Director of IBM's Mathematical Sciences Division Promotes Operations Research in the Service Sector

INFORMS President Brenda Dietrich, ORIE Ph.D. '86, discussed accomplishments and opportunities for Operations Research in the business services industry at the ORIE Colloquium.

During her September 11, 2007 visit to Cornell, Brenda Dietrich, ORIE Ph.D. '86, told the ORIE Colloquium about the myriad opportunities for Operations Research in the business services industry.

Earlier this year Dietrich, (seen here with Professors Shane Henderson, Mike Todd, Mark Lewis and Jim Renegar), was named an IBM Fellow, IBM's highest honor for technical achievement, awarded to only a handful of employees each year. She is the Director of the Mathematical Sciences Division at IBM's Watson Research Center.

In her talk to Ph.D. students and faculty, she described the rise of the service economy, which accounts for more than 80% of the gross domestic product in the United States. She provided a sample of Operations Research (OR) projects that led to savings totaling more than $1B in areas such as workforce scheduling, procurement, human resources management, financial services, and supply chain. She then listed several important areas with opportunities for Operations Research that have the potential to save billions more , in applications such as forecasting service demand and resource requirements, acquiring and allocating service resources, and designing and pricing service contract, areas which are in fact interdependent.

In her talk Dietrich described the evolution of her own career since receiving her Ph.D. under the guidance of Professor Robert Bland. After completing a thesis on a combinatorial topic, she joined IBM and worked on manufacturing logistics, enterprise level planning, optimization applications for IBM clients in the airline, retail and manufacturing industries. More recently she has lead analytic applications throughout IBM, meeting both internal needs and those of IBM's services business with outside clients. Her career tracks the evolution of IBM's own business. She is the subject of an article in Fast Company magazine, and the work of her division is featured in an IBM article about the increasing importance of mathematics. (An earlier profile of Dietrich appears in INFORMS Online).   

As President of INFORMS (the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences), Dietrich is well-positioned to make the case for greater attention to opportunities for OR in business services. She noted that, to respond to the opportunity, more attention to the services sector is needed in OR education and research, including the development of literature and case material, and emphasized the need for connection and collaboration with other domains, including marketing, behavioral psychology, and economics.

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