Exploring analytics

L. Robin KellerINFORMS

L Robin Keller

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
– Thomas A. Edison, American inventor
I look forward to seeing you at our Institute’s annual meeting in Philadelphia at the beginning of November, where we will recognize INFORMS’ “platinum” anniversary [1], having completed 20 years as INFORMS, following the 1995 merger of ORSA and TIMS. Also coming up on Nov. 11-13 at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, is the Systems Analysis 2015 conference [2], in celebration of founding IIASA director Howard Raiffa and co-sponsored by INFORMS.

Since we now aim to integrate analytics into INFORMS, I focus this article on analytics. Motivated by Thomas Edison’s quote, it is important to go back to our field’s roots [3] in the 1950s and maintain focus on how using operations research and other analytics tools informs decision-making and leads to action. We should avoid having our work get stuck in “analysis paralysis” by aiming to truly aid decision-makers.

Many ask, “Where does operations research/management science fit within analytics?” There are different answers to this question. From my perspective on the INFORMS Board, we are aiming to brand INFORMS as a leader in analytics, with OR/MS as the core. Thus, we will retain our strength in OR/MS and augment it by adding a focus on improving decision-making via prescriptive analytics tools not previously included within the OR/MS umbrella. The spring “practice” conference is now the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research. The number of people with Certified Analytics Professional (CAP®) certification is growing, and we are planning an Associate CAP level for entry-level professionals [4] to take the exam and then acquire the needed experience for full certification. Employers are increasingly listing CAP as a preferred qualification for prospective hires. For organizations, the Analytics Maturity Model [5] scorecard helps assess their internal analytics capabilities. The Analytics Section of INFORMS is active in promoting analytics, via conference sessions, videos and awards [6]. And the number of academic analytics programs is growing. It is important to encourage such programs to include training in prescriptive analytics, including OR/MS tools.

In his December 2014 President’s Desk article [7], Past-President Stephen M. Robinson wrote:

“INFORMS’ core strengths are in operations research and the management sciences. We need not only to retain these, but also to continue to strengthen them because they enable everything else we do. We’ve now added data-related capabilities covering descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics with particular emphasis on the prescriptive work. One way to visualize the relationship between OR/MS and analytics is to imagine two concentric circles. The inner one contains our core disciplines, O.R. and M.S. The space between the two circles contains analytics, which connects the technical core with the vast array of decision problems. That connection takes place at the outer circle.”

Following up on Robinson’s article, INFORMS member John Lawrence Nazareth discussed the positioning of O.R. and analytics in his recent essay [8] and used the acronym INFORMANSY. Nazareth sees that “advancing O.R. borders on, or leads to, advanced M.S.; advancing OR/MS borders on advanced analytics; and advancing OR/MS/analytics borders on advanced systems analysis.” He goes on to say, “Drawing on this sequence of acronyms and speaking informally and playfully, we might even venture that the “language” of INFORMS is INFORMANSY.”

In the INFORMS Connect Open Forum, a number of discussion threads have addressed the topic of broadening INFORMS to include analytics, particularly stimulated by Robert Rose’s cautionary take on analytics vs. operations research. His blog [9] includes provocative posts such as “Should We Re-Brand Operations Research?” and “Will Operations Research Survive?”

Our introspection about the reach of our analysis methods and our field provides an opportunity to re-examine how each of us will practice our profession in the future. While each person’s future plans will be unique, I will hazard providing some general predictions and suggestions.

We all may pick up new analytics tools beyond what we have used in the past. More posts to the Open Forum could provide tidbits of information on new tools. I learned how to send a fax from a computer by watching the 1993 movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” What could we learn about new analytical tools by reading the daily digest of the Open Forum? I recently learned about the open-source graph visualization tool Gephi from the August 2015 “What’s Your StORy?” post on Alan Briggs. Go to the post [10] to check out the network graph (that looks like an expensive artwork) showing how his early life is connected to his life today, based on nodes and edges from a social media site he uses.

Research-minded members might build their career portfolio to include some applications of the tools they teach and research. Application-minded members might look for teachable insights and researchable questions regarding such tools.

Our future is bright as we begin INFORMS’ next 20 years!


  1.  Since platinum is the traditional gift for 20th wedding anniversaries, I borrowed it for our merger anniversary.
  3.  See the portrait galleries of presidents beginning in 1952 for ORSA and in 1954 for TIMS,
  7. Robinson, S., “Beyond analytics,” OR/MS Today, 41(6), Dec. 2014, pg. 8,
  8. Nazareth, J. L., “Re-ranking national universities: A simple exercise in descriptive analytics”, August 2015,
  9. Rose’s blog: