There are pros and cons to each approach.  The manual approach is quicker for small datasets, but isn’t scalable for large datasets or if the analysis becomes repeatable.  The automated approach can take longer to implement, especially if the formulas are complicated.  But as the datasets get larger or if the analysis is repeated, this approach makes more sense.

    For the contest, Rick probably had it right.  In your day-to-day life of building and using models however, especially in data cleansing, it’s not always so obvious.  Before deciding whether to go manual or automated, consider these 2 factors:

    1. How much extra time will it take to automate the process?
    2. How likely is it that the model will be used again? (be honest…)

    What’s your experience?

    Commonwealth of Australia Population in 2010 22.33 (in millions of persons)

    I go to a lot of conferences. I often wonder what is the optimal time to present? To start formulating the model I start by defining success. In my case I will use ”presentation attended by a fully engaged audience” as my success definition.

    The first day tends to be a day for conference acclimation, connecting, and just figuring out how to get around. We have all been in the first brief and most of the audience has the program open planning their conference. There may also be jet lag and transportation delays that complicate getting 100% out of day one.
    My winner is the second brief (before lunch) on day two. Everyone has had one day to get into the flow of the conference and can find their way around. After a certain number (different for everyone) of briefs folks usually start getting presentation overload and that usually starts occurring for me after day two. Briefs after lunch have renowned fame for being challenging due to the fact the audience has a full stomach. And of course the final briefs of the day always has folks getting ready for travel and other events.
    So for those presenters that got that slot at this conference, congratulations!

    Sunday was filled with attending software tutorials and chatting with old acquaintances.  I also found time to wander the halls and think about how I might be able to apply the lessons I learned in the tutorials to my own work.

    And it is with this same question in mind that I head into today’s line-up of presentations.  What will I learn today that will change the way I work back home?
    Soft Skills Workshop
    by Freeman Marvin

    The Soft Skills Workshop yesterday in Driftwood was by all accounts a great success.  This is the fifth year the workshop has been held at the INFORMS spring conference.  The workshop included discussion and exercises on six sets of “people” skills: partnering with clients, framing problems, working in teams, interviewing experts, eliciting from groups, and communicating results.  The Guest Lecturer this year was Dr. Patrick Noonan, Associate Professor of Decision Sciences at Emory University  Dr. Noonan offered a set of best practices for problem framing and reminded the participants that to avoid Type III errors, we need to devote up-front time to getting the question right.  As Albert Einstein said, “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.”

    Anne Robinson and Prasanna Dhore meet at the Executive Forum

    The Executive Forum, now in its third year, seemed even more successful to me than last year’s event. I forgot to count attendees, but the round of introductions revealed an interesting and varied mix of executives in the sizable crowd. This event is an effort on the part of INFORMS to help executives meet each other, so they can communicate with their peers who also focus on leading organizations dedicated to analytics.

    What are keys to successful leadership of analytics? Anne Robinson, President-Elect of INFORMS,who gave a brief talk on How to be an Executive Sponsor, answered that question from her own heart with her characteristic passion. Her guiding principles are to Be Brave, Be Visible, and Be Successful. Brave, because doing analytics involves being willing to take risks (what if that long-term project doesn’t yield the results expected and hoped for?); Visible (coach your team, advocate for the work that they do, and evangelize early and often); and Successful (because analytics can be a strategic asset in this regard).

    The conversation at the table was just as interesting. The banking executive I sat with said he feels his job is to shield his team, by which he meant allowing them to truly focus on analytics without letting others insert roadblocks or administrivia in their way. The technology executive said he transformed his team from quant jockeys serving analytical errands for business analysts into collaborative thinkers who worked arm in arm with the business to not just respond to but lead the way to analytical insights. The growth in these kinds of executives attending illustrates the growth of this field and the perfect timing of INFORMS to focus on the entire analytics spectrum. Tom Deutsch of IBM also gave a brief talk on Big Data, which I’m sure we’ll hear more about in the next couple of days. Big Data is everywhere!

    Revenue Management emerged as an analytic discipline from big clouds of transactional data well before cloud computing and big data were buzz words. In a way it is a poster child of modern day analytics, since it can only be practiced successfully by closing the loop of descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytic steps. It realized early on that these three steps are not a waterfall ending in an ocean of analytic bliss, but an eternal cycle, more like steps on an Escher-like staircase. In particular: the decisions that follow from the prescriptive recommendations have a major impact on what you can and cannot observe. You better take that into account in your descriptive analytics, or you are in for something else.

