Tag: Center for Analytics and Business Insights


The Data for Good conference is an event for members of the business community at large. The concept of the event focuses on how businesses can move forward using data while also staying true to values that promote good in the world.

During this event, Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI) shared its framework for developing data-driven strategies for the benefit of St. Louis companies looking to create their own sustainable prosperity in their communities and in the region as a whole.

The pillars of this conference are also core to the Olin MBA program. We are on a mission to discover a more values-driven approach to data and help shape the next generation of business leaders with “good data” leadership in mind. The conference asks us how we can move beyond using data for good as a concept and discover first-hand how data can be used to responsibly solve critical business, civic, and social issues.

Why has “data for good” become a call to action?

Business has reached a particular moment in history where the amount and quality of data available is unprecedented. Vast quantities of data pass through organizations every day, ready to be collected and used to their advantage.

Yet, businesses also stand at a crossroads in terms of how to best make use of data and how to maintain longevity. Corporate data responsibility is still in its formative years as leaders are realizing that not all data is created equal. Data can be used in negative ways, and misused data can expose a company to harmful attacks and breaches of privacy. What we realize is that we need leaders who are trained to understand the power and responsibility associated with the enormous amount of data available today.

In order to use data for good, businesses must become more aware of the changing landscape around the collection and utilization of data. Consumers are more educated on this issue than ever, and they have increasingly high expectations for how companies treat their information. And alongside consumer changes are public policy shifts. Regulations are being crafted all the time to outline data management ethics that protect consumers and provide guidance to businesses.

How can an online MBA program create better data leaders?

The same values-driven pillars that are guiding the Data for Good conference also guide us at Olin.

Students in Olin’s MBA program learn about social and civic goals at the same time as they practice creating positive business outcomes. They learn, from the beginning, to think of themselves as leaders of social change as well as leaders of prosperous businesses. They learn what it means to be a responsible business leader.

At the CABI research center, our research projects all have a “data for good” focus and aim to solve complex community and societal issues. For example, one of those projects was aimed at combating the opioid epidemic plaguing the United States. This is a current and demanding issue, one that surrounds many of our students’ hometowns and counties. During the project, we utilized advanced analytics and data modeling techniques very similar to those used in a business setting. The same strategies used to create growth in a business are used to create momentum for change.

The outlook we espouse is that successful leaders can take a consistent approach to very different goals, problems, and intended outcomes. That outlook involves first setting up a clearly defined objective or set of objectives. What do you want to achieve? What is the ideal scenario and the next ideal?

See the full 2023 symposium

The full 2023 Data for Good Symposium

From there, students learn to determine which key results must be achieved to realize those objectives. How will we know if we have succeeded? Then, with those core pieces of information at their disposal, leaders can establish the specific activities they can perform or initiate that are likely to enable those desired results.

What does data have to do with this methodology? Well, at each point of the strategy, data and technology can be used to help: to help guide the process, help speed things along and add insight. Most importantly, each step we take with data is guided by the objectives and values we’ve set up already; this is how we know what our priorities are.

Culture is key to the courses we teach and how we teach them. The word culture comes from the same French and Latin roots as the word cultivate; this is an action word — cultivation requires a continuous, careful force. This is how we think about crafting culture at Olin. 

We nurture a culture of leading with values. Everything — from the questions we ask to the data-driven actions we take — must be guided by values. Tools are there to help us, but we must first know how to use them for good. And we want to share the knowledge to carefully wield those tools with not just our students but also our community.

Pictured above: Olin’s Seethu Seetharaman, director of the Center for Analytics and Business Insights and W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing, outlines a data-driven process the center developed to guide economic development decisions in St. Louis. The presentation was at the March 2023 Data for Good symposium.

Interim Dean Anjan Thakor on Thursday announced the winners of the 2023 Olin Award: The authors of “Nip it in the Bud! Managing the Opioid Crisis: Supply Chain Response to Anomalous Buyer Behavior.”

