INFORMS, Uniting Operations Research and Analytics

INFORMS is a large professional association which started in operations research and management science. I discuss their evolution to analytics, CAP certification, Big Data and more.

By Gregory Piatetsky, @kdnuggets, Jun 4, 2014.

INFORMS INFORMS, as its full name indicates (The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) is a professional society that was started with a focus on Operations Research (OR). It is the largest society in OR, and recently it has been actively moving towards analytics and Big Data. Its major conferences now include Analytics and Big Data in their names:
INFORMS was also the first society, ahead of IEEE and SIGKDD, to come up with CAP: Certified Analytics Professionals exam.

I recently discussed INFORMS evolution with Gary Bennett, INFORMS Director of Marketing.

Gregory Piatetsky: Q1. Please tell us about INFORMS - how many members you have, what is their breakdown (geo, industry, academia), what are your main services to members, and what is your mission?

Gary Bennett: INFORMS is the world's largest association of professionals in the field of analytics, operations research, and management science. We have about 11,000 members in over 100 countries and serve the professional and scientific needs of educators, scientists, students, managers, analysts, and consultants. About half of our members are academics and half are practitioners in industry or government. The Institute serves as a focal point for analytics and O.R. professionals, permitting them to communicate with each other and reach out to other professional societies, as well as the varied clientele of the profession's research and practice.

We provide services such as 13 scholarly journals that describe the latest O.R. and analytics methods and applications, industry and membership magazines with news from across the profession, national and international conferences, special interest groups, a state of the art career center, and professional development services in the form of analytics certification and continuing education courses. Our sole mission is to advance the practice, research, methods, and applications of analytics, operations research and management science.

GP: Q2. INFORMS original focus was on Operations Research, but recently it has moved very strongly into the field of Analytics and Big Data - INFORMS launched a magazine named Analytics, and has started/rebranded conferences to focus on Analytics and Big Data. How do you see the interaction of analytics and operations research ?

GB: INFORMS was founded in the 1950s as the home for operations research and management science professionals. In the 2000s, when the term analytics came to widespread use, INFORMS made the conscious effort to embrace that term and serve analytics professionals who practice mostly in the descriptive and predictive spaces. Operations research, on the other hand, operates mostly in the prescriptive analytics space, utilizing such tools as simulation and optimization.
A recent member survey reported that operations research and analytics are thought to overlap almost completely and, in fact, are near synonyms.

INFORMS magazine Our Board of Directors made the bold move in 2010 to development products and services for the analytics community that they would value. Our wish for them is to make INFORMS their professional association home. Our first endeavor into analytics was the publishing of Analytics Magazine in 2008 as bi-monthly glossy magazine that covers the field. Next came our Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research, which was re-programmed from its original concept to be INFORMS O.R. practice meeting, to now appeal broadly to the analytics community. This was followed by other products and services the analytics community is embracing such as certification, our conference on big data, and continuing education courses, and the soon to come - Analytics Maturity Model.

The chart below shows that growth in INFORMS membership resumed around 2010, along with its renewed focus on Analytics.

INFORMS Membership

GP: Q3. Tell us about INFORMS CAP - Certified Analytics Professional. Who created CAP and what are some sample questions?

CAP® stands for Certified Analytics Professional and is a professional certification developed for early- to mid-career professionals. It was developed by subject matter experts comprised of both INFORMS members and non-members and validated by the wider analytics community. It was developed for several very good reasons. We felt like the establishment of this credential would bring visibility and increased credibility to the overall profession in the same way that the PMP® has done for the project management profession, would allow individuals to set themselves apart from the competition as qualified, serious analytics professionals, and would allow employers another tool to help find good, qualified analytics talent. It has been quite successful so far.

Sample questions and their answers can be found in our Candidate Handbook and Study Guide. For more information on CAP® go to

GP: Q4. How do people earn and keep CAP, what benefits they get, what is the feedback from companies for CAP?

GB: To attain the CAP designation, which you can put after your name like any rigorous credential, you not only have to pass a 100-question exam, but you also must possess the necessary educational achievement and analytics work experience, have your analytical "soft skills" validated by a current or former employer or client, and agree to abide by a first of its kind code of ethics. To maintain your CAP, you must earn professional development units. So you can see it is a complete program of professional development, not just an exam.

The exam itself covers the analytics end-to-end process, everything from business problems framing to working with data and models, to deployment and model life-cycle management. Reviews of the exam have been excellent. The terms that are most often used are rigorous but fair. It truly means something when you attain the CAP® .

GP: Q5. How do you your role vs other professional societies, like ACM SIGKDD, IEEE, SIAM ? Are there any plans for cooperation ?

GB: INFORMS is a good "sister society" with most of the professional societies in its space including IIE, IIA, POMS, and ASA. We have cooperative agreements with most, offering discounts on membership, journals, certifications, and continuing ed courses to each society's members. We are more than happy to make our members aware of products and services that will benefit them no matter that we may not have developed them. This stance makes a lot of sense since our members tend to belong to one or two other professional societies and don't wish to see them compete ferociously. In the certification realm, particularly, there are tentative plans under discussion to cooperate with IIA, ASA, CORS and Data Science Central.

GP: Q6. Your opinion of Big Data Hype - how much is real? What will replace "Big Data" buzzword?

GB: Our members and Board of Directors have debated this questions quite a bit in recent months.
Naturally, we feel like the term big data has staying power or we would not have developed INFORMS Conference on the Business of Big Data.
I have heard our members also call big data "unstructured" data, and that is becoming a bigger problem for them, especially with the advent of all the data generated by social media, video, and audio. But, our members feel like they are particularly well suited to deal with big or unstructured data.

GP: Q7. Tell us about yourself - how did you get to this position and what is your career path and interest in analytics?

GB: I, Gary Bennett Gary Bennett, am the Director of Marketing at INFORMS so I am responsible for letting the world know about all the interesting activities going on within INFORMS, and more generally, in the overall analytics profession. Even though I have an advanced degree in marketing, I am drawn to analytics because of the very real difference it makes in the bottom lines of organizations large and small and even in the lives of people.

A very strong application area for analytics is healthcare and logistics surrounding emergency preparedness, disaster response, and charitable and humanitarian activities. We have quite a few members who work in these areas of the public good. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that the use of analytical data in marketing is very important, too.