    Monday morning the presentations of the Edelman Awards finalists kick off with another example of successful, innovative, and practical analytics in the context of Revenue Management. An important aspect of the approach followed by the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group is the fact that it incorporates competitive rates as an integral part of the optimization step. This is new and daring. For starters, competitor rates are not easy to get. The straightforward approach of asking competitors what they will price for future services is outright illegal. Consistently gathering historic competitive prices and inferring from that information what prices these competitors will set in the future has been challenging. Fortunately, the consistency of the data quality of  competitive data has improved greatly over the past years, which opens up a new set of opportunities to improve revenue management, as is being explored by this initiative. An exciting way to start the first day of the conference!

    The Technology Workshops are underway.  There were a few earlier this morning that I wasn’t able to make (because of my arrival time), but I did attend one that started at 11AM.  Another set of 5 workshops each begin at 1:00PM and 3:00 PM.  Even if you haven’t registered, you might be able to find space in one of them and learn something from the vendors’ representatives.  Beyond showing the features of their products, they often use innovative example problems that might help you out with something you’re working on or thinking of trying.  Enjoy!
    Checking In
    by Maarten Oosten

    After taking a bit of time to get my bearings here, I have to compliment INFORMS for choosing this location. If you wanted to somehow test the attractiveness of the conference program by offering some great distractions, you’d probably organize the conference here. Having said that, the program looks great and the experiment may very well turn out in favor of the talks.

    Now off to the technology workshops. These workshops are developing in a different direction than the ones at the Fall conference. The vendors are gearing their workshops at a different audience and it shows. Make sure to check it out.

    I’ve been preparing to attend INFORMS in many of the same ways as my fellow bloggers have – scouring the agenda, reviewing the slides when I’m on the fence about a session (very helpful feature), looking at the Huntington Beach weather forecast, choosing what I’ll read on the plane (important decision – I hate to be without a good book), and thinking mournfully about all the interesting birds I won’t likely have time to see (but I’ll still pack my new binoculars just in case). This kind of preparation is both practical (I hate to be cold) and strategic (all these great minds in one place would be a terrible thing to waste). I put a lot of time into planning the agenda in particular, because if I’ve made a tentative agenda in advance my calendar can tell me what I’d be missing if I get caught up in a great conversation with someone I’ve met. And that’s likely to happen, given all the interesting people who will be attending.

    Which brings me to a different kind of preparation than what I normally do. Recently I stumbled on an thought-provoking blog, “How to  Attend a Conference As Yourself,” by Peter Bregman. The author writes about how to meet people at a conference, but his advice veers away from standard networking tips and encourages an inward exploration. He thoughtfully addresses the awkwardness many of us feel when we are out of our normal context, in which our role is well defined. At work when you interact others usually your role is clear, because the interaction emerges from that context. At home you may be partner, neighbor, parent, coach, teacher, artist, etc. But at a conference context vanishes and no one knows “who” you are or what your role is. He suggests you see this situation as an opportunity instead of an uncomfortable feeling and try meeting people without relying on a role. Instead of being “somebody” just try being yourself and connecting with others on purely human, personal terms. So I’m going to try this idea on for size, and if I’m asking you personal questions when we meet, now you’ll know why!

    The time has come for another exciting INFORMS Conference!  It was this time last year that I fretted over the Federal Government Budget Showdown – and my ability to attend in Chicago hung on the decision.  This year – all lights are green and I’m ready to go.

    I am looking forward to a day full of tutorials on Sunday.  Data mining and cloud computing are big buzz words around the office these days.  I have lined up three tutorials that I think will help me understand the data mining world better.  However, I have to admit, I am tantalized by the Spreadsheet Guru Competition… am I good enough to compete?  Hmmm…

    One of the moments I most look forward to is the Edelman Award Gala.  There is a lot of good O.R. being done across the globe.  The best of the best will present their work for the chance to win O.R.’s most coveted award – the Edelman Prize.

    <ShamelessPlug> Since last year’s Analytics Conference in Chicago, I have become the secretary or the Rocky Mountain Chapter of INFORMS.  We are considering hosting an INFORMS Regional Conference at some point in the next few years.  Please let me know your thoughts about a Rocky Mountain Regional Conference! </ShamelessPlug>
    Thank You INFORMS
    by Jen Leong

    Let me tell you, INFORMS really knows how to pull off an amazing conference.  This is probably the 3rd Practice/Analytics conference I have been to.   If you have never been to one, you are missing out!