The paper is by Seethu Seetharaman, the W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing and co-director of Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI); Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship and co-director of CABI; Anthony Sardella, adjunct lecturer and senior research advisor at CABI; and Annie L. Shi, a doctoral student in marketing.

Seetharaman and Wall met with Thakor and Todd Milbourn, interim deputy dean and Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance, in the dean’s suite Thursday morning and for the surprise announcement.

“I’ve got great news,” Thakor said. “Congratulations. You’re the winner of the 2023 Olin Award.”

The researchers developed a process for flagging suspicious transactions across 100 pharmaceuticals—a process with a stunningly high level of precision and one that can immediately take aim at curbing the country’s opioid epidemic.

Richard Mahoney, Olin distinguished executive in residence and former chairman and CEO of Monsanto, initiated the award, now in its 16th year, to promote scholarly research that has timely practical applications for complex management problems. He joined the meeting by Zoom.

“Let me add my congratulations,” Mahoney said. “I’ve been making these congratulations for a number of years, and this is a particular pleasure.”

“We’re delighted to hear this,” Seetharaman said. “And much appreciated, Dick. We’re deeply appreciative of the attention you’ve given our research.”

Their work comes under the auspices of the Olin Brookings Commission, a project by WashU Olin and the Brookings Institution to address critical policy issues affecting communities.

‘The potential to save lives’

“Your team’s work has quickly shown promise as a law enforcement tool to flag transactions that divert often legitimate prescription therapies toward illicit uses,” Thakor said.

“Your work, no doubt, has the potential to save lives.”

The winning paper will be presented at a virtual luncheon in April or May. The faculty authors will split a $25,000 award from Mahoney.

Of the 20 papers submitted, six went on to the second round, rated by corporate judges as research with potential impact to business, Thakor said.

Two tied for runner-up: “The Political Polarization of Corporate America,” by Margarita Tsoutsoura, associate professor of finance; and “Diversity Messages That Invite Allies in Diversity Efforts,” by Hannah Birnbaum, assistant professor of organizational behavior.

On September 12, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to launch a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, noting the United States relies too heavily on foreign materials and foreign bioproduction. Off-shoring of critical industries threatens US ability to access materials like important chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Consider the prescriptions you or your loved ones need for high blood pressure, infections or other ailments. Chances are, no manufacturing source exists in the United States for critical generic drugs or their active ingredients.

In fact, in 2021 the White House sounded the alarm about vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical supply chain that has led to shortages of critical medicines the Food and Drug Administration deems “essential.” A White House report proclaimed, “The disappearance of domestic production of essential antibiotics impairs our ability to counter threats ranging from pandemics to bio-terrorism, as emphasized by the FDA’s analysis of supply chains for active pharmaceutical ingredients.”

The problem? It seemed that insufficient US manufacturing capacity due to offshoring was largely to blame. But new research from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights, at Olin Business School at Washington University, finds the US does, indeed, have the capacity to make the nation’s most essential and critical drugs—yet most of the capacity is sitting idle.

Report fills key data gap

The CABI report fills a crucial gap in available industry data: “US Generic Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Available Capacity Research Survey.”


“We addressed of a significant blind spot, which was the understanding of available capacity in the United States to build supply chain resiliency,” said Anthony Sardella, author of the CABI report, senior research advisor for CABI and Olin adjunct lecturer.

“Our results were quite surprising. Fifty percent of available capacity is not utilized,” he said. “The number was stunning.”

On September 14, the Biden administration revealed it will invest more $2 billion into biotech and biomanufacturing efforts, with $1 billion from the Department of Defense for manufacturing infrastructure in the US.

30 billion more doses possible

Last year, the generic pharmaceutical industry made headlines when it announced the closure of several U.S. manufacturing plants. Why? In part because of lower offshore operating costs and labor rates, intense pricing pressure and steadily growing dependence on offshore sources for raw materials.

“How do we account for this incongruency?” Sardella asks. He and his team surveyed 37 U.S. generic pharmaceutical manufacturing sites. They found the sites are producing at just half of their production capacity annually, with an aggregate excess capacity of nearly 50%. In fact, only two of the 37 manufacturing sites are producing at full capacity.

