Anne Robinson is the Director of Supply Chain Strategy and Analytics for Verizon Wireless. She is also President-Elect of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. It’s the largest professional society in the world for individuals in the field of operations research (OR), management science and business analytics. In many ways, operations research was the predecessor to today’s analytics. In fact, the society named its magazine Analytics when it launched five years ago. Ahead of the curve? Robinson discussed that and more with me in a recent interview.
Operations research is a very analytics-intensive profession. Has that always been known in the industry?
Not really. People looking for analytics resources don’t necessarily associate that with operations research. We, the society, decided to take a more aggressive stance in saying that we do, in fact, do what people are looking for. Analytics magazine was an effort to introduce people to INFORMS and provide them with stories and ways to use analytics. We now have more than 7,000 subscribers to the magazine.
How does INFORMS describe analytics?
INFORMS has defined analytics as “the scientific process of transforming data into insight for making better decisions.” However, practically we describe it as descriptive, predictive and prescriptive. Descriptive is the “what’s happened?” part of analytics, predictive is “what could happen?” and prescriptive is “What’s the best outcome given a set of circumstances?” INFORMS is primarily focused on the predictive and prescriptive buckets, but that’s fine because there are other societies that focus more on the descriptive or “what’s happened” element.
Did your core membership immediately adopt that definition?
Not right away. But descriptive, predictive and prescriptive were words that started the conversations. Our members started describing their work “Well, I’m not really in the descriptive space, what I do is more predictive analytics.’’ This gave them a vocabulary to explain what they do at the proverbial cocktail party.
It’s important for scientific and technical people to have that vocabulary for talking with the business side. What else are you doing around the analytics rebranding effort?
We’re creating an analytics certification. It’s based around mastery of an analytics toolset, although it is software-agnostic. We feel there are three types of toolsets that employers are looking for mastery on – statistics, optimization and simulation – across a variety of domains. A key component of the certification is that individuals be able to demonstrate that they can use analytics to realize business value.
The emphasis on showing “business value” is interesting. Tell me more about that.
Executives are really hungry for this emphasis. They want to mature their analytics capabilities as an organization. Companies have started out with these descriptive analytic toolboxes (using standard business intelligence practices, for example), they want to know how to grow from there – how to start leveraging predictive and prescriptive technologies to solve real business issues.
So the goal isn’t “Hey, I know how to use this technology,” rather it’s “I know how to use this technology to positively impact the business”?
Absolutely! It’s the ability of someone with an advanced degree in operations research or statistics to show they have that different mindset; they have the skills to apply in the business context. That’s so important, it’s the game changer.