February 1997 Volume 24 Number 1
Top Priorities for 1997
By Art GeoffrionIt is a great privilege to be speaking to you from this space. Also a genuine pleasure, because you have given me three years to indulge in one of life's most gratifying pleasures: working with good people. No, let me rephrase that: working with great people. You have elected truly outstanding people to the board, who in turn have chosen excellent committees and editors.
We are also blessed with department directors in our headquarters' offices who would all be recognized as outstanding in any well-managed company. With a team like this, INFORMS has great upside potential, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Now on to my three top priorities for INFORMS during 1997.
INFORMS has two main purposes: to support the mission-critical activities of its members, and to create and sustain professionally useful structures that are more than the sum of their parts (e.g., affinity groups, chapters, journals and a magazine, meetings, an outreach program, and prizes). Each of my priorities promotes these purposes, addresses an area of great opportunity, and involves a cluster of initiatives launched during 1996. I'll say a few words about each under the headings Shared Destiny, Webification, and Putting the Whole Team on the Field.
The destiny of OR/MS in academia is the destiny of OR/MS in practice. Time lags measured in decades obscure this point, but by now there is little doubt that the success of either requires the success of the other. Hence, INFORMS needs to become just as excellent at serving the needs of full-time practitioners as it is at serving the needs of academics.
If INFORMS can serve these needs sufficiently, then practice will thrive, and legions of full-time practitioners will choose to join INFORMS. With less than 5 percent of all OR/MS practitioners now members of INFORMS, the potential for membership growth in this sector is perhaps an order of magnitude greater than the academic sector.
Greater prosperity for full-time practitioners would also benefit academia. More reports of practical successes would motivate more students to take OR/MS courses, more people to elect an OR/MS career, more deans to build up their quantitative faculties, more organizations to cooperate as student project sites, and more research sponsors to fund OR/MS research.
There is a document called "Shared Destiny Initiatives" that summarizes the best available ideas for improving INFORMS' value to full-time practitioners. Many of these ideas turn out to be valuable also to the entire membership. You can read this document, which has been evolving since the summer of 1995, at http://www.informs.org/President/destiny.html. The ideas are organized under the headings Meetings, Publications, Subdivisions, Prizes and General.
A few of these ideas have been accomplished; many more are in various stages of progress, and all would benefit from member involvement. I urge you to look them over, pick a couple that interest you, and contact either me or one of the people who are listed with advice or can offer of help.
It's happening all around you. You can't get away from it. Organizations that are geographically dispersed or whose "customer" base is dispersed, are rapidly discovering new ways to exploit the Net, especially the Web.
Usually it begins with establishing a Web site to publish information about the organization. Then the site becomes interactive, with users transmitting as well as receiving. Intranets appear. All sorts of software begin to sport a Web interface; business processes begin to migrate to the new environment; and, totally new Net-based structures and processes begin to appear. If you're in OR/MS, you begin to realize that the new environment lends itself nicely to delivering or embedding decision technology ... but that's another story.
The story of interest here is how the Web enables INFORMS to better serve its thousands of members all over the globe. The central character of this story is INFORMS Online, at http://www.informs.org/, which is evolving rapidly under the masterful guidance of Mike Trick and his excellent associate editors.
Today you can do sophisticated searches of the complete membership database, see links to research sponsors, read professional opportunity listings, register on-line for conferences, search the full bulletin text for any meeting since fall 1990 (even all at once), search the Annual Comprehensive Index of more than 19,000 OR/MS bibliographic entries going back to 1982, find links to other OR/MS sites, and much more. Tomorrow you will be able to ... well, let's just say you'll be even more impressed.
Numerous developments are under way to deliver still more value via the Web to the entire membership at the office, at home and on the road. Other developments will enable INFORMS' volunteer and staff organizations to run more effectively and more cost efficiently.
Putting the Whole Team on the Field
I began by praising the quality of INFORMS' volunteers and staff. It's a terrific team. What I didn't say, however, is that we have yet to put the whole team on the field.
This is a consequence of the intricate complexity of the ORSA/TIMS merger and of the many exigencies of INFORMS' fledgling years. The upshot was that some board members have been without clear duties, some committees without clear charges, some "liaison" people without clear missions, and headquarters has been without players at certain key positions. But thanks to the excellent progress made in two short years, we are now at a point where perhaps for the first time, it is realistic to attempt to put the whole team on the field with a coordinated game plan that includes everyone.
Clearly we need to do this in order to accomplish innovations such as the Shared Destiny Initiatives and Webification objectives while simultaneously maintaining and improving INFORMS' many existing products and services. That's a Herculean ambition requiring the entire team.
I could write at length about the steps being taken to field the whole team for the first time: enlarged responsibilities for all board liaisons, expanded roles for all division directors, improved charges for many committees, coordinated and explicit priorities for innovation by all committees and headquarters' departments for the first time, a clarified relationship between the volunteer and staff organizations, new headquarters hires at key positions, and more. The benefits of these organizational improvements should begin accruing by the time you read this.
In closing, let me invite each of you to contact me directly with any concern or suggestion you might have as to how to improve INFORMS. I live on e-mail these days and hope to see you there.
Art Geoffrion is the president of INFORMS. He can be reached via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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