Saudi Arabia: World’s Best Analytics Teams Compete for INFORMS Franz Edelman Award in Huntington Beach, CA


Ashley Smith
PR Specialist

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA, April 3, 2015 – The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®), the leading professional association in advanced analytics, will host six finalist organizations competing for the 2015 INFORMS Franz Edelman Award. The competition takes place on Monday, April 13 during the 2015 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. The Prize is the world’s most prestigious recognition for excellence in applying advanced analytics to benefit business and humanitarian outcomes. 

The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs is one of the six finalist organizations, with a submission titled, “A Decision Support System for Hajj Crowd Management.”

The Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to the Makkah made by every faithful Muslim at least once in his life. It is also the largest annually occurring pedestrian problem in the world.

Every year up to four million pilgrims come to holy sites in the Makkah region to perform their religious duty. The Hajj comprises several rituals on consecutive days at different sites. The Jamarat Bridge, where an important ritual is performed, is a focal site. Over a four-day period, pilgrims throw pebbles against the Jamarah pillars that are embedded in the Jamarat Bridge.

Attendance at this ritual had been dangerously crowded. Until 2006, stampedes causing thousands of casualties occurred due to overcrowding. In the aftermath of a 2006 crowd disaster, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (MOMRA) launched projects totaling $7 billion to prevent future deaths.

MOMRA developed an effective crowd management system using operations research, analytics, and crowd dynamics.

At the heart of this decision support system a Pilgrim Scheduler assigns appointments. In addition, flow is controlled as pilgrims are assigned to one-way paths that lead from their accommodation to the Jamarat complex, preventing counter or intersecting flows.  The Pilgrim Scheduler is a mixed-integer program that minimizes deviation of the assigned stoning-ritual times from the preferred times. A set of constraints ensure smooth utilization of infrastructures such as roads, tunnels, and the five-story Jamarat Bridge. Due to the problem size (more than three million variables) a multi-stage fix-and-optimize heuristic was developed to provide high quality solutions in minutes. In addition to using the Pilgrim Scheduler, MOMRA employs sophisticated operations research tools to assign pilgrims to stations and trips of the Al Mashaaer Makkah Metro that moves pilgrims between the holy sites. The tools also plan a layout of the tent city that accommodates the pilgrims. Additional essential elements of the decision support system are tools for simulation and control: state-of-the-art analytical models of pedestrian dynamics simulate the flow of pilgrims through infrastructures like metro stations and streets. MOMRA also uses radio-frequency identification and video technology to control pilgrim flow. Together, simulation and control systems rapidly forecast alarmingly high crowd density. Overall, the technology provides an effective alert-and-response strategy.

The decision support system enables uncongested and smooth flows of the pilgrims as well as maximum satisfaction to pilgrims concerned about their ritual schedules. Operations research also helped reduce operational and maintenance costs; for example, well-balanced flows enabled a dramatic reduction in security personnel and a 20% savings in personnel costs. But most importantly: operations research significantly contributes to saving lives. Since 2007 no stampedes have occurred and no lives have been lost. Lessons learned from Hajj crowd management and the integration of operations research can help manage and operate mass gatherings all over the world.

The partner organizations are University of Hamburg, Germany; University of Technology Dresden, Germany; and ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

This year’s finalists are:

  1. IBM for “Predictive Cloud Computing with Big Data: Professional Golf and Tennis Forecasting”
  2. Ingram Micro for “End-to-End Business Analytics and Optimization in Ingram Micro’s Two-Tier Distribution Business”
  3. LMI/Defense Logistics Agency for “Peak and Next Gen: Effective Inventory Control for Items with Infrequent or Frequent, Highly Variable Demand”
  4. Syngenta for “Good Growth through Advanced Analytics”
  5. U.S. Army and Sandia National Laboratories for “Maximizing the Army’s Future Contribution to Global Security Using the Capability Portfolio Analysis Tool (CPAT)”
  6. Saudi Arabia Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs for “A Decision Support System for Hajj Crowd Management”

Additional information about the INFORMS Franz Edelman Award and Competition can be found online at


INFORMS is the leading international association for professionals in analytics and operations research (O.R.). INFORMS advances research, and develops and promotes best practices in analytics and O.R. through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and professional development. INFORMS helps business, government, and other organization professionals make better decisions to drive value to their organizations and society. Our certification program (CAP®), highly cited publications, educational meetings and conferences, continuing education, industry and process-focused networking communities, competitions, and recognition provide professionals with the knowledge and connections they need to achieve ever greater value for their organizations. Further information about INFORMS, analytics, and operations research is at or @informs.