June 23-26, 2013
INFORMS Healthcare 2013
October 6–9, 2013
2013 INFORMS Annual Meeting
June 10-14, 2013
Predictive Analytics World
September 8-14, 2013
2013 ASE/IEEE International Conference on Big Data
Analytics Section of INFORMS NewsInnovative Applications in Analytics Award
The Innovative Applications in Analytics Award, sponsored by the INFORMS Section on Analytics, recognizes creative and unique developments, applications or combinations of analytical techniques used in practice. The prize promotes the awareness of the value of analytics techniques in unusual applications or in creative combination to provide unique insights and/or business value.Read More
Special ArticlesBig data paying off for big companies
A new research report, “Big Data in Big Companies,” describes how 20 large firms benefit from big data projects. Report co-authors Tom Davenport of the International Institute for Analytics (IIA) and Jill Dyché of SAS, the leader in business analytics, explore how these companies have deployed analytics to generate value from their big data assets.Read More
Special ArticlesContinuing education courses for analytics professionals
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences’ (INFORMS) Continuing Education program will offer its first two courses this fall. These intensive, two-day, in-person courses will provide analytical professionals with key skills, tools and methods that can be implemented immediately in a work environment.Read More
Business analytics conference builds connections
By Vijay Mehrotra
Been cleaning out the home office this month. Apparently, this is the kind of thing that is done by a newly tenured professor with no summer teaching or administrative responsibilities to avoid tackling the gnarly research problems on his desk. In addition to the many long-lost letters, books, papers, ticket stubs, non-disclosure agreements, unmarked CDs, forgotten photos, abandoned textbooks and stray postcards, I’ve also managed to unearth an impressive pile of discarded plastic lanyards, the kind one acquires at events such as orientations, new student dinners and conferences.
In particular, the bright blue lanyards from the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research (BAOR) in 2011 and 2012 caught my eye. I’ve been going to the fall INFORMS conference for many, many years , and it’s always a great pleasure to catch up with familiar old friends there. But at these past two BAOR conferences, the first ones that I have attended, I have also really enjoyed meeting interesting people who are new to INFORMS. At the 2011 BAOR conference in Chicago, I had my first contact with an analytics leader named Scott Friesen. At the 2012 BAOR conference in Huntington Beach, Calif., I had a really interesting breakfast conversation with an auto industry pioneer named Sandy Stojkovski.
Inspired by the discovery of these old lanyards, I recently caught up with Scott and Sandy last week to answer a couple of simple questions: “Who are you?” and “How did you end up attending an INFORMS conference?” Their responses were both fascinating and instructive.
Scott Friesen is senior director of analytics within the Customer Insights Unit (CIU) at Best Buy. This is the latest in a series of roles that he has played within that company since finishing his MBA in 2004. Over the past two years, Scott’s group has grown from 11 to more than 30 professionals by consistently demonstrating business value to its internal customers. Scott’s CIU is viewed within Best Buy as the go-to place for executives and managers across the company to understand customer behavior, profitability models, competitive trends and a number of other data-driven questions of interest to executives, marketers, retail managers and strategic planners.
The journey that led him to this role as an analytics leader has been unique and can be traced at least as far back as his business school statistics class with Paul Glasserman at Columbia (he confessed to me that he found Professor Glasserman and his course to be “inspiring”). Along the way, he’s worked in strategy for BestBuy.com, been trained as Six Sigma Blackbelt and Master Blackbelt, launched a new services business within the Geek Squad organization, and set up a claims analytics function (complete with actuaries) to manage risk in the company’s extended service warranty business.
Sandy Stojkovski is president of Scenaria (www.scenaria.com), a consulting firm that she founded with AVL (www.avl.com) in 2010. Scenaria develops sophisticated analytic models to provide unique insights and strategy guidance to its clients, who are typically executives within the auto industry. Starting this company is only the most recent time that Stojkovski has “broken the mold” during her career in the auto industry. She has also been a 22-year-old greenfield plant manager, gained expertise in value engineering while working for a parts manufacturer, and developed a global power train strategy for a prominent automotive brand. She also managed to complete a graduate engineering degree and an MBA before turning 30 while working full-time.
