Recently I have been "heads down" on some new stuff we’re working on for Technical Computing. Fortunately I am getting the chance to fly out to Chicago to attend the 2011 INFORMS Conference on Analytics. The annual meeting is a lot of fun – especially because of the sheer volume of great talks – but this conference is perhaps even more relevant to my day-to-day work with Solver Foundation and Technical Computing. Here are the four things I am looking forward to the most:
The technology workshops on Sunday. We’re in the middle of a development cycle so I don’t have a workshop this time, so I will have the chance to sit back and watch! It looks there is going to be some great stuff from Palisade, Gurobi, Ziena, and many more. The workshops are a great opportunity to learn about the latest tools, straight from those who build them. I try to go as many of these as I can.
The Edelman Awards. As somebody trying to build tools to help people solve real-world problems, this is what it’s all about. It’s inspiring, educational, and impressive. I see that Mike Trick is once again a judge for the competition, and I do not envy his job. It’s going to be tough. I am not sure how I would weigh the novelty of a submission versus its business impact. I have found in several cases that simple blunt instruments can be surprisingly effective in practice, even if they make for totally uninteresting papers. We’ve got some outstanding entries this year.
The plenary keynotes, in particular Chuck Holland from UPS. The title of his talk is "Operations Research: Getting the Attention of Senior Executives". This conference was renamed from the "INFORMS Practice Conference" to put a greater emphasis on the field of analytics: using computing to gain insight from data. In this context, what has been traditionally called "operations research" provides many – but not all – of the tools used to make business critical decisions. What’s intriguing about Chuck’s abstract is that it confronts a key problem head-on: bridging the gap between those who supply insight and possible decisions (who are practitioners of operations research and analytics whether they know it or not), and those who actually make these decisions.
The last thing, and perhaps the most important to me, is the chance to talk with other attendees. The INFORMS Analytics conference is cool because it brings together the research community, practitioners, and software vendors. I learn so much just by hearing everyone’s stories, and I always make connections that make an impact on what I do the rest of the year. To top it all off, it’s in Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the whole world.