Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Great 2018 INFORMS Business Analytics Conference with Some Photos

The 2018 INFORMS Business Analytics Conference, which took place in Baltimore, MD, April 15-17, 2018, was fantastic! The conference brought together over 1,000 leading analytics professionals and industry experts (executives, analysts, managers, researchers, data scientists, modelers, etc.) from around the globe to exchange ideas, network, and learn about the exciting results, insights, and opportunities generated by analytics. This is one of my favorite conferences to speak at and to attend because of the interactions with industry professionals, representatives from government, and fellow academics as well as numerous students. Below are the smiling faces of the speakers!

I flew in on Southwest on Sunday and returned back last night feeling energized and with my brain swimming with new ideas and I expect new collaborations as well. What I found especially delightful was seeing many fellow operations researchers and analytics professionals. I had very pleasant exchanges with conferees from the US, Sweden, Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Serbia, Germany, and Japan. Honestly, I can't think of another conference that provides a better return on investment in terms of what you get out of it per unit time!

My room on the top floor of the Marriott Waterfront Baltimore had a fabulous view and it was very convenient since all the sessions and social events took place an elevator ride down.
The talk that I presented was on cybercrime and cybersecurity and it can be downloaded here.

Getting selected to speak involves a competitive screening process so I was thrilled to be able to speak on some of our latest research on this topic. The previous INFORMS Analytics Conference that  I had spoken at and also thoroughly enjoyed was in Boston in 2014.

The conference began for me with the super dynamic plenary talk by Bill Schmarzo, who, coincidentally, is also an Executive Fellow at the University of San Francisco, where my most recent Isenberg School PhD student alumna, Dr. Shivani Shukla, is now an Assistant Professor, and with whom I wrote several papers on cybersecurity. I took copious notes and enjoyed hearing him say that it's insight from data that matters and that one must start with the business. He spoke on the monetization of data and the leveraging of predictive and prescriptive analytics in order to optimize. I loved his discussion of data being an "unusual currency."
In our registration packets we were provided with a lot of nice conference "swag," including a beautiful blue notebook and a very cool conference bag.
Meals were provided, including the gala Edelman dinner on Monday night (more on this later).

The plenary talk by Bruce Greenstein, the CTO at the US Department of Health and Human Services, which he told us is the largest single government department in the world, was also excellent and took place bright and early on Tuesday morning at 8AM. His presentation was on: From Data to Analytics: How to Solve Complex Health Problems.
Greenstein spoke on Secretary Azar's focus, which includes combating the opiod crisis, bringing down the high cost of prescription drugs (and here he emphasized increasing competition, which is great), and transforming the healthcare system to a value-based system. He spoke of his unique position in connecting various departments and bridging the technical divide and also emphasized the improvement of analytics at HHS through the sharing of data, bringing in experts, and chipping away at the culture. There was even an opioid-code-athon that was very successful and I especially appreciated hearing about the "prevention track," which focused on predicting and analyzing the supply and movement of legal and illicit opioids (sounds like a network flow problem to me and probably even related to the network models that I spoke of on Monday at the conference). There is even now a Co-Lab at HHS, which is an enterprise data initiative, and led by Will Yang.

I had the pleasure of listening to Greenstein's plenary while seated next to Dr. Les Servi of MITRE and Professor Tamas Terlaky of Lehigh University.
Les and I go back to Brown University days and he was on the organizing committee of the conference and we hosted him recently in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. Professor Terlaky led the group that was awarded the 2017 Daniel H. Wagner Prize for Excellence in Operations Research Practice, for “The Inmate Assignment and Scheduling Problem and its Application in the PA Department of Corrections." I went to his talk on this outstanding project and enjoyed it thoroughly. Both Les and Tamas are INFORMS Fellows.

