O.R. IN AFRICA

Zimbabwe plays host to ORSSA conference

Dignitaries (l-r) Philimon Nyamugure of NUST and a member of the local organizing committee, NUST Vice Chancellor Lindela Ndlovu, guest speaker Dag Ericcson, ORSSA President Dave Evans and ORSSA Vice-President Jan van Vuuren (gather for the opening address.

Dignitaries (l-r) Philimon Nyamugure of NUST and a member of the local organizing committee, NUST Vice Chancellor Lindela Ndlovu, guest speaker Dag Ericcson, ORSSA President Dave Evans and ORSSA Vice-President Jan van Vuuren (gather for the opening address.

By Dave Evans and Edward Chiyaka

The Operations Research Society of South Africa held its 2011 National Conference in Zimbabwe at the Elephant Hills Hotel at the world famous Victoria Falls. The conference was hosted jointly with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, which provided the local organizing committee chaired by Edward Chiyaka. NUST Vice Chancellor Lindela Ndlovu attended the conference, along with Dumisani Hlatyawayo, dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

The conference was held in Zimbabwe as part of ORSSA’s ongoing drive to spread understanding and use of O.R. across the Southern African region, and the attendance of 30 non-South African delegates reflected positively on this objective.

In terms of ORSSA’s normal conference format, the conference was “over-subscribed,” with space for only three plenary sessions. The remaining program bulged at the seams with 90 papers presented in four parallel streams. The wide range of research presentations addressed a variety of pertinent African development topics including agriculture, water, health, education, energy, poverty relief, O.R. in Zimbabwe and development generally, in addition to other more classical O.R. areas. The program included a competition for the many students who presented papers.

Guest speakers Dag Ericsson from the University of Borås, Sweden, and Erica Klampfl from Ford Research and Advanced Engineering in the United States, presented plenary papers.

Ericsson spoke on developments of O.R. in logistics over the past few decades. His first presentation, which opened the conference, covered evolution of the area from supply chain management through demand chain management and the change in thinking from “sell what you can make” to “make what you can sell.” His closing presentation continued on this theme, focusing on O.R. friendly business models and addressing change management and adapting to an increasingly volatile world. He emphasized that a “chain” is no longer an adequate model; complex networks usually describe the environment more realistically.

Victoria Falls provides a spectacular backdrop for the ORSSA Conference in Zimbabwe. Photo by Dave Evans.

Victoria Falls provides a spectacular backdrop for the ORSSA Conference in Zimbabwe. Photo by Dave Evans.

Klampfl was in South Africa to present the INFORMS Prize to the Sasol O.R. team for its work in establishing O.R. as a major decision-support tool throughout the company. The timing of her trip allowed her to join us at the conference. In her plenary, Klampfl highlighted a series of case studies on the effective use of O.R. in many aspects of Ford’s business.

The social side of the conference included a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, which allowed for up-close sightings of an elephant and countless hippos. Warthogs, monkeys, impala, baboons and many species of colorful birds were also seen wandering the fringes of the hotel grounds and golf course. A pleasant cocktail party took place on the Monday evening, with the formal dinner on the Tuesday. At both ends of the conference, options for delegates included elephant rides, white water rafting on the Zambezi, helicopter flights, walks along the edge of the falls and visits to the local game reserves.

Dave Evans is president of the Operations Research Society of South Africa. Edward Chiyaka is chairperson of the Organizing Committee of the 2011 ORSSA Conference.