SignalCast sat down to crunch some data with Jeff Cohen, Director, Public Affairs and Marketing for INFORMS. INFORMS is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to and promoting best practices and advances in operations research, management science, and analytics to improve operational processes, decision-making, and outcomes. Sound complicated? SignalCast breaks it all down.
SIGNALCAST: Welcome to SignalCast, the podcast from Signal Group. Signal’s a bipartisan communication and advocacy firm located in Washington, DC. As always, I am your host Andrew Deerin, Creative Director at Signal. Today, we’re lucky enough to have one of our clients in the studio, Mr. Jeff Cohen, Director of Public Affairs and Marketing for an organization called INFORMS. Jeff, to help our audience understand a bit about INFORMS and operations research and analytics in general, let me just hit you with my first question. Why don’t UPS trucks ever take left turns?
JEFF COHEN: Well, Andrew, first thanks for having me here today. Glad to be with you. Look, UPS doesn’t take left turns, because the data says it’s a bad idea. UPS, using operations research and analytics, has figured out how to do things more efficiently, more effectively, save millions and millions of gallons of gasoline each year, and drive down their costs. Left turns are more dangerous, they’re more complicated. That’s why they don’t take them.
SC: How can that kind of operations research and analytics be applied to other fields like national security or healthcare?
COHEN: Why don’t we take a little bit of a step back in time, right? For your audience, operations research and analytics are the science and the art of using data to improve performance. Whether that’s business performance, whether that is program performance in the federal government, it’s about how you do things better, more efficiently. The field sort of began in the World War II era, when mathematicians and statisticians of that era came together to help the military figure out – how do they best position war ships in the ocean? How do you deal with troupe logistics?
And then, over the years, other branches of government and industry at large took advantage of these emerging fields to really drive a lot of change, and in really the last few years, relatively speaking. Computing power has changed as the access to data and information has become more democratized, and frankly a lot less costly than it used to be. These fields have really exploded. It’s really driving the industry 4.0, in terms of how do I use data and information to make better choices, to make more informed decisions based on what has happened. In some cases, like with UPS, how do you take that data and information and prescribe what you’re gonna do next?
SC: Where does the data come from? Is it knuckleheads like me, clicking the terms and agreements button without actually reading it? Is my data sort of going out to the highest bidder? Where does it start to amass from?
COHEN: It really depends on what it is. If you’re a retailer, I’m using data about my shoppers. Some of that may be sort of aggregate data about what happens at different times of day, with different types of products that move off my shelves. Others of it may be much more personalized. If you’re in the grocery store, and you belong to that chain loyalty program, they’re able to see exactly what you’re buying, when you’re buying it.
They can customize offers to you and really drive that much better customized shopping experience. It really does depend whether it’s sort of that environment, or whether you’re looking at a digital environment. And yes, it’s the data that you’re clicking, it’s the websites that you’re visiting. Data is everywhere. The ability of firms to capture it and capitalize on it is more powerful than it’s ever been.
SC: Where does an organization like INFORMS, where do you fit into this sort of data ecosphere? What part do you as an organization play?
COHEN: INFORMS is a trade association, a professional society. We have 12,000 members from around the world, most of whom are in the United States. We have members in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa. Many of them, two-thirds or so, work in academia doing really cutting edge, fascinating research. Often they’re working in partnership with industry, and those analytics and OR professionals in their own right, like in the case of UPS, are doing some amazing work.
Our job is to bring them all together and to help drive a community that is vibrant, that continues to have learning and networking and growing experiences through conferences. We publish 14 or 15 peer-reviewed scientific journals. We have a certification program to help analytics professionals stand out among a growing field of people, and so on.
We function much like any other trade association, including trying to take our message to government agencies on Capitol Hill, in Capitol Hill rather, so that we can help them think through how government can be operating more efficiently, how can policymakers do things that are different than the way it’s always been done, so they can deliver better results for the taxpayer.
SC: Given your partnership with Signal, walk me through how a firm like ours helps an organization like INFORMS.
COHEN: Sure. Signal really has been a very important partner for INFORMS. INFORMS has been around for 50 years or so in different forms and had never until a year ago been involved in advocacy, either at the federal or state level. When we went down this road of realizing that we had a voice to share and information that was relevant, we went through a pretty extensive process of thinking through what type of firm did we want to partner with, right?
We could have gone with somebody and done traditional full-on access lobbying. We could have done a pure grassroots type of play. It was really important to me to find a partner that sort of brought together the best of all worlds, which Signal really had. I had a personal relationship with Charles going back to when we were chiefs of staff.
SC: That’s Charles Cooper, one of our Executive Vice President’s.
COHEN: Charles Cooper, a great asset to Signal if I do say so. Importantly, I’ve learned to find a team where everything was in-house, that I didn’t have to have competing interests on budget or ego, or any of those kinds of things. That sometimes happens when you bring together multiple firms with multiple specialties. Because Signal had all that talent in-house, it made it really easy for me to have what I felt was a full team right at my disposal and a full partnership right at my disposal to really help INFORMS get up and running, and get to the places where we aspire to be.
SC: Well, that’s gonna do it for today’s show. My many thanks to Jeff Cohen and his amazing surfboard woody cuff links, for making the time to sit down with us here at SignalCast. Not sure about you, but I’m certainly excited to turn on my calculator app and start crunching some numbers. To learn more about INFORMS, check ’em out on the web at informs.org. To get in touch with us, you can check us out at signaldc.com. For our entire production staff, I’m Andrew Deerin. We’ll see you next time, at least theoretically.