Other highlights at the conference, in addition to the outstanding talks that I attended, which were 50 minutes in length so you can really learn something, and which included those by Professor Jim Cochran of the University of Alabama and Dr. Mary Helander of IBM, was seeing Dr. Michael Prokle, a former doctoral student from UMass Amherst, now a data scientist at Phillips Research in Cambridge,  and taking part in "coffee with a member." Michael was the President of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter and I nominated him for the INFORMS Judith Liebman Award, which he received. Coincidentally, we had both been at the Boston Analytics conference, where  the weather was also cold and rainy.
I very much enjoyed meeting and having coffee with Sarah Greenwood, who is pursuing a graduate degree in analytics, and already has several years of experience working in industry. It is thrilling to see such outstanding individuals excelling in STEM!
I would also like to point out and thank WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences), one of my absolutely favorite fora of INFORMS! And, would you believe that years ago I found out about WORMS from my male PhD students at the Isenberg School of Management, who told me that they loved many of the conference events organized by WORMS, so I joined!
The networking reception at which the COO of Google Cloud, Diane Bryant, spoke was standing room only and incredibly interesting. She is a former VP at Intel and was one of only 6% of female VPs until she, with others, started to emphasize being a sponsor/advocate of female employees. I loved some of the takeaways:

  • If you are a good leader, you are advocating.
  • Luck is manufactured: one has to be open to new ideas - we create our own luck.
  • And, quoting Madeleine Albright: "there is a special place for women who don't help women."
  • Also, from an HBS Review article:" Women have mentors; men have sponsors."
  • Confidence is a core leadership skill. 
  • Diversity is a fact: inclusion is a choice.
The Q&A session that followed was provocative and I told her that she should write a book and I would be more than willing to help her with it.
At this session, I was joined by truly special colleagues.
And, since Michael Prokle was the President of our UMass Amherst Student Chapter when we hosted INFORMS Fellow Dr. Radhika Kulkarni, VP of SAS, I had to have the photo below taken as a memento. Also in the photo is Dr. Mary Helander of IBM, who has also spoken in our Speaker Series!
Of course, going to exhibits is also enjoyable and it was great to see my book, Competing on Supply Chain Quality, co-authored with a former doctoral student of mine, Dr. Dong "Michelle" Li, on display at the Springer booth. Many thanks to the Senior Editor, Matt Amboy, for displaying it.

And, speaking of students, INFORMS hosted a student competition, and I spoke with groups from Turkey and Colombia, who were finalists.
I have not heard, yet, who received the first prize, since I had to leave the lunch early yesterday to catch my flight.

And, on Monday evening, those at the conference had the honor and pleasure of taking part in the Edelman gala banquet and awards ceremonies, hosted by Dr. Don Kleinmuntz of  Kleinmuntz Associates and the University of Notre Dame, who was a magnificent emcee! At the 2014 Boston conference, we had the pleasure of Dr. Anne Robinson being the emcee at that Edelman gala, at which the US CDC received the Edelman Award for the eradication of polio.

The food at the dinner was delicious as was the company at our table.

And a HUGE congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Edelman prize and to all the finalists! The award went to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for advancing wireless communications. The team included INFORMS Fellows: Dean Mike Trick of CMU and Professor Karla Hoffman of George Mason University! I can't help but mention that one of the coaches of the winning team was Dr. Irv Lustig of Princeton Consultants - I was his TA from the Operations Research course at Brown University when he was an undergraduate and I was a PhD student. Amazingly, two of the awards noted on Monday night have Brown University connections! Franz Edelman, after whom the Edelman Award is named, received his PhD in Applied Mathematics from Brown University (and so did I). Also, Daniel Wagner, after whom the Wagner Prize is named, received his PhD, also from Brown University, in mathematics! I enjoyed hearing my alma mater being noted twice at the gala dinner on Monday night and it is quite amazing that both Les Servi and Irv Lustig and I overlapped during part of our Brown U. days!

I would like to end this blogpost with a big thanks to the INFORMS staff for making this conference so enjoyable and rewarding.

I wish everyone safe travels back from the conference! When I landed at Bradley, my shuttle driver told me about the terrifying Southwest plane engine failure on the flight from LaGuardia to Dallas, which had an emergency landing in Philadelphia.   Thinking of those injured and the loss of life and the terror and fright  that all must have experienced.