Inside Story

Decisions, decisions

Peter Horner, editor

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
So said baseball player/philosopher Yogi Berra, apparently explaining his personal decision-making process. Clearly, clarity was not Yogi’s strong suit.

Out here in the real world, making smart decisions can mean the difference between happiness or sadness, success or failure, even life or death. In the corporate world, smart decision-making is perhaps the most prized commodity, which explains why so many decision-makers are turning to high-end analytics to inform their toughest decisions.

Since data-driven, informed decision-making goes to the heart, soul and mind of operations research, it should come as no surprise that every issue of OR/MS Today features one if not many articles on the science (and occasional art) of decision-making. This issue doubles down on decision-making, including our biennial survey of data analysis software.

In introducing the 2016 survey (page 36), Samantha Oleson, an analyst with the analytics consulting firm Innovative Decisions, Inc., gives readers a brief history lesson of decision analysis and its founders, Howard Raiffa and Ron Howard, before exploring the latest trends and market demands that are shaping today’s and tomorrow’s decision analysis landscape. The survey includes a side-by-side comparison of software packages and a vendor directory.

So what, exactly, is a decision in this context? INFORMS President Ed Kaplan, in his “Member-in-Chief Memo (page 8), recalls a “classic” O.R. definition first used by Ron Howard that includes the phrase, “irrevocably allocating resources.” Kaplan lays out the critical role decision analysis plays not only in countless areas and industries, but also in very personal decisions, such as voting for the president of the United States.

Speaking of the race to the White House, University of Illinois Professor Sheldon Jacobson and a team of grad students maintain an analytics-driven website, Election Analytics, that provides daily forecasts for the presidential and Senate races. For more on the story, see page 30.

Finally, if you’re a college student contemplating pursuing an advanced degree in analytics, is there any more important decision you have to make than deciding which department or program to attend? If you’re an organization looking to hire top analytics talent, which university program or department should you turn to?

Not so long ago, there was basically one choice: the groundbreaking, interdisciplinary Master of Science program founded by Michael Rappa at North Carolina State. It set a high standard for all of those that followed, and boy did they; today, more than 100 universities offer analytics programs to meet the growing market demand.

Last year, Kaibo Liu of the University of Wisconsin organized a panel discussion on the topic of analytics education. The panelists included the leaders of some of the top analytics programs in the country, including Rappa, Joel Sokol of Georgia Tech, Diego Klabjan of Northwestern University and David Shmoys of Cornell University. During the discussion, the panelists shared their experiences of building an analytics programs, in many cases from the ground up, along with their thoughts on effective ways of teaching analytics, course design and the unique strengths of their respective programs.

Liu and the panelists summarized their panel discussion in the article, “Present and future of analytics education” (page 32). Whether you’re a student eyeing grad school or an organization searching for analytics talent, make the right decision and read it.
— Peter Horner, editor