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Making the Connection Between Analytics and OR

by Polly Mitchell-Guthrie on November 10th, 2014

This was the title of the panel discussion I attended this afternoon, and it was a great discussion. Any discussion where the facilitator (Jack Levis from UPS) prompts the panel by giving each a cupcake (in case it got too contentious) and bottle of tequila (in case it was too tame) is going to be good.

The panelists included Glenn Wegryn (retired from Procter and Gamble), Russ Labe (Bank of America), and Anne Robinson (Verizon Wireless and former INFORMS President), who would have been plenty interesting on their own, even without cupcake and tequila prompts. Jack asked great questions, kicking off by asking if there is a difference between analytics and OR. Russ said that the business just wants their problem solved – they don’t care whether you all it analytics or OR. Glenn sees analytics as a perspective – that it’s a way to present information, including visualization; that it provides a better way to have civil conversations with IT; and a better framework to describe this work (descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive). Anne thinks OR is a tool in the toolbox but that analytics is an entire process.

Jack highlighted a Gartner survey that found that 70% of businesses say they do descriptive analytics; 16% do predictive analytics, but only 3% are in the historic INFORMS realm of prescriptive analytics. Anne said this is a great opportunity for INFORMS. Jack asked for opinions into the data scientist phenomenon and where it fits in. To Russ it seems like analytics done from an IT perspective but is unsure it will last. Glenn is unsure of it, too, but regardless of what it is called he finds he needs roles on successful teams: a business person who can identify opportunities by knowing enough analytics to be dangerous, quants, and data engineers (who can do things like wrangle data out of ERP systems). Anne’s shop is small enough that she needs people with all three skills, although this combination is admittedly hard to find.

Someone commented that analytics has been around for more than 50 years, so the only new thing is what we call it. To which Glenn added that when he was first hired at P&G 30 years ago his title was “Analytical Analyst,” which was really just a cover for doing OR.

So how do you know if someone can do analytics and OR, or if they can just make pivot tables? Analytics certification is one way, and this is an initiative INFORMS has gotten behind. In fact, that’s a segue to a session I’m chairing tomorrow on the Whats Whys and Hows of Analytics Certification. It’s at 11:00 tomorrow morning, so this body on east coast time better get to bed!

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