Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top 5 Takeaways from INFORMS 2012 Business Analytics Conference

Rob was a Guest Blogger for the INFORMS Analytics 2012 Conference.  This was originally posted on the Conference Blog. 

As expected, it was a great conference with valuable presentations and plenty of opportunities to network with professional colleagues.  After a day to reflect, here are my top 5 takeaways (not necessarily in order).  Hopefully they will be useful to both experienced analytical professionals and executives, and those just starting the journey.

(1)   Google Insights for Search
Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, gave a compelling keynote that made great use of this free tool.  Check it out if you haven’t done so already.  It’s a great way to identify market trends based on search frequency.  The data goes all the way back to 2004, and you can download the results to combine with other data sources.

(2)   It’s not just about the analytics
Congratulations to TNT Express, winners of the 2012 Edelman Award.   My biggest takeaway from their presentation had nothing to do with their network optimization models.  Rather, it was how they built an entire optimization “ecosystem” centered on their GO (Global Optimisation) Academy.
  • “(In addition) to adopting OR tools, TNT Express has teamed up with the Tilburg University/TiasNimbas Business School (Netherlands) to create a two-year management development program in transportation network optimization. Called the GO Academy, the training has been delivered to more than 150 managers from TNT since 2008.”
Lots of companies have advanced analytical capabilities, but TNT have added huge value to the organization – and set a great example for other companies -- through leadership, education, training and change management.

(3) The role of Analytics in Decision-Making
We’re always looking for better ways to describe what we do and how we add value through Analytics, and I thought a few of the speakers had particularly interesting angles.
  • Thomas Olavson of Google described his team’s role as “replacing intuition with data-driven decisions”.
  • Colin Kessinger of End-to-End Analytics reinforced the role of leadership.  “Math supports the decision-making process, but the math doesn’t make the decisions”.  Don’t expect an analytical model to give you “the answer”.
  • Both Colin and Glenn Wegryn of P&G focused on visualization & interactive decision support.  According to Colin, “This is what gets you a seat at the executive table”, and Glenn provided the evidence when he described the weekly “immersive business reviews” for P&G’s executive team (with a great picture of the huge hi-def screens that surround the conference room).
  • Focus on the “so what” or the “why” – not the “what”.  Reports are a dime a dozen.  How are you going to help drive better decisions?
  • A neat quote from Glenn Wegryn:  “We bear gifts - in the form of rational business insights”.  (In my words, "Geeks bearing gifts" -- OK, that's a really bad pun...)

(4)   Simpler is Better
The simplest approach that solves your problem is usually the best one.  Several speakers hit on this point in different ways.
  • There is “no correlation between analytic complexity and business value”, according to Glenn Bailey of Manheim.
  • Chris Fry of Strategic Management Solutions paraphrased Einstein – A model “should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”.
  • Before you jump into a big, complex analysis with expensive 3rd-party software, make sure you really understand the problem you’re trying to solve.  Colin Kessinger advises that if you can’t build and understand a prototype in Excel, you don’t really understand the problem and you’re not likely to be successful with a complicated off-the-shelf software solution.
  • Thomas Olavson echoed the sentiment that “small steps lead to big wins”.  He favors analytical building blocks and rapid prototypes, and cautions against looking for “grand unified theories”.

(5)   50 Minutes with the 5 minute analyst
It seems only appropriate to make the 5 Minute Analyst my 5th highlight.  In a very interactive conference session, Harrison Schramm of the Naval Postgraduate School shared some fun and thought-provoking “toy problems”.  Be sure to check out the 5 Minute Analyst column in Analytics Magazine.  The most recent column is available here.

Let me know your thoughts.  It's been fun being one of the Conference Bloggers and I look forward to continuing these interesting discussions.  Until next time...


Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or
© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.


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