The missing plane, analytics & more

Compiled by Barry List

INFORMS podcasts continue to offer provocative conversation with leading analytics/O.R. practitioners and thinkers. The latest podcasts include Martin Isaac Meltzer of the CDC on when to collect data about incidents of disease (and when not) and Eben Haber of IBM on using psycholinguistics to gain marketing knowledge about users of social media sites like Twitter.
Visit INFORMS Today (formerly the Science of Better) at to download the latest selections.

Visit the INFORMS Newsroom at for news about analytics and INFORMS press releases. Remember to share your newsmaking research with the INFORMS Communications Department. Contact INFORMS Communications Director Barry List at or 1-800-4INFORMs.

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

Stanford’s Wein Advances Biometric Program

The Center for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank, reports that 70 nations have some sort of biometric program.

Now a Stanford business professor is proposing a way to make India’s program far more accurate. Lawrence Wein, a professor of management science, applies mathematical and statistical modeling to solve complex practical puzzles.

In health care, Wein has analyzed strategies to optimize food aid in Africa and to mitigate the toll of pandemic influenza. In homeland security, he has developed strategies that the U.S. government has adopted for responding to bioterrorist attacks involving smallpox, anthrax and botulism.

Wein’s interest in biometrics started almost a decade ago, with his analysis of fingerprint strategies used by the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program for nonresidents entering the country. That analysis influenced the government’s decision to switch from a 2-finger to a 10-finger identification system.
Stanford University, May 1

Is a Master’s Enough for Analytical Leadership?

When asked, “Do we still need Ph.D.s?” during a panel discussion at the recent INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research, corporate analytics leaders wasted no time in signaling, “Oh, yes.”  The differences between the two are too great to ignore, panelists from Disney, Ford, Google, and indicated.

“I find a very different caliber between the Ph.D.s and Master’s,” said Erica Klampfl, future mobility manager at Ford Motor Co. (whom we met last year in her former role as technical leader of strategy and sustainability analytics at Ford Research & Advanced Engineering).

If the data work doesn’t require out-of-the-box thinking, then hiring Master’s students is fine, Klampfl said. If running the optimization or analyzing results is straightforward, no problem. But with complexity comes the need for innovation, and Klampfl said she’s found the majority of Master’s students lack the technical depth necessary in such situations., April 15

Analytics Leaders Discuss Care and Feeding of a Successful Analytics Team

Analytics team leaders from a variety of industries gathered at the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research this week for a panel discussion on how to build a well-rounded data-analytics team and manage data professionals: where to position them; how to keep them challenged, engaged and motivated; and what it takes to lead them.

The panel was moderated by Julia Kirby, editor at large at the Harvard Business Review, and included team leaders from major corporations, including Brian Eck, quantitative analyst at Google; Kerem Tomak, vice president of marketing analytics at Macy’s; Erica Klampfl, global future mobility manager at the Ford Motor Company; Dayana Cope, manager of operations research engineering at Disney; and Jeanne Harris, managing director of IT research at Accenture.
DataInformed, April 4

Bayesian Methods to Find Missing Plane?

It’s not the easiest to put it into words, but Arnold Barnett, [an operations researcher] at MIT’s Sloan School Of Management, explains it this way: Suppose someone in another room throws a die and you’re asked the odds he rolled a 5? “You’d say 1 in 6,” he says.

“But now suppose [someone comes out of the next room] and says, ‘an odd number came up, but I don’t remember which,’ ” he says. “There are only three odd numbers on the die (1, 3, and 5), so the odds of a 5 have gone up to 1 in 3.”

Bayes’ theorem is a formal way of revising that original 1-in-6 estimate based on this new information about an odd number.
NPR, March 25

Certifiably Analytic

With the explosion of analytics in business and society, there is obviously a great need for people who can analyze data effectively and support analytical decisions. But if you’re hiring someone to help with analytics and you don’t know much about the field yourself, how do you know if they are good enough? Degree programs and majors in analytics are proliferating in universities, but how do you know if they teach the right content? We have well-established standards for plumbers and welders, but not for quantitative analysts or data scientists – until now.

INFORMS, a non-profit association of quantitative analysts and academics, has established a certification program called Certified Analytics Professional, or CAP. INFORMS was originally comprised primarily of operations research (O.R.) folks, who typically focus on methods like optimization, simulation and decision tree analysis. But the association’s leadership has made great progress in addressing all types of business analytics. I just attended the 2014 conference on “Business Analytics and Operations Research,” and specialists in marketing analytics, web analytics and Big Data analytics were all in evidence along with the O.R. folks.
Wall Street Journal, Tom Davenport, April 2

Targeting Customers from the Bottom Up

As we’ve discussed in a recent A2 Radio program, multi-channel revenue attribution is tough. But Alex Cosmas and his team of data scientists at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group (SIG) think they’ve found a way. And it comes from the bottom up, said Cosmas, chief scientist.

