As a consultant, I spend time keeping up with the latest technologies that can assist us in the delivery of analytics-based projects. Many software vendors, both large and small, claim that using their software will automatically deliver great business value. I beg to differ. At Princeton Consultants, we always start with a business question whose answer brings value to the organization before building a model and analyzing data.
The Optimization Edge
A Blog for Business Executives and Advanced Analytics Practitioners
Technologies: Data Science, Big Data, Optimization, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Predictive Analytics, Forecasting
Applications: Operations, Supply Chain, Finance, Health Care, Workforce, Sales and Marketing
Blockchain is a hot topic, to put it mildly. Progressive Railroading recently interviewed me for an examination of blockchain as a game-changer. Read the article here.
It is important to recognize that blockchain is a generic technology, not a standard. Freight transportation will require standards for transmitting and adding to the blockchain, adjudicating ties and defining the messages, among other things. There is exciting potential in the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance (BiTA) and its ability to set those standards.
For the past 46 years, INFORMS has hosted a competition to determine the Franz Edelman Award, whose purpose is to “bring forward, recognize and reward outstanding examples of operations research, management science and advanced analytics in practice in the world.” Considered the “Super Bowl” of the field, the competition for the award has a rigorous process for selecting the six finalists who make their final presentations to the judges at the annual INFORMS Business Analytics Conference. This year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was the winner, and I had the pleasure and honor to be one of their coaches for their entry.
MHI Solutions, which covers material handling and logistics, interviewed me for its current issue’s review of intermodal transportation trends. Many shippers used intermodal in the past, didn’t like it, and have been using truckload ever since. However, significant headwinds are now impacting truckload, such as the driver shortage. Truckload has not seen meaningful consolidation, so only a few companies are very large and profitable.
A revenue forecasting system we delivered for a publicly traded North American multimodal transportation company, summarized in a case study on this page, is noteworthy for many reasons. In this post, we focus on the collaboration throughout the project that helped the business team build confidence in changing forecasting processes from a manually intensive methodology to an automated system that provides insights into the underlying forecasting techniques. While many software vendors are promoting automated machine learning algorithms, we believe that the best predictive analytics blends business experience and insight with advanced analytics techniques.
An international airline sought to transform flight scheduling and crewing decisions through state-of-the-art optimization. The airline’s network is notably complex, with planning required for unscheduled pickup and delivery between 13,000 worldwide airports in more than 179 countries, with over 700 planes. There are variable transit times due to weather and potentials for grounding due to equipment failures.
The project sponsor recognizes the potential value of optimization and often initiates the contact with the optimization consultants to further define the right opportunity. While titles vary, this is generally a person near the top of the reporting chain of the people who will be using the software day in and out. The sponsor is usually a level or two above the SMEs: in most cases a vice president, director, or general manager.
The optimization solutions that we design and deliver typically consist of these components: an information technology (IT) system that consists of a database management system (DBMS), a data transport/communication layer to an optimization model, an optimization user interface, and some model diagnostics.
I recently had the great pleasure to be a guest on Road Dog Trucking, the Sirius XM radio program with 1.2 million daily listeners. The host, Mark Willis, asked me to discuss the disruptive technologies impacting the trucking industry: autonomous trucks, drones, the Uberization of freight, Big Data, and the Internet of Things. Based on their experiences with new technologies in the cab, on the road, and at the loading dock, callers asked a series of excellent questions. From a transcript, I have excerpted a few of our exchanges.
Mark Willis: Let’s go to the phone. First off, I’ve got Jeff coming up in Indiana. Do you think autonomous trucks will turn the industry on its ears? Is that going to be one of the disruptors? How do you feel about the technology?
A few years ago, I served on an INFORMS committee responsible for reviewing the questions that appear on the INFORMS Certified Analytics Practitioner exam. An interesting challenge for INFORMS is to take an item bank of questions, and choose a subset of the questions to appear on the exam that meet certain conditions related to the balance of topics and difficulties of the questions. This challenge doesn't just exist for INFORMS; it also occurs in many industries that use exam procedures to certify specialists. It even occurs for the SAT used in the college admissions process.