OR/MS Today - February 2010



O.R. in the News


O.R. Makes HBR's Most Influential List

By Barry List


Harvard Business Review provided welcome news in its end-of-decade blog on New Year's Day when it named O.R. — especially its application in management and marketing — to the most influential ideas list of 2000-2009.

The INFORMS archive of podcasts continues to offer provocative conversation with leading O.R. practitioners and thinkers. It includes recent interviews about decision-making with Stanford's Ron Howard and American elections with OR/MS Today columnist Doug Samuelson. Visit www.scienceofbetter.org and www.informs.org and download the new selections.

Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS), the joint program developed with funding from the National Science Foundation, continues to offer INFORMS members the chance to bring their research to the television and computer screen. Share your important research! The newest INFORMS contribution, which rounded out 2009, was a Cornell project that improved ambulance response times. Visit the INFORMS Newsroom at www.informs.org and follow the easy steps to explaining your work to DBIS editors.

Remember to share your news making research with the INFORMS Communications Department. Contact INFORMS Communications Director Barry List at barry.list@informs.org or 1-800-4INFORMs.

And now, the news:

Decade's Best Management Ideas


"Tis the season for 'year's best' lists — and even, this year, for 'decade's best' lists — and who are we to resist the urge? A few of us HBR editors (Gardiner Morse and Steve Prokesch helped especially) took the opportunity to look back on the past 10 years of management thinking and are ready to declare our choices for the — well, why not say it — most influential management ideas of the millennium (so far)...

"Competing on Analytics. Decades of investment in systems capturing transactions and feedback finally yielded a toolkit for turning all that data into intelligence. Operations research types, long consigned to engineering realms like manufacturing scheduling, got involved in marketing decisions. Managers started learning from experiments that were worthy of the name."

Harvard Business Review Blog/Our Editors, Jan. 1

Predicting Murder Rate in Philadelphia


"John Toczek loves a puzzle. And he's about to tackle a big one: predicting murders. No, he's not The Mentalist. This is more like Numb3rs.

"John — we've been on a first-name basis since Lower Nazareth Elementary — is, in addition to my oldest friend, an operations researcher.

"Operations research may not sound sexy; it focuses on analytics and statistics — determining which data in a gigantic data haystack is most relevant — in order to solve big problems. On Jan. 1, John is rolling out a project he's calling the Analytics X Prize (analyticsx.com). It's a contest to develop a mathematical model for predicting murders in Philadelphia, something the Police Department could use to best deploy its resources."

— Philadelphia City Paper, Dec. 30, 2009
Editor's note: For more on the contest, now known as the Analytics X Competition, see Toczek's story on page 32.

The Northwestern Bomber


"Paradoxically, the enormous efforts to protect aviation might increase its attractiveness to terrorists: if they can succeed despite our strongest attempts to thwart them, the more devastating might be the national demoralization.

"Under the circumstances, we are not simply 'fighting the last war' when we strive to improve aviation security. While it is true that anti-terrorist efforts often arise in response to specific events, the fact that measures are reactive does not mean that they are ineffective."

— INFORMS member Arnold Barnett,
New York Times blog, Dec. 28, 2009

"By now it is clear that the failure was serious. Full body scan systems that could have detected the explosives have not been installed in most airports in the U.S. and around the world; the coordination between various agencies that put suspects on terror lists and the airports and airlines responsible for security leaves a lot to be desired; and, maybe most alarming of all, the administration was slow to acknowledge that we are under attack.

"Consequently, the young Nigerian terrorist was treated like a criminal rather than an enemy combatant. If this had been a coordinated terror attack on several planes, like previous Al Qaeda attempts, the suspect should have been interrogated immediately to avoid possible multiple attacks."

— INFORMS member Yossi Sheffi,
New York Times blog, Dec. 28, 2009

Canadian 2010 Edelman Finalist


"A new computer system that takes the politics out of which New Brunswick roads get repairs is turning heads.

"The operations research component of New Brunswick's asset management system is one of six finalists for the Franz Edelman Award for achievement in operations research and the management sciences.

"The New Brunswick project, a partnership between Fredericton-based software developer Remsoft and the provincial Department of Transportation, is the only Canadian entry to make the list of finalists.

" 'Our asset management system helps identify the right treatment at the right time to make improvements to our roads at the lowest cost to taxpayers,' Transportation Minister Denis Landry said."

