I arrived at INFORMS today a week into a new job, which means I’m wearing a different hat than I’ve worn at all previous Analytics conferences I’ve attended, and this change introduces a different perspective. I’ve taken off my “vendor” hat bearing SAS’ name and instead donned an industry hat, “health care,” for the University of North Carolina Health Care System. Within the large health care system I’m working in a “startup,” Enterprise Analytics and Data Sciences (we’re less than a year old), as the Director of Analytical Consulting Services. This transition means I’m adjusting to the new pair of glasses that came with the hat as I prepare for our busy few days in Las Vegas.
What looks different? Well, I always map out my agenda in advance, and my session choices reflect an interest in what I can bring back to the job, which is now specific to health care. I’m still very much learning what this means, as I’m new to health care. I know that at their root analytical methods are mostly industry-agnostic: a risk score is a risk score, regardless of whether it predicts risk of default or disease. But anything directly related to health care is high on my list, as is connecting with others who work in this sector and can share their experiences. For example, I always enjoy attending sessions in the Edelman track, but this year I’m especially looking forward to the presentation by the American Red Cross (with assistance from Georgia Tech) on using analytics to improve blood collection methods.
Another difference is my perspective on “soft skills.” In my previous role, I was an evangelist for SAS software, so my interest in soft skills was primarily as it related to customer software adoption. But these skills now have more immediate relevance, because I lead one of the three teams within our group: Analytical Consulting Services (the other two functions are Analytical Solution Development and Data Governance). At this point “team” is an aspiration: my first priority is hiring, because today the “team” consists of me, and I need to ramp up fast. I’ll be working on a job description on the flight back. So as you can imagine, the session “Building and Maintaining a High Functioning Analytics Department” by a speaker from Netflix is on my agenda. And since I certainly want to succeed, I also plan on attending “It’s Not About the Math: Common Causes of Failure in Analytic Organizations” by a speaker from Siemens.
Wearing a new pair of glasses always brings with it adjustment. Already in typing this post I’ve had to change a reference to SAS from first person to third person! So if you see me squinting a bit it’s because I’m seeing the world through lenses I’ve only worn for a week (and I wore the previous pair from SAS for nearly 17 years). But I know at least one thing that hasn’t changed: I enjoy attending this conference as a way to catch up with friends and make new ones. I always like meeting new people, because I’ve learned so much from those I’ve met through INFORMS, regardless of whether they were students or professionals, and independent of industry.
Postscript: Even though I’m a two-time University of North Carolina (UNC) graduate, and now back as an employee of our health care system, I confess to a heresy for basketball fans. During a total of six years as a student I never once attended a game in the “Dean Dome.” But traveling through the airport today I can’t help but notice the disproportionate number of people showing their school colors (although I did have to ask when the game was scheduled), so I’ll give a shout-out to my alma mater appearing in tomorrow night’s NCAA final and say “Go Heels!”