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May 31, 2011 / or4green

Green O.R. Job Skills: Business Analytics vs. Sustainability

While I was at the INFORMS Business Analytics Conference last month, I spoke to a representative from Waste Management. They were looking to hire an O.R. specialist (Michael Trick wrote about this a while back). Some of the key elements they were looking for in applicants were solid O.R. skills and strong information collection/analysis capabilities in support of modeling and optimization. That latter element sounds a lot like business analytics. Waste Management is certainly getting into sustainability (e.g. waste to energy plants, recycling, “our business is to THINK GREEN” slogan). But what is interesting, and this was confirmed by the WM rep when I spoke with her, is that all other things being equal, the business analytics piece mentioned above is more important than knowledge in the sustainability field. WM has begun collecting massive amounts of information about their systems and processes and they are now beginning to use them. Much of this will likely make the company more sustainable. But the prospective O.R. analyst need not know much about sustainability coming in.

This is reminiscent of the UPS talk (see the previous post) at the same conference. In that talk, Jack Levis described UPS as a “trucking company with technology becoming a technology company with trucks”. The first part of his talk was about going from data to information to knowledge. And as mentioned in that post, the use of telematics monitoring has lead to a trove of data that has already lead to significant efficiency, safety and other gains by the company. It seems like an O.R. analyst could work at UPS and on projects that increase sustainability. And as in the WM case, the key skill-set would be more about O.R. and the data-to-information-to-knowledge piece, than any particular sustainability know-how.

One last example along these lines is the company RecycleBank. RecycleBank tracks how much a given household recycles (using bar-coded recycling bins identified and weighed by specially outfitted trucks) and offers rewards such as vouchers for movie tickets, restaurants, products, etc. according to the amount recycled. Like UPS and WM, RecycleBank has O.R. and data/information/knowledge challenges. A key indicator of its transformation from a recycling company to a technology company was the appointment of Jonathan Hsu as CEO in 2010. Hsu came from 24/7 Real Media, the digital marketing and web analytics company.

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