    The people you meet, the world class presentations, and the Edelman Competition are all worth every penny that you spend to get to this conference. Your head will explode with ideas , new information, and new contacts that you might even experience “Conference High” .

    Personally, I owe a lot to INFORMS for helping me get started and grow professionally in my OR career.

    I was convinced by the INFORMS Professional Colloquium that I had the skills and experience to transition from the military to an Operations Research career and then I was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton as an Operations Research Analyst through the Job Placement Service (JPS).

    This is why I give back my time to INFORMS through volunteering for the INFORMS Professional Colloquium and the Maryland Chapter as well as contribute to this blog.

    Whether you are a seasoned member or a new member, attending or not attending the conference, I do hope that you can see the value that INFORMS brings to your career by reading about our experiences at the conference.
    Decisions, Decisions
    by Freeman Marvin

    Sitting down with the conference schedule to plan my itinerary.  Bill Klimack, VP for Meetings, told me that this year there would be something for everyone, and boy, was he right!  On Monday, there are 11 tracks and on Tuesday there are 12 tracks. Each track has five talks; that’s 115 presentations.  If you wanted to see everything at the conference, it would take you 23 days!  My problem is that there are a number of talks I want to attend, but they are scheduled at the same time. I need to compare each possible conference itinerary with all the others to see which one I like the best. Does anyone know how many possible itineraries there are?

    I can’t wait to get to Huntington Beach.  I’m looking forward to connecting with colleagues and friends, both old and new.  And this conference is one of the best “idea generators” I’ve ever found.  I always come back with pages full of ideas (most of which I unfortunately never pursue!).

    If you’re anything like me, the biggest challenge with any good conference, like this one, is deciding which presentations to attend.  I’ve been attending the INFORMS Business Analytics (Practice) Conference for about 10 years, and the presentations seem to get better every year.  But that only makes it harder to decide which ones to see.  I spend most of my time doing Supply Chain work, but I’m often just as interested in topics outside of the Supply Chain tracks.  In fact, there’s hardly a time slot without two, three or even four presentations that I’d really like to see.  It certainly helps that we can see the presentation slides in advance (thank you INFORMS!).  They’re a good (not always great) indicator of presentation quality.  Clear writer = clear speaker?

    Here’s an optimization problem to ponder.  Wouldn’t it be great if each attendee could rate each presentation in terms of likely interest, and then have a scheduling algorithm create a schedule to maximize the total utility, i.e., people get to see the most presentations they’re interested in?  I know that might wreak havoc with the track structure.  In a simpler scenario, you could maintain the integrity of the tracks (which presentations go in which tracks), but just vary the scheduling of tracks and of presentations within tracks.  What do you think?

    California, Here We Come!
    by Freeman Marvin
    Getting excited this past weekend about the conference, I started to think about what I should pack in order to fit everything in one carry on bag.  “What do you think the weather will be like in L.A.?” I asked my wife.  She gave me one of those looks.  I explained that packing for the INFORMS Business Analytics Conference was a good opportunity to practice solving a knapsack problem.  “Are you going to a meeting or hiking the Sierra Nevadas?” she replied.  ”Well, I should bring a sweater at least, and my Speedos and goggles for the pool.  I will need my Boogie board for the beach, and probably could use my golf clubs.  And I need my skis and boots if I do have a chance to get up into the mountains.”  She folded her arms.  “What are you – Mary Poppins?”  “No, I just want to be prepared in case we have some free time.”  She thought for a moment.  “What problem are you trying to solve, Mr. Knapsack?”  I stood scratching my ear.   As she went out into the backyard, she added over her shoulder,  ”And please don’t wear those Speedos!”
    BTW, according to Wikipedia, “several attempts have been made to designate “California, Here I Come” as the official state song of California, especially after a resolution passed by the California State Legislature in 1951 designated “I Love You, California” as the state song. However, these attempts proved unsuccessful, as “I Love You, California” was officially declared the state song in 1988.”  Can’t wait to hear that one!

    I’m looking forward to the “second” INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research.  I had a really good time (and learned a few things) in Chicago last year.  Actually, it will be the third or fourth time that I will have attended this conference, if you count its’ previous incarnation, “the Practice Conference.”

