Getting ready for Charlotte, and first blog entry there

I am getting ready for the INFORMS Conference coming up next week in Charlotte.  As I generally do, I will be guest blogging at the conference (along with more than a dozen others: great lineup this year!), so my blog entries will appear there (often with a copy showing up here).  I have put together my first entry, entitled “Hoisted on Operations Research’s Petard” (a petard is a small bomb;  if a military engineer had his bomb explode prematurely, he would be hoisted into the air):

For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4

I am greatly looking foward to this year’s INFORMS Annual Conference in Charlotte.  There is nothing like getting together with 4000 of my closest friends, raising many a coffee (and other liquids) in toasting the successes of our field.

I could see the successes of operations research over the last couple of days as I tried to change my flights and hotel in reaction to some family issues.  I had booked everything months ago, paying a pittance for the flight and getting the conference rate for the hotel.  Of course, trying to rebook things three days in advance was a different story:  $150 change fees, along with quadrupling of airfare was the opening bid, with the opportunity to pay about six times the airfare if I wanted to fly at a time when humans are normally awake.   And I’m not sure why this happened, but the hotel took the chance to increase my daily rate by $10, even though I just knocked a day off my reservation.  The conference suddenly became a lot more expensive, just because my wife pointed out that if I don’t rake the leaves on Saturday, when will it ever get done!

I know who to blame for all this:  operations research, of course.  The subfield of “Revenue Management” makes change fees and differential pricing a science.  And that field is one of the great success stories of operations research, as shown by such things as the string of Edelman finalists that focus on revenue management.  So, while I rue the extra expense that operations research has caused me, I can take solace in knowing that I will eventually gain far more due to the overall success of our field.

See you in Charlotte!


Getting ready for INFORMS Business Analytics and OR conference

I’m getting ready for next week’s INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research. Looks like the renaming (from the INFORMS Practice Conference) has had an effect: the conference has gotten record registration (more than 600).

Getting ready for a conference is not just tossing some clothes in a suitcase. Keeping up my social networking responsibilities is a lot of work! I’ve changed my blog page to highlight the feed from the INFORMS Conference blog (where I will guest blog for a few days). We’ve started a discussion on the appropriate twitter-tag (I like #baor11). I’ve contacted some friends for suggestions of a brewpub to visit (Goose Island on Clybourn seems to be a good choice). Above all that, I have to read (thoroughly!) the papers associated with the Edelman competition, where I am a judge.

I have done my first post for the INFORMS Blog. Here is what I wrote:

I fly out to the Analytics conference in a few days. By some weird happenstance, I have never flown with Southwest before, but I am doing so on Saturday. In view of the issues Southwest is having, I need to do a bit of risk analysis. I really wish I could attend the risk analysis track before I get on the plane, instead of after I arrive.

Fortunately, Arnie Barnett (operations research go-to guy for aviation risk analysis) has provided insight into the risks. I think I’ll be OK with Southwest.

Great Way to Get to The INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research

I am very much looking forward to attending this year’s INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research (formally the INFORMS Practice Conference).  I am a judge for the Edelmans, so I will be spending Monday watching the presentations and asking tough questions (“Wow, did you really save $200 million?  That’s so cool!”).  I’ll also be attending some of the Technology Workshops on Sunday, and will attend other presentations on Tuesday.

Over the last few years, I have scrabbled together some funds to support sending some of the Tepper MBA students to the conference (thanks Tepper Administration for all of your support!), and they always come back raving about the conference and the field.  I expect this year to be no different:  we’ll have four students in our business analytics track (at least!) at the conference.

Two of the students will be attending the Professional Colloquium, a day-long program for Masters and PhD students who are transitioning into real-world careers.   I always worry when I suggest this to MBAs since the professional skills and insight into organizations that the day provides are the same skills an MBA provides (and which are more commonly lacking in normal masters programs in operations research).  Will they get enough out of the day? But every MBA who has attended the Colloquium has loved it:  the speakers provide insights into success from the perspective of operations research/business analytics professionals.  For many of the students who have attended, this is a life-changing experience.  I see that one of my students from a couple of years ago thinks enough of this to be part of this year’s organizing committee!

Whether you are a business analytics-oriented MBA, a Masters of OR or IE, or a Doctoral student (or a recent graduate in any of these areas), I can’t recommend the program highly enough.  And, while the registration fee of $375 might not seem cheap, it really is a steal, since it includes participation in the full conference as well as the Colloquium.  There are some limited support funds from the Colloquium committee, but this is the sort of activity that your school really should be supporting (and even if not, this is a great investment in your career).

Applications are due March 25, so get going if you want to be part of this!

