What's Your StORy?

Radhika Kulkarni

Radhika Kulkarni

April 2015 What's Your StORy?
Vice President, Advanced Analytics R&D,
SAS Institute Inc.

More questions for Radhika Kulkarni?
Check out the Open Forum on INFORMS Connect!


What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
I came to Cornell University to do a PhD in mathematics. During my first semester I took a class in mathematical programming and loved the idea of the fundamentals of a decision-making process: finding an optimal value given some levels you can control subject to immutable constraints. The idea of looking at problems in this framework attracted me to the area of operations research and I switched to the PhD program in O.R. I have not looked back on that choice.


What would you name the autobiography of your life?
"In Search of the Optimal State"


What are current issues/trends/challenges in O.R.?
Big Data and Big Analytics - both of these topics have become ubiquitous in our lives. Learning to work with distributed computing and scaling algorithms to any size of problems is one of the biggest challenges I see in my work. But we also have a great opportunity here. Many businesses recognize that the ability to solve complex business problems using a data (big data)-driven decision process is the key to success. Solving these problems requires a strong foundation in many mathematical areas coupled with computational expertise. I believe that a background in O.R. gives you the right skill sets to succeed in this arena. Let us take advantage of that!


What was your best INFORMS experience?
The Practice conference in 2009 in Phoenix where we started the analytics journey for INFORMS. A small group had formed at that time to explore the meaning of analytics and how O.R. could play a role in this space. I was involved in several discussions with long-time INFORMS friends (Anne Robinson, Jack Levis, Zahir Balaporia, among others) during this conference as INFORMS set the stage to become an important player in the analytics arena. It was exciting to be involved in this movement from the beginning and it has been rewarding to see its success. I hope to see INFORMS recognized as the premium analytics organization. I firmly believe that "The Analytics market is OuR's to lose!"


If we were sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it's been for you, what would we be celebrating?
The success of the upcoming Business Analytics conference in Huntington Beach chaired by my colleague Dr. Manoj Chari. I am sure it will be a banner year for the conference - we have seen it grow continuously for the past several years, haven't we?


What is the best advice you can give to students in your field?
Look for opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Over my career, I have found numerous opportunities where algorithms and methods in one analytical area can be applied in innovative ways within others. In particular, developers in my division at SAS have been able to apply optimization solvers (linear, nonlinear, integer) to several data mining, machine learning, forecasting, and statistical problems to tackle computations that were previously intractable. Also, combining methods from multiple disciplines is often necessary to solve the complete business problem. Be open to learning about problems in all different areas and tackle them with the tools at your disposal!


What interest do you have outside of work that might surprise us?
I love to travel but most of my family members (except my oldest son) are reluctant to do so. My challenge is to satisfy my objective to travel widely while exercising the options at my disposal and satisfying time limit and length constraints imposed by my family.