— Daily Gleaner, Dec. 28, 2009

O.R. Part of AIDS Relief Package


"Instead of functioning as a global emergency response, [President Obama's] Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will help other countries create their own programs to care for patients, the Obama administration announced on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

"The plan's five-year strategy report calls for strengthening other countries' abilities to lead response to the AIDS epidemic and other health issues, and expanding prevention, care and treatment. It also seeks to integrate and coordinate HIV/AIDS programs with broader global health and development programs to maximize the impact on health systems, and invest in innovation and operations research to improve patient care and provide the best outcomes."

— American Medical News, Dec. 23, 2009

Predicting Economic Recovery Points


"Simultaneous cuts in inventories last year by companies reacting to the global financial crisis created what Dutch researchers have dubbed a 'Lehman wave.' They have used it to develop a model that may in future help predict recovery points in an economic downturn.

"The work by Robert Peels, a manager at Dutch life science and materials company DSM, and [INFORMS member] Jan Fransoo, a professor of logistics at Eindhoven's Technical University, was prompted by the precipitous drops in sales at DSM's resins unit a year ago, even though the end-markets for its products remained relatively stable."

— Financial Times, Dec. 22, 2009

Outsourcing Holiday Deliveries to Mere Mortals


" 'The key is having the right amount of everything, at the right time,' said Warren Powell, an operations researcher at Princeton University in N.J. He suggested that the shipping methods would greatly impact the speed and cost — air delivery is quick and costly, ships are slow and cheaper... 'For us the place to start is: how many people do I need to do the job?' said Jack Levis, the Director of Process Management at UPS. He's responsible for the systems that assign deliveries to drivers, suggest the routes they take and other analytical projects.

"Levis' job often involves making the plans to hire personnel and divide up work. 'It's how much work do you have to do? Where is it? How many people do I need in each area?' "

— Inside Science News Service, Dec. 17, 2009

O.R. on Traffic in India


"In the Operations Research (O.R.) world, traffic congestion can occur when a volume of traffic or modal split generates demand for space greater than the available road capacity.

"In the real world, as we have often experienced, a jam occurs when vehicles driven by horses and horse power travel on the same road and are expected to follow the same set of rules."

— Harit Nagpal, Vodafone Group, The Economic Times, Dec. 16, 2009

Charismatic Language Misleads Analysts' Ratings


"Certain words and imagery seems to push analysts' emotional buttons. These analysts then skew their forecasts, misleading investors to believe a company's earnings potential will be higher than it actually is.

"The end result: Carefully wording a CEO's communications a certain way can boost the stock price of a company. This eventually causes investors to lose money, when quarterly results don't match the chief executive's abstract vision or the analysts' numeric ratings.

"The study was carried out by INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences in Hannover, Md."

New York Times, VentureBeat blog,
Dec. 16, 2009

Charismatic CEO? Investor Should Duck


"Charismatic CEOs may be entertaining, but they could be dangerous to your pocketbook, according to a study.

"INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, recently studied the impact on a new charismatic CEO and financial analysts projections. In a nutshell, analysts made errors in forecasting future performance with a charismatic CEO.

— Larry Dignan, Andrew Nusca,
Smart Planet, Dec. 15, 2009

Xmas Shopping Tips from Dr. Queue


" 'Upwards of 80 to 90 percent say they've had a lifetime experience that was so bad in the service, the queuing service, that they pledge to never go to that place again. I don't think retailers and others recognize the importance of this, some do, but many don't,' says Richard Larson, or Dr. Queue as he's sometimes called.

"...Larson made a career out of researching the psychology of queuing, or standing in line, and has helped businesses improve their customers experience ..."

— Fox TV Boston, Dec. 10, 2009

U.S. Uses O.R. to Track AIDS Program's Progress


"Launched on World AIDS Day, the Five-Year Strategy of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) outlines the high-level direction of the program for its next phase. This strategy reflects lessons learned in the first five years of the program, expands existing commitments around service delivery, and places a heightened emphasis on sustainability. During its next phase, PEPFAR will:

... invest in innovation and operations research to evaluate impact, improve service delivery and maximize outcomes."

— U.S. State Department, Dec. 1, 2009

Pitcher/Operations Researcher Pursues Farm Policy


"An e-mail requesting an internship arrived at the Agriculture Department this summer with an impressive resume: Princeton University degree in operations research and financial engineering, 3.8 college GPA, 1520 SATs.

"Ross Ohlendorf didn't mention his 95 mph sinking fastball, but it probably wouldn't have hurt his chances. Department officials were impressed that the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher wanted to work for them in the offseason.

"Doug McKalip, confidential assistant to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, recalled the secretary's reaction when told of Ohlendorf's e-mail: 'Are you serious? A major league player wants to do this?' "

— Associated Press, Nov. 27, 2009





Barry List (barry.list@informs.org) is the director of communications for INFORMS.





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