Entry on “INFORMS TweetUp”

I posted on the INFORMS blog about the “INFORMS TweetUP”:

There are lots of ways to get out information on the INFORMS conference.  This blog is one of them, and it has been great to see the variety of views of the conference.  Of course, with more than 4300 participants, there will be lots of variety in how the conference is seen.

For an even more immediate view of responses to the conference, be sure to track the “#informs2010″ tag on Twitter.  A bunch of us who tweet and use that tag had an impromptu get together this afternoon.  Look for more tweets during the armadillo racing tonight!

Here are the twitter ids (I think! Corrections welcome): @mlesz1 (@informs2010), @dianam, @wjcook, @johnangelis, @miketrick, @polybot, @SDamask

INFORMS Blog entry on “Overbooking, Revenue Management, and Data Mining”

I have an entry over on the INFORMS blog regarding overbooking of hotels.  Here it is, though I recommend following the INFORMS blog for the next few days:

Fellow blogger Guillaume Roels wrote that the hotel he reserved overbooked, so he has been exiled to a remote location and he bemoaned the lack of customer service in this transaction.  Something similar was obviously going on in my hotel, the Hilton (the main hotel for the conference).  Throughout the checkin yesterday, the desk clerks were looking for volunteers to be exiled, offering various incentives (”Free transportation! A drink vouncher! Big, big discounts, just for you!”) for people to move.  They weren’t getting any takers while I was there, so I fear the late check-ins were similarly sent off to the boondocks.

I bet the hotels got into a mess because they misestimated the number of people who showed up (or overestimated the “melt”: people who canceled in the final week or two).  If they simply took an average “no show” or “cancel in the last week” rate, I bet conference participants do so at a much lower rate.  After all, the vast majority of us have preregistered for the conference, so late cancellation means forfeiting some or all of the conference registration fee.  We have great incentives to figure out early whether we are going to be here or not.  And, perhaps people in OR or other analytic fields tend to not cancel or cancel earlier due to the organized, steel-trap-like minds we all have!  We know what we are doing, so we don’t cancel in the last week.

Of course, whether or not that is true is an empirical question, and one that can be best answered by data mining methods.  Over the course of drinks last night, a senior researcher for a large business analytics firm pointed out the disconnect we have in our field between data mining and optimization.  Often (though not always), these are seem as two phases of the “operations research process”.  Instead, there is a need for much better integration between these approaches.  Data mining should be constantly in use predicting cancellations and melt, driving the revenue management optimization approaches.

For those who were bumped by the hotels last night, you have my sympathies.  Perhaps during your rides into the conference, you can plan how to integrate data mining and revenue management better in order to let hotels avoid these issues in the future.

Time for another INFORMS Conference

It is that time of the year again:  it is the Annual INFORMS Conference, being held for the first time in Austin, Texas.  Should be a fun time, and it is certainly warmer there than it is here in Pittsburgh.

INFORMS has a conference blog going, so I’ll be posting there for a bit (with a copy over here).  I’ve also put a feed in the sidebar here that includes both the blog and and  #informs2010 tweets.

I hope to see many of you in Austin.  I’ll be at the 8AM session that Laura McLay has put together on Social Networks and Operations Research, so perhaps that is a good meetup session!

The End of the INFORMS Practice Conference …

and the start of the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research.

The INFORMS Practice Conference has long been one of my favorite conferences.  In addition to the inspirational Edelman Competition presentations, the organizers do a great job of identifying presenters for a range of industries, illustrating the wide applicability of operations research.  The conference is on a much more manageable scale than the INFORMS Annual Meeting (or EURO meetings) and is typically held in an interesting location.

The INFORMS blog  has just announced that the name for this conference series will change to the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research.  Business analytics is a term that has gained a lot of recognition recently (we recently added a track to our MBA program called “business analytics”).  INFORMS has a pretty good definition of the term:

Business analytics facilitates realization of business objectives through reporting of data to analyze trends, creating predictive models for forecasting and optimizing business processes for enhanced performance.

While all of those aspects are “operations research” it is that last phrase “optimizing business processes” that really links business analytics to the OR/MS world. Previous approaches like “business intelligence” did not really integrate aspects of optimizing business processes.  But with this definition “business analytics” really is “operations research” and vice-versa.

I have struggled with the adoption of the phrase “business analytics”.  INFORMS (and its founding organizations ORSA and TIMS) has had innumerable discussions on what our field should be named and even now INFORMS embeds two alternatives: Operations Research and Management Science, the ORMS of INFORMS.  Do we need another name?  And there are aspects of “business analytics” that seem to me to be a stretch to call operations research:  once you start tossing in dashboards and scorecards and the rest of the buzzwords, I start racing back to my safe world of cutting planes and submodular functions.  But it is all about using data and models to make better decisions.  And if the market likes “business analytics” then I’m good with it.

