New to OR Conference - Meet our Plenary Speakers

Nira Chamberlain FORS, Senior Data Scientist at Holland and Barrett

The Power of Mathematical Modelling

In the book Burnham, K. P.; Anderson, D. R. (2002), Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information-Theoretic Approach (2nd ed.) it is stated that a model is a simplification or approximation of reality and hence will not reflect all of reality. George Box (one of the greatest 20th century statistical minds) noted, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” While a model can never be “truth,” a model might be ranked from very useful, to useful, to somewhat useful to, finally, essentially useless. In a recent commercial conference an anonymous director expressed the opinion that “all predictions are either wrong or luck”.

In this talk, I will highlight the “Power of Mathematical Modelling”. It can be argued if the French mathematician could predict the existence of a Black Hole in the 18th century (something he could not see), then how much can we predict things we can see in the 21st century!

Much of mathematical modelling occupies that unique overlap between the great subjects applied mathematics and operational research. It has a long history of success across many different industrial sectors. What other subject can teach biology to biologist, economic to economics, sociology to sociologist etc. Through the rise of machine learning, the face of mathematical modelling may be changing; mathematical modelling has always been a subject that evolved through time. However, one thing remains a model has a better chance of being useful if it is transparent and challengeable. There will be a demonstration of a number of models including can we use mathematical modelling to stop an artificial intelligence takeover.

Dr Nira Chamberlain.jpg


Dr Nira Chamberlain FORS is the senior data scientist at Holland and Barrett, a Visiting Fellow at Loughborough University and is listed by the Science Council as “one of the UK’s top 100 scientists”. He was cited for developing mathematical modelling applications for industry. In 2015 he joined the exclusive list of 30 UK mathematicians who are featured in the autobiographical reference book Who’s Who and in 2020 he will become the President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). Nira’s PhD thesis “Extension of the Gambler’s Ruin Problem played over Networks” was obtained from Portsmouth University in 2013, which he studied part –time while working as a full time Mathematics consultant.

As well as this, Nira is one of the few British mathematicians to have been discussed in the US book The Encyclopaedia of Mathematics & Society, which highlights two of Nira’s mathematical models and their impact in the field of supportability engineering of complex assets including the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier - HMS Queen Elizabeth.

He has more than 25 years of experience of writing mathematical models/simulation algorithms that solve complex industrial problems. He’s developed mathematical solutions within many industrial sectors, including spells in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Israel.

Cited by the Powerlist 2018 and 2019 as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Black people in the UK. Winner of title The Aperiodical "World Most Interesting Mathematician" - an internet international mathematics communication competition.

Frances Sneddon, Chief Technical Officer, SIMUL8

The digital transformation of OR

As a CTO I am having conversations daily about data and technology that ten years ago would have seemed like science fiction. Data and technology has changed every aspect of how we do business. Digital transformation is the greatest challenge and opportunity businesses across the globe face, it is their battleground, as they race to evolve or be left behind obsolete in this new data driven digital world. Business today is digital, every company is becoming a technology and data company.

What are the tech trends impacting businesses today and what’s predicted to come next? What does this mean for operational research? What problems will we be asked to solve in this new era? What skills will we need to do that? What change must you as the next generation of OR leaders drive to let us embrace this new world? Or are we going to let data scientists take our place.......”


Frances Sneddon is the Chief Technology Officer for SIMUL8 Corporation. For over 20 years SIMUL8 software has delivered cost savings and efficiency gains for organizations across the world. They have helped reduce NHS waiting times, increased the efficiency of car makers in Detroit by 21% and allowed the New Zealand government to rapidly recover from major earthquakes. SIMUL8 lets you create simulations of your business processes, it includes all the randomness you would see in real life, so when you make changes to the simulation it shows exactly how the process would behave in real life. Essentially, it gives you a flight simulator for your business which lets you make bold, confident decisions because you have the evidence to know the exact impact of your change. Frances is proud to lead the team that produces this world renowned innovative simulation software that has revolutionised how people improve their processes.