If the sites got up and running, nearly 30 billion additional doses of essential and critical medicines could be produced in the US without incurring the expense of building new manufacturing plants and shorten the time to make generic medicines available from domestic sources, according to the report.

In a nutshell, the report recommends the following:

  • Repurpose idle sites to enable manufacturing to address shortages, increase supply-chain resiliency and build supplies within 24-36 months.
  • Continue current federal funding efforts for advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce production costs, create new workforce opportunities and increase the economic sustainability of US drug manufacturing.

Research aims to foster national policy

Sardella, who focused his research on issues at the intersection of business, government and society, will present the results of the paper on October 4 to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to provide support for policy considerations and initiatives to strengthen US drug manufacturing sustainability.

The next step for CABI is its new paper, in progress, about how to model funding initiatives that de-risks the adoption of new, advanced manufacturing technologies, such as continuous-flow chemistry, to boost production.

CABI has been researching the drug shortage issue over the past couple of years. Learn more:

Members of the 2021-22 Olin Brookings Commission present policy recommendations to an audience at the Brookings Institution on April 27, 2022. Commission members from left: The Hon. Mary Bono, Dr. Ann Marie Dale, Van Ingram, Gina Papush, Darrell West and Anthony Sardella, commission chair.

Before an audience of policymakers, journalists, scientists and healthcare professionals at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC—plus dozens more who joined virtually or from a St. Louis watch party—researchers and members of the Olin Brookings Commission outlined their solutions and recommendations to tackle a troubling aspect of the opioid epidemic.

The six-member commission convened multiple times over the past 12 months and on Wednesday presented its work—along with a 53-page overview of the research process, policy recommendations and context—during a midday event at Brookings. The presentation outlined AI-driven tools to curb misdirection of opioid shipments and policy recommendations design to facilitate the use of these tools.

“As I listen to the presentation, I have this sick feeling in my stomach, thinking if we had these tools 10 years ago, how many lives could we have saved?” said Van Ingram, one of the members of the Olin Brookings Commission and executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control.

The group was the first convened by WashU Olin as part of a partnership with Brookings underwritten by The Bellwether Foundation. The project was designed to explore quality of life issues in communities and recommend policy changes to address them.

Focus on diversion of prescription drugs

The inaugural 2021-22 project tackled the opioid epidemic and, more specifically, the illicit diversion of prescription opioids that exploited blind spots in the distribution supply chain, fueling decades of dependency and death. Once researchers had zeroed in on a data-driven answer to that problem, the six-member commission devised a series of policy recommendations to facilitate their use.

“The blind spots still exist,” said Anthony Sardella, the chair of the commission and a member of the research team. “Our goal: Can you use data science to remove these blind spots? With that focus our research was begun.” (See a full list of the 2021-22 Olin Brookings Commission members on the commission’s website.)

According to some reports, more than 100 billion prescription hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were distributed in the United States between 2006 to 2014.

In 2020 alone, approximately 69,700 people died of overdoses involving opioids in the United States.

An AI-driven solution

Olin researchers from the school’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights focused on the patterns of diversion within the drug supply chain using advances in data collection, data mining, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The solution: Olin researchers developed a suite of anomaly detection tools to identify diversion trends in data submitted to a database maintained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Using historical data from the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) database from 2006 to 2012, including more than 400 million opioid transactions and 277,000 buyers, researchers developed a tool to flag and stop fraudulent opioid shipments before they are diverted. The team identified patterns among likely diverters and tested their findings against a known database of convicted buyers.

The tool is designed to flag future diverters with 100% precision accuracy (i.e., if the tool flags a buyer as a diverter, it is almost guaranteed that the prediction is correct). In other words, the tool will not produce false positives. The team achieved that level of precision accuracy because the tool “lives with” a moderate degree (51%) of recall accuracy (i.e., the tool catches about one-in-two diverters). In other words, the team was willing to live with a higher rate of false negatives to ensure 100% precision accuracy in flagging likely diverters.

