Conference Preview: Practice Makes Perfect
Preview of the 2009 INFORMS Conference on O.R. Practice, a “must-make” for any analyst.
By Peter Horner and Terry Cryan
What: 2009 INFORMS Conference on O.R. Practice: “Applying Science to the Art of Business”
When: April 26-28, 2009
Where: Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, Phoenix, Ariz.
Information and registration: www.informs.org/Conf/Practice09
The INFORMS Conference on O.R. Practice, set for April 26-28, 2009 in Phoenix, Ariz., more than lives up to its name. Designed by practitioners for practitioners involved in the task of “applying science to the art of business,” the conference will bring together analysts of all stripes and interests for an intensive, high-value and diversified program.
From forecasting to financial analysis, from supply chain management to digital marketing, the conference has spanned the spectrum of analytical interest areas with a series of presentations from recognized world leaders in their respective fields. Supply chain, finance, healthcare and sustainability are among the many “hot topics” under consideration for the upcoming conference. The 2009 program – a total of approximately 80 sessions grouped into eight focused tracks a day for two days – will once again make the INFORMS Practice Conference the one “must make” event of the year for analysts of every persuasion.
The key to the conference’s ongoing success is its Advisory Council, an all-star line-up of practitioners and academics drawn from leading companies and universities (see box). The council is responsible for developing the topic tracks, inviting speakers and organizing the series of presentations that comprise the heart of the conference.
Along with its world-class presentations and plenary speakers, the conference is well-known for its unparalleled networking events such as the “Birds of a Feather” gatherings and luncheons, which give attendees face-to-face time with industry leaders and fellow practitioners in their respective interest areas.
Other special events scheduled for this year include the INFORMS Professional Colloquium (real-world career guidance for practice-oriented graduate students), Soft Skills Workshop (real-world “people” skills for decision analysts and OR/MS professionals) and the Richard E. Rosenthal Young Practitioner Connection (introduces junior faculty and young industry practitioners to well-established researchers and practitioners).
As far as special events are concerned, the conference highlight is no doubt the annual Edelman Competition and Awards Gala that honors in spectacular fashion the world’s best examples of applied operations research and management science. Recent winners of the Edelman Award include Netherlands Railways, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Warner Robins Air Logistics, General Motors, Motorola and UPS.
Put it all together and you have a conference that, from just about any analyst’s point of view, can’t be missed. For more information on the conference, see http://meetings.informs.org/Conf/Practice09/.
Analytics in Action
“I’ve attended every INFORMS Practice Conference since 2001, and in my opinion, it is the best place to see analytics in action,” says Zahir Balaporia, director of Decision Engineering at Schneider National, Inc. and the chairperson of this year’s council. “It’s also the best place to meet my counterparts in other companies and industries and swap thoughts and ideas. I’m particularly interested in hearing where folks are succeeding or struggling in integrating operations research into corporate decision-making.”
Balaporia notes that last year he set up a benchmarking visit with United Parcel Service thanks to contacts and relationships he had developed over the years at the conference.
One of those UPS contacts, Jack Levis, is another member of this year’s conference advisory council. “The O.R. people I meet through INFORMS at the Practice Conference are some of the smartest and most talented people I know,” says Levis, director of Package Process Management at UPS. “They have a great technical and business sense and are very creative. I believe that my organization and I gain a lot of benefit by hearing what they are working on and approaches they have used to solve real-world business problems.
“For that reason, half of the UPS people who come to the Practice Conference are not O.R. practitioners. They are business people who need to see a different perspective for creating plans and making decisions.” Karl Kempf, director of Decision Technologies at Intel Corporation and another member of the Advisory Council, considers the diversity of topics and attendees at the INFORMS Practice Conference one of its greatest strengths.
“While the specific problems differ from one industry to another, we have at least two things in common,” Kempf says. “First, there are decision algorithms that have broad applicability, and we learn a lot from each other in seeing the technical details of implementations in other industries. Second – and for me the most important – we all face very similar non-technical problems and gain great benefit from hearing about how we have overcome them.
“Convincing some people that there are decision algorithms that can help them make faster, better decisions is a problem that every decision scientist faces regardless of the industry they work in. Couching the problem so that both the business people and the technical folks can discuss it is often difficult, as is delivering what sometimes is a sophisticated solution so that it fits into a current business practice and the business people can understand it enough to have confidence in it. That is the reason I attend every year.”
