Taking stock of O.R., INFORMS & analytics

If you want to take the pulse of INFORMS, go to the annual meeting in the fall. According to Director of Meetings Terry Cryan, some 4,499 people from all over the world made their way to Charlotte, N.C., for this year’s operations research lollapalooza held over four days in mid-November. The total attendance fell just 158 short of the all-time record set last year in Austin, Texas. Charlotte is a beautiful city with much to offer, but it isn’t exactly on everyone’s “must-see” list, which makes the attendance figures even more impressive.

During the four-day course of the conference, attendees had their pick of about 1,400 sessions spread over 69 tracks, and that’s not counting dozens of plenary talks, community business meetings, special events, award ceremonies, guest tours and receptions, topped by a fun night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the General Reception.

When not climbing into a racecar for a simulated NASCAR race, noshing on reception goodies or sharing late-night drinks to rehash the day’s activities and simultaneously save the world with some of my fellow conventioneers, I did a little work. I attended at least 25 of those 1,400 sessions to educate myself on promising work, research and trends going on in the vast O.R. universe and to chat up presenters and potential contributors to OR/MS Today.

I spent a good chunk of my time in Mecklenburg Hall at the Hilton Hotel where the new Analytics Section of INFORMS had organized a series of sessions on such intriguing topics such as “IT and Analytics: Hunting as a Pack.” As the editor of INFORMS’ outreach, online magazine Analytics (, I’m also interested in all-things analytics, an even larger universe to cover than the O.R. one.

Founded a year ago at the 2010 annual meeting, the Analytics Section of INFORMS boasts more than 500 members, which I understand makes it the fastest-growing section in INFORMS history. Analytics, the online magazine, was launched in 2008 and is approaching 9,000 subscribers, the vast majority of whom are not members of INFORMS and had never heard of INFORMS before reading Analytics. As a general topic, analytics – the professional expertise that seemingly every company now craves – was buzzing all over the INFORMS Annual Meeting. From the technical sessions to the INFORMS Board meetings to the hallways in between, the word kept coming up, again and again.

One of the primary goals in its strategic plan calls for INFORMS to not just catch and ride the analytics wave but to become recognized as the premier analytics organization in the world. As part of that strategy, INFORMS is making plans to launch a certification program that will produce screened and tested “certified analytics professionals.”

During the Charlotte conference, I had the opportunity to sit down with INFORMS President-Elect Terry Harrison to discuss the State of INFORMS and the profession as he prepares to lead the organization into 2012. Not surprisingly, the institution’s strategic plan and that magic word “analytics” dominated the conversation, just as it did the conference.

For Harrison’s take on INFORMS, analytics, outreach, “inreach” and other topics (yes, we did find time to talk about something besides analytics, including his prized Yamaha V Star 1300 motorcycle), see page 54.
— Peter Horner, editor