Prior to starting Scenaria, Stojkovski developed deep expertise with vehicle fuel efficiency standards first while working on fuel economy as an engineer at Ford and then while launching and growing an energy efficiency practice at an engineering services firm called Ricardo. Her bold vision – “to transform the way that auto company executives do strategic planning” – has in turn required the company to develop a management science-based approach to management consulting to help its clients intelligently address the types of high-stakes decisions that have to be made in the capital-intensive automotive industry. The company’s projects typically feature a variety of analytic tools, including experimental design and simulation modeling and visualization.
At first, I found it curious that neither Scott nor Sandy had any degrees in mathematics, statistics or operations research (though each of them appreciated what they had picked up in their respective academic programs). While both expressed genuine respect for the mathematical techniques underpinning this analytics revolution, neither felt that their relative lack of formal mathematical training had handicapped them professionally in any way.
Instead, what really stood out was that each of them had an almost viscerally strong inclination toward systems thinking. While Friesen attributed this to his undergraduate roots in the liberal arts, Stojkovski credits her engineering background for this orientation toward seeing problems in the context of the larger systems in which they exist.
They also shared several other key traits that are typical of successful leaders in the analytics industry. Throughout their careers, the interesting variety of roles and assignments revealed both of them to be voracious learners, as well as smart, judicious risk takers. Friesen and Stojkovski also both emphasized the value of building strong relationships, with Friesen passing along an important equation that a mentor had shared with him (“Trust = Credibility * Intimacy/Risk”). Each of them repeatedly spoke of looking at problems strategically and continually seeking to get closer to the root of the problem because, as Friesen put it, “that’s where the leverage is.”
This search for valued relationships and intellectual leverage is what led both Friesen and Stojkovski to INFORMS and in particular to the increasingly popular spring BAOR conferences. At the 2011 BAOR conference, Friesen made a presentation  about leveraging technology and relationships to implement analytic capabilities in the complex and dynamic world of Best Buy, participated in a lively panel session on “Growing an Analytics Capability,” and enjoyed the mix of industry and academic conversations. Meanwhile, Stojkovski started out reading Analytics magazine as part of her ongoing search for new knowledge and became intrigued with the opportunity to leverage lessons from different industries into Scenaria’s approaches. Eventually she made her way to the 2012 BAOR conference in Huntington Beach, where she delivered a presentation  on a strategic planning, analysis and a data visualization platform that her company had developed for the California Hybrid, Efficient and Advanced Truck Research Center to help the organization to jointly evaluate technology and policy decisions.
These days, there is a great deal of general talk about the rapid growth and evolution of analytics. Friesen and Stojkovski provide two specific and optimistic visions for the future. Scott and his group have recently received management approval for a new multi-million dollar customer information infrastructure that he believes will lead to a quantum growth in the types of insights his group can provide to its many business customers within Best Buy. For Sandy, the progressive tightening in the CAFE standards, which are slated to increase by 80 percent by 2025, means complex investment decisions and serious risks for the automotive industry – and great opportunities for Scenaria’s industry expertise and analytics capability to make an impact.
For my part, I feel fortunate to be able to engage personally and professionally with these folks (I was taught long ago to surround myself with likable people who are different from me and smarter than I am). In particular, I am thankful to INFORMS for creating the BAOR conference and thus establishing a compelling space for hatching these types of new connections. Moreover, meeting people like Scott and Sandy has also convinced me that there are many different types of analytic leaders out there – and I can’t wait to see more of them at the next spring party (April 7-9, 2013 in San Antonio).
We all have an awful lot to learn.
Vijay Mehrotra (email@example.com) is an associate professor, Department of Finance and Quantitative Analytics, School of Business and Professional Studies, University of San Francisco. He is also an experienced analytics consultant and entrepreneur and an angel investor in several successful analytics companies. He is a senior INFORMS member.
NOTES & FURTHER READING
- For the interested reader, here’s a link to a story about my first fall conference: www.orms-today.org/orms-12-03/frsomething.html .
- A video of Scott’s 2011 presentation is available online at www.informs.org/Community/Analytics/Videos/Analytics-Process-Presentations .
- An abstract of Sandy’s 2012 presentation is available online at http://meetings2.informs.org/Analytics2012/analyticssustainability.html .