Reflections on a productive year

INFORMS PresidentRina


It is almost the end of my presidency year, and in some ways it seems to have gone by very quickly – maybe too quickly. Yet, looking at how much we have accomplished, it has been a long, productive year. I would like to use my platform here to reflect on the year, provide a glance at what we have achieved and what lies ahead, and thank people that were instrumental in getting us here.

More than a year ago we launched a search for a new executive director. As the incoming president I headed the search committee. The process and especially the last stage of it – the on-site interview – were fascinating and enlightening. Observing and “analyzing” the candidates based on a 90-minute interview and going through our own thought process as a group made it a unique experience in human behavior for all of us on the search committee. [Thank you committee: Anne Robinson, Jack Levis, Stefan Karish, Steve Robinson, Susan Albin, Terry Harrison and Terry Cryan, who by stepping in as an interim ED allowed the process to progress without pressure.] Melissa Moore, our new ED started in April.

One of Melissa’s first goals was to establish a strategic planning process that will transform INFORMS and the board into a forward thinking organization. I wrote about the initial steps and resulting strategic goals associated with analytics and IT infrastructure in a previous column. At the November board meeting we continued the process and selected particular action items to pursue in 2012.

To make it happen we had to tie the strategic planning action plan to the budget. In addition, we have established an initiative fund separate from the operating budget, that is dedicated to carrying out the activities related to our strategic goals. This is a quite substantial reform for INFORMS and requires a change of approach and thinking. [Thank you Melissa and board members for participating with open mind, forward thinking, and attention to details that allowed us to move forward with careful measures.]

One important factor that allowed us to potentially allocate funds for our new strategic goals is our financial performance this year. The staff and board has established a financial reporting schedule to report our financial standing on a timely basis and project our performance for the rest of the year. [Thank you, Randy Chandler, Nick Hall, Melissa Moore and the Finance Committee for the new budget process.] It is especially important in difficult financial times to make sure we take measures as soon as needed. Gladly, this was not needed this year. We have outperformed our budgeted revenue while spending less than our budgeted cost.

Two main factors contributed to this performance. On the cost side, the staff and board has taken a special effort to re-look at how we can further save by eliminating some activities than have been carried out by inertia but were no longer beneficial, while looking at making our operation more efficient. The directors at the office worked together to identify and carry out cost reduction. [Thank you, directors]

On the revenue side, the main unexpected income was due to the 30 percent surge in attendance at the Analytics Conference in Chicago. [Thank you, David Leonhardi, the chair, the advisory council and Jack Levis for taking the risk and transforming the conference successfully]. This not only paid for what we have invested in exploring analytics for INFORMS, but it demonstrated how analytics has and can further energize INFORMS. It helped to give the board a mandate to invest in our analytics plan – developing a certification program, exploring continuing education and reaching out to industry and government organizations.

Reaching out to government to explore how INFORMS can work with them to instill more analytics has been an effort I have pursued for the past two years. It also provided me with the honor of visiting the White House. [Thanks you, Michael Johnson for facilitating our engagement with the Office of Management of Budget.] It is a slow and challenging process but has plenty of potential.

While analytics is an exciting direction, we have and should keep enhancing our core. In fact, we should use the resources and energy we gain to invest back in our core competency. This year in addition to our on-going programs, we launched a new journal (Service Science), we had a first theme meeting on healthcare, and we secured a joint meeting with Euro in Rome 2013. We also launched the UPS G. Smith Award focusing attention on programs that successfully prepare students to be O.R. and analytics professionals.

It is most rewarding to see that our efforts have been paying off. As I announced at the INFORMS Annual Meeting in Charlotte, N.C., our membership has increased by 7 percent this year – the first increase after 10 years of decline. Forty percent of these members are coming each year to our annual conference, which has become a must-attend for many of them. [Thank you Cem Saydam and the Charlotte committee for a great conference and NASCAR experience!]

Many volunteers work tirelessly behind the scenes dedicating thoughts and long hours of effort on a standing committee, an ad-hoc committee, the editorial process for our journals or anything else that needs to be done on behalf of the Institute. [Thank you, volunteers!]. We also have a committed staff that carries out the effort year-round. [Thank you staff for your dedication and also for hosting the board for a memorable evening in the winter.]

Finally, I would like to thank all of you for giving me the rewarding opportunity to serve as your president. I know that many of you will help Terry Harrison and Anne Robinson, our incoming president and president-elect, to further advance INFORMS in the years ahead.