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IBM Haifa workshop faces today's challenges for combinatorial optimization

IBM Haifa Labs News Center

June 07, 2006

Researchers and academics ponder today's large scale problems at a workshop on the interdisciplinary applications of graph theory, combinatorics, and algorithms, hosted by IBM Haifa and the Haifa University

IBM Haifa recently held a one day Business Optimization and Operations Research Workshop as part of the four-day program for the Sixth Haifa Workshop of Interdisciplinary Applications of Graph Theory, Combinatorics, and Algorithms, in partnership with the University of Haifa.

The theme of the workshop centered around combinatorial optimization, a branch of optimization that combines multiple disciplines to solve complex real world problems. Combinatorial optimization algorithms explores the usually-large solution space of these instances by reducing the effective size of the space, and by addressing the space efficiently. These optimization algorithms are closely associated with operations research, and have strong ties to optimization, data mining, artificial intelligence, mathematics, machine learning.

In his talk on Quality and Efficiency-driven Queues in Call Center, Professor Avishai Mandelbaum of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology noted that research lags behind reality in this domain. On the one hand, our research is at the forefront. But the challenges are so great and the operations are so complex, we can't help but fall behind. Just think of some of today's commonplace systems, such as delivery centers for thousands of people, global supply chains, train systems, or transport companies. The large delivery centers described by Mandelbaum gave a practical perspective on today's challenges and explained why we need to continue examining our methods and the assumptions we work with. In the first call centers established, letting customers wait for five minutes was acceptable. Whereas, letting a customer wait even three minutes today is intolerable. Today's centers have patterns that are much more complex than they did years ago.

"The solutions we need today are far more sophisticated," noted Dr. Dagan Gilat, Senior Manager of Business Transformation and Optimization at the IBM Haifa Research Lab, and coordinator of the IBM workshop. "As companies grow, algorithms from way back can no longer provide optimal solutions. Today, we need these solutions to solve everyday business problems, stay ahead of the competition, and maintain our leadership edge."

Another highlight of the workshop was a tutorial on solving large-scale problems using linear programming and integer programming, given by Professor Martin Groetschel of the Konrad-Zuse-Zentrum f?r Informationstechnik Berlin (ZIB),, Germany. Groetschel reminded the audience that one of the fathers of integer programming was Dr. Ralph Gomory, a former Senior Vice President of IBM. In fact, Gomory was director of IBM Research in1982 and was instrumental in sponsoring and supporting the late Josef Raviv's idea of transforming the IBM Haifa Scientific Center into the IBM Haifa Research Group-a forerunner of today's Haifa Research Lab.

"Even with our most advanced techniques, the rate of change of the problems is so rapid and dynamic, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that we have enough tools at our disposal," explained Gilat. "Today's research is crucial to finding the answers to these challenges, and it was nice to see that there's still a lot of work to be done."

The day's agenda also included high levels talks on optimizing container logistics for the shipping industry, the design of complex telecommunication networks, applications of combinatorial optimization to the steel industry, and human resources matching using constrain satisfaction.

Workshop participants were enthusiastic about the opportunity to gain knowledge and network with fellow researchers. Many attendees from academia were delighted with the opportunity to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere at the IBM Haifa Labs, noting how conducive it was for first class research.

"The collaboration and partnership we enjoyed with the Haifa university and the academic community in Israel helped make this workshop a unique event, where an atmosphere of real teamwork prevailed," concluded Gilat. "We got a real sense of vision for what can be accomplished by joining forces to face today's challenges."


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