Friday, March 6, 2015

Succeeding with Business Analytics - Great Talk by Dr. Kulkarni of SAS

Today we had the great honor and pleasure of hosting Dr. Radhika Kilkarni, the VP of R&D Analytics at SAS in Cary, NC.

Kudos to the award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter for organizing her visit. The students and chapter officers did a great job and I thank them! Special thanks to the Chapter President, Michael Prokle, for all the planning and attention to detail and logistics!

Dr. Kulkarni is both an INFORMS Fellow and a WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award recipient and one of the highest technical females in her company, which has 11,000 employees and is consistently ranked as one of the top companies to work for in the US.

She began her day in the Isenberg School of Management with a meeting with students in the Elkins Boardroom. The school's  atrium was decorated with flags, which was perfect.

The conversations and questions and answers were so interesting that the session began at 8:30AM and lasted until almost the reception prior to her talk, at 10:30AM.

The free exchange of ideas, ranging from courses that should be offered in analytics curricula, to the training of doctoral students in the hot field of business analytics, to the kinds of projects that Dr. Kulkarni has been involved in from models of churning to ATM cash flow optimization for different banks in different countries, to hotel revenue management and price optimization, were so interesting! She spoke of the integration of different tools and the benefits of harnessing social networks data even in the modeling of fraud. Some of the themes she then further discussed in her presentation: Succeeding with Business Analytics: Key Challenges, that began at 11AM and that was streamed live to our online and part-time MBA students.

In her presentation she spoke of the challenges such as Big Data and the Internet of Things. She spoke of the need for speed in terms of algorithms, for example, which is also calling for high performance computer architectures and greater storage. With sensors interacting, there is a need for time series as well as statistical multivariate methods.

She emphasized the "mixing and matching" of different techniques, an idea that I very much appreciate.

Do you have the right date, the right process, and the right people, she asked?!

I also enjoyed hearing her say how important it is to exploit network data and information, including that gained from social media.

In the education of analytical experts, cross-disciplinarity is needed and the ability to collaborate.

Of course she emphasized the importance of knowledge of statistics, optimization and operations research, as well as mathematical modeling.

She ended on a highly enthusiastic note saying how lucky students are who are in this era of analytics.

There were great questions and I was delighted to also see some students from my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class in the audience and even one of our OIM alums, Jonathan Farland, who came in from Boston to hear Dr. Kulkarni speak - a disclosure - he works in energy forecasting and uses SAS software.

At our lunch at the University Club we had such a great time (although the service was painfully slow and we finally got our lunch around 1:30PM) because the conversations were so much fun. We laughed so much with the stories that we exchanged.

Afterwards we had a roundtable in my Supernetworks Lab but there was some anxiety since Dr. Kulkarni's flight out of Bradley was delayed and it looked as though she would miss her second legged flight from Philly to Raleigh later this evening. We bid her farewell, all feeling so energized and intellectually stimulated.
Dr. Kulkarni's visit was co-sponsored by the INFORMS Speaker Program and  the Operations and Information Management Department, with additional support from my Chaired Professorship Fund, and with help from the MBA Programs Office.

Thanks to all involved and with special thanks to Dr. Radhika Kulkarni, an amazing role model and business analytics professional and operations researcher.