Monday, April 19, 2010

Informs Practice Conference 2010 - Day 2

The day started off with a plenary by a senior guy in Walt Disney. Equally interestingly, he worked at PeopleExpress decades ago, now part of Airline Revenue Management folklore. the key takeaway was that smart OR ultimately improves the odds in your favor by one or two percentage points, and that is a really big deal. Following that, there was an incredible variety of interesting topics to choose from, many of which were scheduled at the same time. So I tried to avoid MBAs, vendors, as well as academic types and listen to the in-the-trenches practice guys. The first one was the head of R&D in Kroger, a group that's 2 years old in an 126-year old company. This talk focused on how to cut thru the (126 years of ) red tape to get genuinely valuable work done. Very interesting. Quotes included "you should be willing to bet your job that your project idea works ..." and a need for passion. Every body's hand in the audience went up when he asked how many people in the audience liked their jobs. Not surprising. Practical OR is fun.

The next interesting talk was by Dr. Sanjay Saigal on probability management. He is a non-conformist and funny, and he put on a real show, and i really wished this talk had continued for another 15-20 mins. Great topic.

All in all, I missed several great talks. If anything, the practice conference has an abundance of riches in terms of the high-quality content presented. I'm distraught that I may have to skip a talk by the uber-brilliant Dr. Ellis Johnson tomorrow to catch another one at the same time that is equally exciting and pertinent to my current line of work.

One of the the 'birds of a feather' discussion in the evening focused on the role of O.R in analytics. I've already talked about the identity crisis facing OR'ers in a prior post, and INFORMS, as well as OR academic programs should act soon to fix this gap. The master of ceremonies for the Edelman awards later mentioned (or paraphrased) that OR is the most important invisible profession in the world today.

Finally, i sat in on an Edelman finalist presentation by the New Brunswick department of Transportation, Canada, since they were my sentimental pick - NB is just three hours further east of my place in Eastern Maine. In the end, the bankers won it. Interestingly, almost every single entry featured a company partnering with a university or a OR software vendor.

Today, I managed to spot two OR all-time greats, Dr. Cynthia Barnhart, and Peter Kolesar. Too bad I did not get a chance to interact with them, given that they were involved as an Edelman judge, and finalist, respectively.

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