INFORMS Annual Conference  

INFORMS Annual Meeting 2012, Phoenix, AZ, October 14-17

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Managing flows

by Guillaume Roels on October 17th, 2012

I have to say that I am quite impressed with the management of the flows of people during the conference. The conference seems to be much bigger than in the previous years. There are 73 sessions per time slot, 4 time slots/ day, and 4 days of conference, which gives us a total of 1168 sessions. With 4 talks scheduled per session, that should give us more than 4,000 talks overall. This is a record, isn’t it?

If the number of attendees is proportional to the number of talks, this should then be one of the largest INFORMS conferences ever. What is impressive is that everybody I have met seems to have been able to have found a hotel room near the convention center, the lines are never too long (even at the highly attractive Starbucks after lunch), there are plenty of food options for lunch within reasonable walking distance, taxis are always available, etc.

Applying the Number 1 principle of queuing theory, it must be that Phoenix has a lot of slack capacity. This is a blessing for this conference. I have terrible memories of other past conference locations (I won’t name them) in which all nearby hotels were booked, the minimum wait for a cab was at least 1/2 hour, and restaurants were so packed at lunchtime that we had to walk several miles to find something to eat. Although Phoenix doesn’t have as many museums as New York or Chicago (but who would spend time in a museum while there are so many interesting talks going on?), I believe that access and convenience should be important criteria for choosing a particular conference location.

Access and convenience are important dimensions for service innovation. Some service companies have differentiated themselves on that dimension. For instance, Virgin Airlines is offering complimentary limo services (to eligible customers) to transfer from and to airports. Although limo services may seem to lie outside the scope of the airlines business, it is actually an integral part of the business of transporting people from Point A to Point B, which is I suppose the way Virgin positions itself. Similarly, the conference organizers could have limited themselves to offering an interesting program, but it is quite remarkable that they have also adopted a more global view on the “conference experience” and picked a location that had the capacity to host such a large crowd without creating excessive waits. Congratulations!

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