    Between co-chairing the Public Sector track (with Arnie Greenland, from IBM), leading a “Birds-of-a-Feather” session, spending some time at the INFORMS booth to speak with visitors about the Analytics Certification initiative, and catching up with friends and colleagues, I hope to have some time to get out a bit and look around Huntington Beach.  See you there!

    Analytics Connect Career Program

    INFORMS premier, professional career event allows top analytics employers and seasoned and experienced professionals the ability to connect in a casual atmosphere.  The program offers:

    • Career fair and reception, Sunday, 5:30-7:00pm, Grand Ballroom D, open to all conference attendees.
      If you are in the market for a new position or simply want to discuss the profession’s job outlook, be sure to stop by the Analytics Connect career reception on Sunday, 5:30-7pm in Grand Ballroom D. At this reception you will meet with representatives and set up private interviews for Monday or Tuesday.
    • Job fair panel and breakfast, Monday, 7:00-8:00am, Royal Tern, ticketed event.
      Come by for breakfast and hear a panel of seasoned professionals from SAS and e2e Analytics discuss how to make the most of your talents in today’s business environment. This will be followed by an interactive Q&A.
    • On-site interview opportunities, Monday & Tuesday, 8:00am-5:00pm, Grand Ballroom D Foyer
      This service provides employers and applicants with a convenient, discreet venue for on-site interviews to explore opportunities in industry and government. Employers: onsite registration is available. To register, stop by the Analytics Connect desk on Sunday in Grand Ballroom D during the Career Fair and Reception or in the Grand Ballroom D Foyer on Monday and Tuesday.

    We’re delighted that you will be joining us for the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and O.R. in Huntington Beach, April 15-17. Please review this important information to help make the most of the conference.

    Hyatt Huntington Beach Resort & Spa
    All conference events will be held at Hyatt, 21500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, CA 72648; 1-714-698-1234.

    Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
    For complete information on travel to the hotel from three area airports (Orange County-John Wayne, Long Beach, and LAX), click here.  Super-Shuttle operates from all three airports.

    Registration Opens Sunday, 8:00am-7:00pm
    When you arrive, please come to the INFORMS registration desk just outside the Grand Ballroom to pick up your badge and registration materials. Registration hours on other days: Monday, 7:00am-6:30pm; Tuesday, 7:00am-3:00pm.

    Conference Schedule & Full Program Book
    You can download and print out a PDF of the final conference schedule, showing the day and time of all sessions and events, and/or the full program brochure here.   For the schedule, click on “Program Matrix.” For the full brochure, click on the picture of the brochure.

    Speakers’ Slides Available Now
    You can preview slides for most presentations now – a great way to make choices about which sessions to attend at the meeting.  Go here and click on “Conference Proceedings.”  You’ll need your user name and password to log in; this information was provided on your conference registration receipt or follow the instructions to retrieve the information.

    Blogs and Tweets: Conversation Already Started
    Scroll down on this page to read posts from our talented group of bloggers, and join the Twitter conversation by tweeting with hashtag #analytics2012

    New Attendee Reception
    If this is your first INFORMS Analytics Conference, we encourage you to stop by the New Attendee Reception for a brief orientation to the conference and the opportunity to connect with other first-timers and conference “veterans” in a small setting — Sunday, 6:00-7:00pm in the Catalina Room. This event is immediately followed by the Welcome Reception with exhibits, 7:00-8:30pm in Grand Ballroom ABC.

    Pre-Conference Technology Workshops – Sunday
    18 technology companies will offer workshops on Sunday; these are free to conference registrants. If you haven’t signed up yet and would like to attend, come by the INFORMS registration desk to see if space is still available. Details here.

    Soft-Skills Workshop, Sunday
    This full-day program provides information and practice in using the “soft skills” needed to work with business decision makers and analytics users. If you haven’t signed up yet and would like to attend, come by the INFORMS registration desk to see if space is still available. Details here.

    Panel: Innovation and Big Data
    In this special session on Monday afternoon, a panel of industry and academic experts will explore the excitement, promise and challenge of big data analytics. Moderator is the noted futurist Thornton May, Executive Director, IT Leadership Academy.  Panelists are: Diego Klabjan, Northwestern; Thomas Olavson, Google; Daniel Graham, Teradata; Blake Johnson, Stanford; and Michael Zeller, Zementis.  This session is sponsored by INFORMS and the Industry Studies Association under a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

    Poster Sessions
    We’re serving up a delectable afternoon dessert each day…along with real-world case studies of O.R. in action.  Thirty poster presentations each day will give you an inside look at analytics work across a wide range of industries, problems and solutions.

