Professor Jackson Reports on M. Eng. Project at SAP Academic Research Conference
|Dr. Hasso Plattner, SAP co-founder, and Professor Peter Jackson at the 2009 SAP Academic Research Conference
Canadian National Railway (CN) is Canada's largest railroad. A 2007-8 Master of Engineering project sponsored by SAP and software developer Axon investigated ways to improve CN employee satisfaction and reduce costs by redesigning the process of assigning 7500 crew members to specific CN trains and route segments. As a result of the project, SAP, a prominent vendor of enterprise research planning (ERP) systems, invited the project's advisor, ORIE Professor Peter Jackson, to describe the work at SAP's third annual Academic Research Conference.
In his presentation, at the Computer Museum in Mountainview, CA, Jackson emphasized the benefits of the project to the client and to the student team members. According to Paul Hofmann, Vice President, Office of the Chief Scientist at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, CA, the "collaboration with Cornell helped SAP to place an ERP contract" with the railroad.
Team members David A. Pilo Mansion, Evan Markel, Ramin Farhangi, Ryan Morris, Xiang Li and Yanbin Chen, coming from diverse engineering backgrounds, took a fresh look at the current so-called "bids and bulletins" approach to crew assignment, in which employees bid on jobs posted in bulletins.
The team did extensive data analysis of the history of employee bidding for assignment slots and characterized employee preferences and the rules governing assignments. They estimated the utility function implicit in employee bids and discovered that employees were relatively indifferent to choices within certain groupings ("buckets") of jobs. As a result, they devised a system whereby employees would characterize their "buckets" and specify the people ("buddies") with whom they would like to work. They developed algorithms to optimize assignments based on this input, yielding a "buckets and buddies" system to replace the existing "bids and bulletins" approach, increasing employee satisfaction and managerial flexibility. According to Jackson, the "'buckets and buddies' concept generated considerable interest and follow-up studies" at CN.
Jackson pointed out that team members gained experience in the consulting process, in data analysis of large datasets, in data visualization, business process mapping, brainstorming and concept development, proof of concept techniques, and algorithm development and analysis. In his talk he provided examples showing specific ways in which this experience was gained.
The conference also featured presentations by researchers from MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Stanford University. Hasso Plattner, co-founder and chairman of the supervisory board of SAP and Ike Nassi, Chief Scientist of SAP gave keynote addresses. Plattner's talk described SAP's planned move away from the relational database model to an approach, based on keeping enterprise data in ever-cheaper main memory, that would permit the integration of transaction and analytical processing, to the benefit of both. Dr. Hofmann's blog discussion of the conference has links to slides from this talk and other conference talks, including Jackson's, all linked in .pdf form.
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