The Democratic National Convention held in Denver last week was an overall success thanks to countless hours spent planning by law enforcement, the convention committee, local leaders and a math class from the University of Colorado. Yep, that’s right – a math class.
NPR aired a story last week about a math class at the University of Colorado that created models to best locate resources such as volunteers and free bike rental stations. For volunteers, the class had to take into account variables such as the skills and interests of the volunteers, the availability of the volunteers, where the demand for volunteers would be needed, and so on. Similar variables were considered for bike rentals. To further complicate matters, the models were constructed without knowing the values of many variables such as how many bikes would be available.
This challenge made me think of some of the optimization models we make at Corona. Often we have teams working in parallel; one constructing the model and the other crunching numbers creating the inputs. The model has to be flexible enough to allow for a broad range of values without knowing the exact values (or range of values), while ensuring the model still accurately represents the desired real world situation. While the teams work closely throughout the process, it is still an anxious moment when the two parts of the process are combined and we hit the “go” button.
Of course, constructing the actual model is the easy part – designing the model to mimic reality is where the art (and fun part!) comes in. While limitations always exist, nearly any problem can be modeled. The DNC is just one example, of course. Need to pick a new location for your business? You could model where your market to make sure you minimize cannibalization of your other locations. How about maximizing your marketing budget? You could use a model to maximize return on your money (and even time) spent. Consumer behavior? Population growth? You get the idea – modeling can help make better decisions for real life problems.
(for our observations on the DNC, see our other post here)