Common Sense Operations
JeanFrancoisPuget 2700028FGP Visits (2625)
Is Optimization the tool of choice for improving operations? I tend to say yes, because we can be proud of the impact of optimization on various businesses and industries. See for instance the Franz Edelman Award finalists for examples of tremendous achievements. Yet, I regularly see nice alternative to using optimization techniques being successfully used. Let me give two examples.
I have been visiting a trucking company a while ago, pitching optimization as a way to significantly decrease mileage and fuel consumption via better route computation between a set of locations to visit for pick up and delivery. It is well known that optimization can improve operations of such companies. For instance the ORION system developed at UPS regularly makes headlines, see here for a recent example.
The company I was talking to gave a quite interesting answer. They basically said that they did discuss the same topic with us (while at ILOG) few years ago, and that they decided to not pursue it at that time. Instead they used a very simple way to achieve similar cost reduction in fuel expenses: they put in place an incentive program that is rewarding the most efficient drivers, i.e. those who are consuming the least amount of fuel per kilometer. The results were beyond expectations.
When one think of it, it is quite common sense: make the drivers be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.
The second example is quite recent. I am a frequent traveler between Nice and Paris in France. I basically have the choice between a traditional airline, Air France, and a low cost airline, easyJet. I tend to prefer Air France because it flies more often, and because I can reschedule my trips at no cost given my frequent traveler status with that company. Flight changes aren't free on easyJet according to their published fees. Air France free flexibility comes at a cost, as it is a bit more expensive than easyJet on that route.
So, I went on using easyJet on a recent trip. It so happened that my last Friday meeting ended up early, and I headed back to the airport several hours before my scheduled return flight. I then saw that there was another, earlier, easyJet flight that I could board in time. I therefore went to the easyJet counter, ready to pay for the flight change and be able to be back home 3 hours earlier than expected. I was then very surprised when the employee told me I could move to the earlier flight at no cost!
This made me think: why would the airline move me for free when it usually charges for changes? The justification I found is as follows:
There was only pros and no conses behind the airline decision. Someone had figured this out and implemented it as a policy.
Note that I don't know exactly how this policy applied in general, nor do I know if it is still in place as of today. Don't quote me therefore if you'd like to get a free flight change with easyJet
What do these two examples have in common? Someone figured out a simple, yet effective way of improving operations, by thinking about the situation, and using common sense reasoning. We should never lose sight of this when embarking an optimization project.