Asked what makes the conference so valuable, Kempf ticks off a laundry list of benefits. “One facet is the size of the conference; it’s kept intentionally small and focused on practice,” he says. “Another is the effort put into selecting track topics that are meaningful to the audience and attracting the best speakers on those topics. Then there are the networking events on every day of the conference, from a reception to orient first-time attendees to birds-of-a-feather sessions to seating at lunch by industry group.
“The point of all of this is to put attendees together with folks they can and should network with and give them high-quality, timely content to talk about – the richest possible learning experience.”
Business Trends, Pressures
When asked their thoughts about the role of analytics in the business world in general these days – trends and pressures, challenges and triumphs, frustrations and successes –Balaporia, Levis and Kempf offer further insight into both the formal presentations and casual conversations attendees can expect to experience at the upcoming INFORMS Practice Conference.
“While building and solving complex problems will always be a challenge, I focus more on the implementation challenge,” Balaporia says. “I appreciate mathematical elegance and sophistication, but value delivered after implementation is what counts at the end of the day. And that implementation challenge/problem is just as hard to solve.
“The conference gives me the opportunity to connect with folks who might help me, and that’s great. Or I might be able to help them, and that’s great too. If we have the same problem and can’t help each other, then that’s group therapy and that’s feels good, too.”
Adds Levis: “Many companies have been applying technology to improve their business for a number of years. UPS, like these other companies, is starting to run out of the ‘low hanging fruit’ that technology alone provides. To take the next step, advanced analysis, decision support and optimization are required.”
“The tougher the market, the tougher the competition, the more you need to make the best use of every scrap of information you can glean,” sums up Kempf. “The same goes for all of the experimental knowledge that you and all of your colleagues inside the company and all of your collaborators outside the company can muster. Those with the best knowledge and information – and the best analytics to use them to make the fastest and best decisions – win!”
Conference Advisory Council
Zahir Balaporia (council chair) Director of Decision Engineering, Schneider National, Inc.
Miguel Anjos Associate Professor, Management Sciences, University of Waterloo
Ronald Askin Professor and Chair of Industrial Engineering, Arizona State University
Thomas Dong Director, Product Management and Product Marketing, Optimization Product Line, ILOG, Inc.
Markus Ettl Manager, Supply Chain Analytics and Architecture, IBM Research
John Fowler Professor, Operations Research and Production Systems, Arizona State University
Mary Helander Research Scientist, Mathematical Science, IBM Research
David R. Heltne Managing Consultant, Lakeside Technology Associates
Shailendra Jain Research Manager, Hewlett- Packard Laboratories
Karl G. Kempf Director of Decision Technologies, Intel Corporation
Erica Klampfl Technical Expert, Supply Chain Management Research Group, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering
William Klimack Senior Consultant, Decision Strategies, Inc.; Colonel, U.S. Army (retired)
Eva Lee Director, Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Healthcare, Georgia Institute of Technology
David R. Leonhardi Decision Consultant, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group
Jack Levis Director of Package Process Management, UPS
Alex Meeraus President, GAMS Development Corp.
Asim Roy Professor of Operations Research and Information Systems, Arizona State University
Sanjay Saigal President, Intechné
Marius M. Solomon Professor, College of Business Administration, Northeastern University
Charles Standridge Assistant Dean, Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, Grand Valley State University
Stephen A. Strauss Principal Technical Staff Member, AT&T Laboratories
Sean P. Willems Associate Professor, Boston University; Co-Founder, Optiant, Inc.
James Williams Manager, Operations Research, Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Michael Zeimer Senior Engineer, Schneider National, Inc.
Call for Presentations
The INFORMS Conference on O.R. Practice has earned a reputation for high-quality, invited presentations directed to a “listener” audience. For the 2009 conference, conference organizers are expanding the reach of speaker invitations to a broad spectrum of practitioners and academics. Accepted submissions will be incorporated into the program in a special track.
The Selection Committee encourages submission of proposals for review. Both presentation content and speaking expertise will be considered in selection, with priority given to real-world business topics and high-quality academic work geared to real situations.
Speakers selected through this process will receive a discount of up to 50 percent off the registration fee along with other benefits.
The deadline for submissions is Dec. 5. Complete details on submitting a presentation proposal are available on the conference Web site: www.informs.org/Conf/Practice09.