Working for a hospitality client, the SIG applied a Bayesian network technique to determine whether it could “quantify the amount that a promotion drove in incremental sales vs. other factors like weather, differences in rates and fares, or just regular cyclicality of the peaks and valleys of travel,” Cosmas told me in a phone interview that followed from a presentation he delivered at this week’s INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research conference. He described the project in a session called “Monetizing Bayesian Networks: A Case Study in Evaluating Promotional Campaign Effectiveness.”, April 4

2013 Edelman Winner Inspires Post-Hurricane Sandy Efforts

In December 2012, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on vacation in Berlin when he decided to detour to the Netherlands. He wanted to get a firsthand sense of the famed Dutch approach to water management. Hurricane Sandy struck six weeks before, and in the aftermath, President Obama asked him to lead a task force, whose objective was not just to rebuild but also to radically rethink the region’s infrastructure in light of climate change.

In the Netherlands, a man named Henk Ovink offered to be Donovan’s guide. Ovink was the director of the office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, meaning, essentially, that it was his job to keep the famously waterlogged country dry.
New York Times, April 9

Kroger Solves Top Customer Issue – Long Lines

What bugs people the most about grocery shopping? It’s not the in-store Muzak or the occasional squished loaf of bread. It’s the dreaded wait at the checkout line, according to Kroger customer surveys, prompting the supermarket chain to test a variety of technical solutions over the years. Kroger thinks it finally has the right mix of technology: QueVision, which combines infrared sensors over store doors and cash registers, predictive analytics and real-time data feeds from point-of-sale systems.

From the moment customers walk through the door of a Kroger store, the QueVision technology works toward one goal: ensuring that they never have more than one person ahead of them in the checkout line. The technology, now deployed at more than 2,300 Kroger stores across 31 states, has cut the average wait time from more than four minutes to less than 30 seconds, the company says.

Kroger was doing data analytics simulations on the queuing problem as far back as 2007. “We asked a question: If we could open up a lane exactly when we needed it, what would happen?” says Doug Meiser, operations research manager. “We just wanted to ask the question from an analytics standpoint. And we found we could dramatically improve customer satisfaction.” From there, he says, it became a matter of “the math is sound; how do we go do this?”
Information Week, April 2

How to Make Boarding a Plane Faster

If you travel, you’ll probably be interested in this. A professor in the U.S. has, he says, worked out how to make boarding an aeroplane faster. It’s all to do with how many carry-on bags passengers have. [Operations researcher] R. John Milne is from the Clarkson University School of Business in New York.
BBC Radio, April 3

Fader Illuminates Customer Initiative

The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) matches global companies overflowing with untapped customer data to the academic world’s top analytics researchers. These collaborations have given WCAI Co-director Peter Fader, a member of INFORMS, a unique perspective on the evolution, and current state, of customer analytics.
DM News, April 1

What Umpires Get Wrong

This season Major League Baseball is allowing its officiating crews to use instant replay to review certain critical calls, including home runs, force plays and foul balls. But the calling of the strike zone – determining whether a pitch that is not swung at is a ball or a strike – will still be left completely to the discretion of the officials. This might seem an odd exception, since calling the strike zone may be the type of officiating decision most subject to human foible.

In research soon to be published in the journal Management Science, we studied umpires’ strike-zone calls using pitch-location data compiled by the high-speed cameras introduced by Major League Baseball several years ago in an effort to measure, monitor and reward umpires’ accuracy. After analyzing more than 700,000 pitches thrown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, we found that umpires frequently made errors behind the plate – about 14 percent of non-swinging pitches were called erroneously.
New York Times, March 30

Malaysia Airlines Safety Sound

[Operations researcher] Arnold Barnett, a longtime Massachusetts Institute of Technology specialist in aviation safety statistics, said that before the disappearance of the plane, Malaysia Airlines had suffered two fatal crashes, in 1977 and 1995. Based on his estimate that Malaysia Airlines operates roughly 120,000 flights a year, he calculated that the airline’s safety record was consistent with that of airlines in other fairly prosperous, middle-income countries, but had not yet reached the better safety record of airlines based in the world’s richest countries. ORMS
New York Times, March 8

Barry List ( is the director of communications for INFORMS.