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Getting Up to Speed on Business Analytics at INFORMS

This was my first INFORMS Business Analytics conference and I was not sure what to expect. Looking at the agenda beforehand it looked like it would be a great opportunity to learn how companies spanning across many verticals were using analytics to make an impact and drive value.  There were many interesting sessions that I was looking forward to attending to help me get up to speed on the industry.


These sessions were incredibly valuable, but there is much more to the conference – there is the time between the sessions as well.  Over the three days in Huntington Beach I was fortunate to chat with people leading the charge in using operations research and analytics at their companies – some who have been doing this for many years and others who are new to the field and eager to get started.  I learned a lot speaking with individuals seated at my table at breakfast, at lunch, at the welcome reception, and over the dessert breaks.  It was fascinating to hear about the projects they are working on and the challenges they face on a daily basis.

The common thread is that despite being from different companies, geographical locations, industries and cultures, this is a community of passionate individuals ready to drive change at their companies and eager to learn from each other.  At a time when Big Data and Analytics have the spotlight but still seem to be developing, it was inspiring to hear real examples of using analytics to drive cost savings, operational efficiencies and real tangible business value.

Edelman gala
Edelman gala

I think the most representative event showcasing the various applications of business analytics was the 2015 Edelman Gala – considered by many to be the Oscars of the industry.  This event recognizes outstanding achievement and impact in application of analytics, operations research and management science.  For example, the 2014 Edelman winner was the Kid Risk Team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control who used integrated analytics to improve global polio eradication decisions.  Getting closer to wiping out polio is truly an amazing achievement!

Like the Oscars, the finalists of the award were presented throughout the event and the winner was announced at the end.  To say that this was an impressive group would be an understatement.  Finalist teams applied  analytics to:

  • Forecast demand on digital platforms for popular golf and tennis events
  • Perform routing and queuing to manage the flow of pilgrims making the Hajj to Makkah safely
  • Increase plant productivity and improve food production R&D
  • Optimize pricing and sales decisions for a global distributor
  • Improve inventory control and logistics of equipment using forecasting for the U.S. Army
AIMMS SVP Gertjan de Lange presenting at INFORMS 2015
AIMMS SVP Gertjan de Lange presenting at INFORMS 2015

The 2015 Edelman winner was Syngenta who is applying operations research methods to make better breeding decisions that reduce the time and cost required to make crops more productive.  These new techniques have resulted in cost avoidance for soybean R&D of over $287 million over 4 years and is now expanding these programs across their portfolio.  I look forward to attending the conference again next year and seeing the next crop of impressive examples of excellence in the application of analytics.


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