I worry about the longevity of the term.  Will this term last or in five years will it feel like “e-business” does today?  It does strike me as a term that has the chance of being around for a while, particularly if it is embraced by organizations like INFORMS.

One big problem for the phrase:  there is no good phrase to identify those that do it.  “Business analysts” is not right:  analyst comes from analysis, not analytics.  “Business analytickers?”  I think not.  On the other hand, “operations research” has that problem too.  “Operations researchers” just doesn’t sound right.

So I am good with the title.  However, can we call it the “INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research”, its official name, not the “INFORMS Analytics Conference” as given in the INFORMS blog title?  Including the “operations research” name is going to be important to the branding of this conference.  At least as far as us ORers are concerned.

Exciting Times for the INFORMS Meeting

Lots of great things are being planned for the upcoming INFORMS Meeting. Let me highlight two.

First, there is a wonderful series of panel discussions planned (if I say so myself:  I organized this particular track).  The idea is to explore issues of professional interest (rather than technical tracks, which are interesting in their own right but not what we were aiming for here).   I previously asked for advice and feedback on topics, and ended up finding some great panel organizers.  Here is the list we ended up with:

Sunday Nov 07, 08:00 – 09:30 : Panel Discussion: Social Networking and Operations Research
Chair: Laura McLay
Sunday Nov 07, 13:30 – 15:00 : Panel Discussion: OR in Engineering Schools
Chair: Mark Daskin
Monday Nov 08, 08:00 – 09:30 : Panel Discussion: INFORMS Journals
Chair: Terry Harrison
Tuesday Nov 09, 08:00 – 09:30 : Joint Session Invited Panels /JFIG: Success as a Junior Faculty
Chair: Burcu Keskin
Tuesday Nov 09, 11:00 – 12:30 : Panel Discussion: Operations Research/Management Science in Business Schools
Chair: Jeff Camm
Tuesday Nov 09, 13:30 – 15:00 : Panel Discussion: Academic Administration and Operations Research/ Management Science: A Good Combination?
Chair: Cynthia Barnhart
Tuesday Nov 09, 16:30 – 18:00 : Panel Discussion: Skills and Career Paths in Industry
Chair: Ranganath Nuggehalli

I think there is nice variety in the topics.  I am particularly looking forward to the session on social networks.   Laura McLay, Aurelie Thiele, Anna Nagurney, and Wayne Winston will discuss how twitter, facebook, blogs and so on can be used in the operations research world.  Sounds like a great way to start of the conference.  I’ll definitely be there live tweeting/blogging.

The second big activity I am looking forward to is “Forrest-Fest”.  I am a big fan of COIN-OR, the open source initiative in operations research (for a few more weeks, I sit on its Strategic Leadership Board).  John Forrest was one of the key people in the founding of COIN, and continues to play an extremely active role in code development and debugging.  John is “retiring” from IBM;  COIN-OR is turning 10 years old.  The combination is obvious!  It is time for a famous COIN-OR Party!  You can check out their extensive set of talks at their wiki.  The COIN-OR reception is always enjoyable, and is promised to be “thoroughly optimized”.  I do worry the shape of people Monday morning:  robustness constraints are often ignored during the Sunday reception.

Between the program and the city of Austin, I am very much looking forward to the conference.  I hope to see many of you there!

ALIO/INFORMS Talk on Benders

My talk at the ALIO/INFORMS Conference in Buenos Aires was on combinatorial benders’ approaches to hard problems.  I really think this approach is an important one that is not yet utilized enough.  You can get the talk here (apologies for the powerpoint:  I wanted to convert to beamer but was too latex-stupid to get things done quickly enough).  A paper on benders for sports scheduling is here, while one for transportation planning will be added when I get back.

The talk went well, I thought:  people seemed engaged, and I had fun giving the talk.  No wireless mike, so I opted to go without a microphone, so I hope those in the back could hear me.  Generally I prefer if people use microphones, but this was not the first time I did not take my own advice.

Off to Buenos Aires

I am off on Friday to Buenos Aires (via Atlanta)  for the ALIO/INFORMS conference.  I am giving a tutorial Monday on combinatorial Benders’ approaches and am tearing my hair out trying to get a structure to the talk.

If anyone else is going down (particularly a fellow blogger), drop me a note:  we can do a “Bloggers (and Readers) Beer” together.

I’ll try to blog some of the interesting activities at the conference:  INFORMS doesn’t seem to be organizing things the way they do at the annual meeting so the blogging will be a bit more informally done.