    Analytics Connect Career Program
    Our second annual professional job event, Analytics Connect, will be held at the Conference. Attendees of the conference receive free access. We’re planning a career fair reception, private interviews, and industry job search panel. Come to the career fair reception on Sunday evening to browse or to set up personal interviews for Monday or Tuesday. The following employers have confirmed so far:, Caterpillar, Chevron, Disney, Enova Financial, FedEx Revenue Management, IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mu-Sigma, Nestle, Oracle Labs, PROS Revenue Management, Quintiq, Travelers.

    Networking Events
    Many opportunities for networking are built right into the program. Roundtable discussions, facilitated by INFORMS leaders and conference speakers, will be held during lunch on Monday and Tuesday.  A birds-of-a-feather session on Monday afternoon focuses on specific topics (this is one of the most popular aspects of the conference). Bring plenty of business cards!

    Spreadsheet Guru Competition
    This fast-paced competition will kick off Sunday at 2:00pm, offering an opportunity to face test your spreadsheet chops against pre-qualified contestants from around the world via web as well as contestants onsite.  For information and to register, click here.

    Edelman Award Ceremony and Banquet
    This gala celebration on Monday evening will honor the very best in applied operations research, as we salute past Edelman competitors, the 2012 finalists and announce the 2012 winner. Winners of the INFORMS Prize, Daniel H. Wagner Prize, and the new UPS George D. Smith Prize will also be recognized.  All seating will be reserved. You will receive a voucher in your registration packet, which you must exchange for a ticket during the day on Monday. At that time, you’ll also be asked to select a table. We’ll provide all the details on how to do this at the conference.

    Certification? Scott Nestler will Discuss in INFORMS Booth
    You’ve probably heard that INFORMS is going to offer certification in 2013. We’ve talked about it for years, but now it’s finally going to happen. What you may not realize is that it is analytics certification, not O.R. certification. Stop by the INFORMS booth during the break on Monday 10:00-10:30am to learn more about INFORMS’ certification program. Certification Task Force member Scott Nestler will be on hand to explain what this means to you.

    Exhibits and Software Tutorials
    Check out the listing of exhibitors and abstracts for 24 software tutorials here.

    What to Wear
    Dress during the day and for the Sunday receptions is business casual. For the Edelman Awards Gala & Banquet on Monday evening, jacket and tie is preferred for men; women should dress for fine restaurant dining. We recommend that you check the weather online before traveling, and bring a sweater or light jacket. Even though we’ll be in beautiful southern California, some events, such as lunches, will be held outside.  In addition, no matter how warm it may be outside, hotel meeting rooms are often chilly!

    Please let us know if you have questions. We look forward to seeing you in Huntington Beach!; 1-800-446-3676 or 1-443-757-3592.

    Top Industry Keynoters

    Hal Varian Hal Varian
    Chief Economist
    Bob Page Bob Page
    Vice President,
    Analytics Platform
    • Get a broad, practical introduction to descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics.
    • Learn from the best of high-impact operations research applications.
    • Refresh your analytical skills and update your professional toolkit.
    • Learn “soft skills” that are critical to persuading decision makers to rely on analytics and users to implement analytics.
    • Meet experts and colleagues to share topics on applying analytics to solve real-world problems.

    Intensive, In-Depth, Real-World, Strategic

    • 20 focused tracks, 100 outstanding talks, 50 poster presentations and much more.
    • Analytics Connect Job Fair: Meet with employers from a wide variety of industries and sectors seeking new talent for their organizations.
    • Soft Skills Workshop: full-day, intensive, case-based workshop held Sunday, April 17, provides you with skills that can make or break a successful implementation.
    • Technology Workshops: In-depth training from leading solution providers, free to conference registrants.
    • Birds of a Feather: Facilitated discussion groups that provide structured networking around cutting-edge topics.
    • INFORMS Professional Colloquium: Intensive career guidance for practice-oriented master’s and doctoral students.
    • Richard E. Rosenthal Young Researcher Connection: Exclusive networking program for junior faculty and young industry practitioners.
    • Executive Forum: Special program tailored for senior executives provides a bottom-line understanding of how analytics is used to drive better business decisions.

    Thanks to Our Sponsors
    SAS Tauber SAS
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