Wednesday, 23 July 2008

IFORS 2008 in Sandton South Africa

I have spent the first two and a half weeks of July in South Africa. The main reason for going there was to attend the conference of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS from now on) which was held in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg (Jo'burg) from Sunday 13th July to Friday 18th July. These IFORS conferences are held every three years, and this was the 18th of them -- and the sixth that I have attended. The conference also marked the 50th anniversary of IFORS. And it was the first time the conference has been held in Africa.

Mike Trick was there and he is also creating a blog ( so I won't repeat what he has already written.

The conference facilities were pretty good; one new feature for me was that the computers for presentations were set up with folders for each session and speaker, so the team of students who were "go-fers" could download your presentation from a memory stick in advance and you would know where to find it. (How different from the days when one travelled with a wallet of overhead transparencies! Mind you, when I went to one conference in Jerusalem, the airport security inspector demanded that I produce my slides to him before I went to the aircraft to demonstrate that I was genuine; I wonder what would he do now?)

But I often tend to look at things with an OR professional's eye, and the convention centre had room for improvement ("Science of better")

(1) The design was weird -- access to upper floors was generally by escalators, and these were at the xtreme sides of the ground floor foyer -- not very convenient.
(2) There wasn't an obvious channel for feedback when things went wrong for participants -- if a light-bulb needs to be replaced, who do you tell? There were numerous staff around, but they did not have identifiable roles.
(3) We had a splendid banquet, but the main course and dessert were buffet style, even though there was a surfeit of waiting staff. 600 people had to negotiate their way around the tables to the buffet ... not easy.
(4) The conference organisers had a desk for queries during the conference -- a classicly designed bad queue led to this; the number of servers was uncertain, as some people came to the desk and then went away again, and the users (Customers) formed an indeterminate number of lines to the desk, and jockeyed. Service times were extremely variable -- a rope barrier and one line of users would have been much better.

More another day!