Big election, big data

Complied by Barry List

The INFORMS archive of podcasts continues to offer provocative conversation with leading O.R. practitioners and thinkers. The latest podcasts include INFORMS veteran Gary Lilien of Penn State on marketing analytics, IBM’s Mike Schroeck on Big Data and MIT’s Arnie Barnett, a well-recognized expert on air travel safety, on terrorist threats to our rail systems. Visit www.scienceofbetter.org and www.informs.org, to download the latest selections.

Remember to share your news making research with the INFORMS Communications Department. Contact INFORMS Communications Director Barry List at barry.list@informs.org or 1-800-4INFORMs.

And now, excerpts of O.R. in the news:

U.S. Elections: Data the Key

“Obama’s re-election is a compelling demonstration of what can be done when you apply quantitative analysis to large data sets. James Carville’s famous phrase – ‘It’s the economy, stupid” – has been superseded. Now it’s the data, stupid.”
- The Guardian, Nov. 11

Tips for IT Departments starting Big Data

“Big Data and business analytics are two of the most exciting areas in business and IT these days – but for most enterprises, they are still developmental. Although the opportunities are boundless, the road to an effective Big Data operation is fraught with challenges. Here are some of the obstacles companies are encountering – and some ways to get around them.”
- Tech Republic, Nov. 12

Big Data Analytics Teams

“Having a central analytics team may be a sign that your organization is mature in its analytical ways, says Jack Levis, a vice president with the Institute for Operations and Management Science (INFORMS), a professional society, and director of process management with UPS. But when it comes to embedding analytics into daily business decisions (the goal of many current analytics initiatives, even when they don’t involve massive or unstructured data sets) ‘you can’t separate the brains’ – the statisticians and developers – ‘from the operations.’

“In other words, hiring data scientists and training technologists on Hadoop isn’t the only step business leaders need to take in order to build their capacity to use big data. They also need a structure that makes it easy to coordinate expertise across the enterprise and facilitate collaboration.”
- DataInformed, Nov. 6

Analytics Key to Obama Win

“But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means.

“ ‘We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,’ he said after taking the job.

“He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official ‘chief scientist’ for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.

“Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret.

“ ‘They are our nuclear codes,’ campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt would say when asked about the efforts.”
- Time, Nov. 8

Online BI Courses Are a Hit

“Organizations are catching on to the idea that with the right data and organization, they can implement better strategies and discover advantages. That’s why employees with business intelligence skills are in demand. They’re able to use knowledge to get ahead and make good decisions for the company. Courses like MIT Sloan School of Management’s Optimization Methods in Management Science are great for learning about the theories and application behind business intelligence and optimization.”
- OnlineColleges, Nov. 13

Trains Face Greater Terror Threat than Planes

“Anyone who’s flown in recent years has encountered the stepped-up security procedures at the airport. But one expert says the focus on the skies ignores a far bigger safety risk these days: Mass transit on the ground.

“According to Arnold Barnett, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School, people who commute on subways and trains around the world face significantly greater security threats than air passengers. Speaking at the recent annual meeting of the Institute of Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Barnett presented statistics showing that rail and subway transit has become more dangerous than air travel since 2001.”
- CBS News, Oct. 25

Insights into How Often Women Should Have a Mammogram

“How frequently should breast screening occur, and when it should begin are the topics of a new decision-making model strategy. The current guidelines recommended yearly screening after a woman reached 40 years of age. “However, because of the risk of false-positive results, needless biopsies, extra financial costs and the psychologic anguish caused over treatment, the answer now is ‘it depends.’

“Dr. Oguzhan Alagoz, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI, USA), created a decision-making model that to provide a more definitive answer. According to Dr. Alagoz, he can personalize breast-screening decisions to fit a woman’s calculated risk of invasive breast cancer – instead of just focusing on her age.

“The model was described in the September/October 2012 issue of the journal Operations Research.
- HospiMedica, Oct. 25

Nobel Winner Roth is O.R. Guy at Heart

“ ‘I can’t talk to you about the world economy. I don’t know anything about the world economy!’ Alvin Roth said to a journalist on the phone as he stepped off the treadmill in his office in the Landau Economics Building.

“It might be surprising that Roth, visiting professor of economics [at Stanford] and this year’s winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, claims not to know anything about economics. But Roth does not define himself as an economist.

“ ‘I went into operations research with the idea of fixing things up so they work better,’ he said. ‘Operations research led me to game theory, which later on became economics. I just stayed where I was; the borders shifted.’ ”
- Stanford Daily, Oct. 19

The Doctor Can See You Now. Really.

“Often the worst part of a visit to the doctor isn’t the awkward hospital gown, needle sticks or embarrassing physical exams – it’s the drawn-out wait, camped out in the reception room in the company of sick patients and old magazines.

“During a particularly long wait to see his dermatologist, Parker Oks, 18, thought there had to be a better way.

“ ‘They know approximately how long an appointment will take,’ said Mr. Oks, a freshman at Boston University. ‘But the problem is that they don’t know how long it will actually take.’ ”

“That realization led Mr. Oks to create Appointment Status, a Web site devoted to improving appointment efficiency and providing patients with information to avoid long waits. Working with three teenagers from Staten Island Technical High School, where he had gone, Mr. Oks aims to make it easier for patients to schedule appointments – and to find out how far behind the doctor may be before settling into a waiting room chair.”
- New York Times, Oct. 15

Barry List (barry.list@informs.org) is the INFORMS Director of Communications.