She joined SIMUL8 in 1999 as an intern and spent her early career providing consulting to organizations helping them use simulation to improve their business processes. This is where she developed a passion for software, as a user. Frances wanted to be able to help shape and create the experience for the end user so moving into development was the obvious path. Now CTO for SIMUL8, Frances is responsible for the strategic direction of SIMUL8 products creating an amazing end user experience from the initial connection with the website, to how you interact with the software itself.

Frances is also Chair of Scotland IS, Board member for The Data Lab – innovation centre, a member of The OR Society General Council and HORAF (Heads of OR Forum).

Frances Sneddon #2.jpg

Tony O'Connor CBE FORS, Chief Analyst, MoD and Chair, Government Operational Research Service (GORS)

Making A Difference – OR in Government

Tony will draw upon his 30+ years of experience in analytical problem solving within Government. Providing a selection of real world problems, past and present, he will show how OR analysis can make a difference to lives of people right across the country. 

There may be a quiz! And some tips and trick to take away to help you make a difference.


A senior strategic analyst with over 30 years’ experience of operational research in government across Education, Cabinet Office, HM Treasury, Health and MOD

Tony is Chief Analyst for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) with 150 staff spread over five sites who provide statistical and economic advice to the individual armed forces and MOD Head Office. He is also the Head of the Government OR Service (GORS), representing over 800 government OR analysts across 25 departments. He sits on the Heads of Analysis and Departmental Directors of Analysis groups and chairs the NATCOR Advisory Board, overseeing course content for OR PhD students.

Previously Chief Analyst of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (2001-2008), Tony improved the use of evidence in government, working on performance measurement across public services reporting to Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He has since worked for the UK health and care sector, including on big data and analytics for the Department of Health (DH). He has also been a member of Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) Evidence Data Evidence and Science Board, The Heads of OR and Analytics Forum (HORAF) and Lancaster Management Science Advisory Board.

In 2007 Tony was awarded the CBE for his work promoting operational research across government. He is a Fellow of The Operational Research Society and was made an OR Companion of Honour in 2010. He regularly speaks at OR Society events including the annual conference, EURO and The OR Society’s Analytics Summit. In 2015 he was included in the Science Council’s list of the 100 Leading UK Practising Scientists.

Other interests include: London history, photography and quiz compiling, and he once represented the Cabinet Office on University Challenge.

Tony O'Connor at New to OR #3.jpg

Paul Harper, Deputy Head of School & Director of the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University

OR Saves Lives!

Healthcare systems are stochastic in nature; that is they typically operate in an environment of uncertainty and variability, both at scale and within highly complex and connected networks. Furthermore, many healthcare services are under significant pressure to deliver more with less. OR methods can help healthcare providers move towards optimally configured services. This is much safer than experimenting with changes to the system for real and seeing what happens. Literally it can help save lives, for example in one major hospital our research completely redesigned the care for stroke patients, which resulted in a reduction in mortality rates by 60%. In another hospital emergency department, our work helped to save the Health Board £1.6m per year through optimised capacity planning. In this talk I will provide an overview of some current and recent OR healthcare modelling projects at Cardiff, highlighting different OR methodologies and demonstrating impact.

Prof Paul Harper.jpg

Short Biography

Prof. Paul Harper is Professor of Operational Research in the School of Mathematics at Cardiff University, Deputy Head of School, and Director of the University’s Data Innovation Research Institute.

His research interests are in stochastic OR, including: queueing theory, simulation methods, optimisation, and game theory; mathematical modelling of healthcare systems; mathematical modelling for the prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases; machine learning and data mining techniques. Author of more than 90 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, Paul has been a named investigator on £6M+ of funded research grants, recipient of a Times Higher Education award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology, founding editor-in-chief of the international journal Health Systems (Taylor & Francis) and Director of Health Modelling Centre Cymru. He is also an elected Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales (FLSW), recipient of the 2018 'Companion of OR' Award (The OR Society), and REF2021 sub-panel member (assessment phase) for Mathematical Sciences.