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Posted 18 June 2012

Developments in Advanced Analytics Event

John Hopes

It is well known that the worst part about hosting a party is waiting to see whether anyone will turn up.  And so it was at the OR Society’s recent one day national event on “Developments in Advanced Analytics” at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, with the portrait of Faraday sternly surveying what could have been the scene of our embarrassment.  But I needn’t have worried; not only did we achieve our target attendance of 150, but perhaps more importantly we achieved our other target of an even split between members of the Society and non-members.  We also attracted a good number of senior level decision makers keen to discover more about the subject.  Unfortunately, one person who wasn’t there was poor John Ranyard who, having been the major contributor to organising the event, was taken ill at the last minute.  Such a shame, John; but rest assured all the efforts (and last minute panics) were worth it.  The whole thing ran like clockwork.  A big thank you goes to John and to the other organisers (Graham Sharp, Gavin Blackett, Hilary Wilkes and all the others who worked behind the scenes).  I should also make a special mention of our President who so ably took on the marathon task of being on the platform all day to chair the event.

In terms of themes from the day that resonated with me, it was good to hear that at Tesco and Hotels.com analytics is right at the heart of board level decision making.  It was also fascinating to hear how Tesco are combining weather data with product sales and supply chain data to massively reduce food wastage when that anticipated sunny barbecue weekend turns out to be a 48 hour monsoon.  Also, given that analytics is insight from data I was pleased to obtain some insights about data.  Mark Elder from SIMUL8 made the point that in the past the big challenge for simulation was finding the data, whereas today in the digital economy we are swimming in the stuff and so it is far less likely to be an issue.  Jonathan Batson from IBM went further with this theme, pointing out that the volumes of data being created are so vast that even with today’s cheap storage technology it will be impossible to store everything, and so the key will be the ability to choose what to keep and what to throw away.

Beyond the content of the presentations themselves, though, the other feature of the day was the level of energy and buzz throughout the event.  This came across in the quality and quantity of questioning after each presentation and during the panel session, as well as in the lively atmosphere during the breaks.  It was clear that a key benefit of the day was the networking opportunity that it provided.  Certainly all those I spoke to were in very upbeat mood.  Those who were ORS members said it was exactly the sort of thing that the society should be doing, while non-members commented on the high quality of the content and what good value it was compared to similar events elsewhere.

The event was the latest in a number of actions undertaken by the Society’s analytics working party to respond to encouragement from our members and from the wider analytics community to engage more actively with this high profile subject.  Other actions have included the research we commissioned from Cap Gemini and the survey of members’ views on analytics.  All of these, including the feedback we received from the one day event, are giving us increasing confidence that this emphasis on analytics is striking a chord.

In fact, the overwhelming message from those attendees who provided feedback on the event was that it was good quality and that they would like to participate in another one.  Encouragingly, 14% even said they would be willing to present a talk at the next one (which would make John Ranyard’s task in organising the event a whole lot easier).  As a result of this vote of confidence John and I have already volunteered to start plans for a follow-up event at the same time next year.  Mind you, for those of you who can’t wait that long we are also exploring the possibility of similar joint events with other organisations who have expressed an interest in working with us in this space, possibly to be held later this year.

Another key message from the feedback, both from the event and from the ORS survey, was the desire for more networking around the subject of analytics, either through an online community or some form of special interest group.  The analytics working party is taking up this request and you should watch this space for news of an analytics network launch later in the year.

Accreditation was also highlighted by attendees at the event as being of interest.  Rather surprisingly to me (given our experience with O.R. accreditation) 25% of those who filled in our forms said they would be interested in this.  We are keeping close to INFORMS on this one as they are moving fast on the implementation of analytics certification.

Other areas of significant interest were training in analytics, subscribing to an analytics publication and an analytics stream at the OR conference.  On the first of these, I am sure that many of you have noticed that the Society’s training courses are now presented to the market within an analytics-based framework.  There are, however, areas of analytics that are under-represented in the course material and we aim to fill those gaps.  With regard to the separate analytics publication, INFORMS already produces one which is glossy and geared to the needs of practitioners; but we will take another look at whether something similar should be launched in the UK.  Finally, as with last year, there will be an analytics stream at this year’s OR conference, plus some analytics content in the practitioner and plenary streams.

In conclusion, we now have a weight of support for the OR Society’s analytics initiative and are moving forward on a number of fronts.  As one of the non-OR attendees at our event said to me, “I didn’t know that the OR Society was involved in analytics”.  Well, we certainly are now, and in fact we always have been.  We just didn’t shout about it.