Questions? Contact: Teresa Cryan
Phone: 800-343-0062 or 401-722-2595 ext. 210
Top 10 Reasons to Attend the INFORMS Conference on O.R. Practice
1. Get a cross-industry view of high-impact analytics applications in the real world.
2. Help decision-makers in your company understand the value of analytics as a competitive driver.
3. Learn from best practices in using analytics to optimize business processes and make fact-based business decisions.
4. Sharpen your skills in quantitative methodologies and technologies.
5. Enjoy extensive, organized and facilitated networking opportunities.
6. Celebrate the best of analytics at the Edelman Awards Gala.
7. Take away slides sets for every talk on the program to share with your team and colleagues who couldn’t attend.
8. Be a star and conduct a follow up presentation for your department on current trends, best practices and innovative strategies.
9. Research vendors and suppliers for new products and services, potential savings and new ideas.
10. Take advantage of technical workshops that provide software solutions explained in the context of business.
Meet Some Members of the Advisory Council
We asked a trio of Advisory Council members to tell us a little about themselves, their work and how analytics and operations research figure into their respective company’s operations. Here are the responses:
Karl Kempf Fellow and Director of Decision Technologies at Intel Corporation
We have had an OR/MS group at Intel for over 20 years. Considering that Intel is a mid-echelon design and manufacturing company, our “Decision Technologies” group has collaborated with almost every facet of the business including factory design, ramp up and operation. The group is involved with structured contracts with our equipment and materials suppliers, product supply chain including production and inventory planning, and most recently multi-year product planning roadmaps.
The majority of our current effort is focused on product demand forecasting and using pricing to better manage demand.
The Decision Technologies group is a centralized entity that works in close collaboration with key personnel in our various business groups to identify the most important problems to address. We incrementally build and deliver sustainable solutions with the goal of fitting these individual solutions over time into a system that is much more than the sum of the parts.
Zahir Balaporia Director of Decision Engineering, Schneider National, Inc.
I lead the Decision Engineering group at Schneider National, Inc., a premier provider of transportation, logistics and related services. One of our proudest moments was being part of the team that won the 2006 INFORMS Prize for our use of OR/MS across the organization over the last 20 years. The group specializes in the application of optimization, simulation and statistical techniques to develop models for operational, tactical and strategic decision support.
A sample of our current projects includes optimized driver dispatch for intermodal drayage, pricing engine development and implementation and marketing analytics for lead generation and customer retention.
I have 14 years of experience in supply chain analysis, business process design and manufacturing operations analysis. Before coming to Schneider, I was manager of Operations Research for a food ingredients manufacturing company.
As director of Supply Chain Engineering at Schneider Logistics, I worked on numerous external consulting engagements that spanned a variety of industries and geographies.
Jack Levis Director of Package Process Management, United Parcel Service
I have been with UPS for over 32 years. I started as a part-time employee loading packages while I was going to school. I eventually became a part-time supervisor in an operation.
After graduation (with a non-engineering degree), UPS interviewed me for a full-time management position. At the interview, I was asked what job I preferred, and I said Industrial Engineering. The engineering manager was at the interview and agreed to teach me to be an engineer at UPS. That was in 1981.
Since then, I have held many engineering and operations positions within the company and worked in multiple cities and states. I had an aptitude for developing and using technology, which was rare in the late 1980s. In 1990, I was asked to join the corporate engineering staff as a business owner for a number of technology projects.
By the mid-1990s I had my first real exposure to O.R. when I was asked to evaluate whether UPS should disband the group. They had been in existence for 10 years at that point and had provided no real benefit to the organization.
Because of my blend of operations, engineering and technical experience, I saw that O.R. could provide benefit to the organization if properly channeled and aimed at the right projects.
The recommendation was to keep the group (for two more years), and I was asked to add the management of O.R. to my responsibilities. From that point on, we focused O.R. on delivering real results. We moved their focus from theory to practice and they started delivering measurable benefit.
O.R. is now positioned within the Engineering business function and no longer is part of the I.T. organization. That has helped the group stay close to the business issues facing the company. O.R. is now a thriving group within UPS. When a new operations system is being proposed, there are O.R. components specified from the start. O.R. is used in nearly all areas of the business including pickup and delivery planning, transportation planning and scheduling, and airline planning and scheduling.