Values-based, data-driven work

“This work is emblematic of what WashU Olin Business School represents,” said Mark P. Taylor, the Olin dean who initiated the work to gain the Bellwether grant and partner with Brookings. “We’re dedicated to applying the rigorous use of data and the careful consideration of our principles to go beyond the bottom line, to address and impact critical issues in society.”

Once the research team locked down its anomaly detection tool, the 2021–22 Olin Brookings Commission developed a series of policy recommendations that, in combination, can overcome existing policy obstacles to empower industry and government to work together and implement the team’s near real-time detection and alert system to thwart opioid diversion in the supply chain.

The 14 recommendations include establishing a daily or near real-time pilot for integration of the anomaly detection tool to test the operational methods and modernizing the ARCOS technology infrastructure to support daily or near real-time data entry by registrants. Download the full report of the 2021-22 Olin Brookings Commission.

And the work is not done. The research team intends to further refine its model to potentially look for additional flags—and even techniques for flagging the movement of nonprescription opioids.

“We can determine whether a transaction is supposed to happen or not,” said Annie Shi, a member of the research team and a marketing PhD student at WashU. “For example, if DEA receives a new transaction request, then our model will be able to predict if that transaction is supposed to happen or not. If it is predicted to be suspicious, the DEA will be able to hold off that shipment until further actions are taken.”

Pictured above: Members of the 2021-22 Olin Brookings Commission present policy recommendations to an audience at the Brookings Institution on April 27, 2022. Commission members from left: The Hon. Mary Bono, Dr. Ann Marie Dale, Van Ingram, Gina Papush, Darrell West and Anthony Sardella, commission chair.

In the United States, no manufacturing source exists for more than 80% of the active ingredients in medicines the US Food and Drug Administration deems essential for public health, according to a new study from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI) at Olin Business School.

“This creates an incredible vulnerability to our public health care system, our health care security,” said Anthony Sardella, an adjunct professor at Olin and senior research advisor at CABI. He conducted the study using proprietary data from across the industry.

Anthony Sardella

Essential medicines include antibiotics, antivirals, blood pressure pills, steroids and many others.

“We have a national security issue related to being able to maintain our public health,” Sardella said, because the US is so reliant on foreign production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

“The US Active Pharmaceutical Infrastructure: The Current State and Considerations to Increase US Healthcare Security” focuses on generic medications, which represent more than 80% of US prescriptions.

‘A fragile system’

APIs are the necessary components of medicines that provide patients with the drug therapy they need. The compounds are made into dosages of tablets, solutions and creams.

A June 2021 White House report on supply chain resiliency referenced an epidemic of national drug shortages occurring even before COVID and the pandemic, but “COVID really drew attention to the fragility of our pharmaceutical supply chain,” Sardella said.

The crisis highlighted US reliance on long, complex supply chains and drug shortages in the US. “We really have a fragile system.”

The first of its kind, the study relied on industrywide data from Clarivate, a data and benchmarking company in the healthcare industry that has developed a dataset—Cortellis Generics Intelligence—that provides insights across the sector.

“The data is staggering, as is the implication to our health security,” Sardella said.

Sources of COVID-19, Antivirals, Antibiotics and Top 100 Medicines in the United States. Cortellis Generics Intelligence, formerly known as Newport. Copyright Clarivate 2021

A ‘race to the bottom’

His analysis shows the following:

  • The majority of large-scale manufacturing sites of APIs are in India and China, while less than 5% of such sites are in the US. (In COVID times, both China and India have threatened to cut off or restrict shipments to the US.)
  • Of 52 COVID-related medicines, 75% had no US source of API.
  • Of the top 100 generic medicines consumed in the US, 83% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 47 most-prescribed antivirals, 97% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 111 most-prescribed antibiotics, 92% have no US source of API.

One cause for our weakness in API manufacturing is the “race to the bottom” on pricing against global players, Sardella said. Foreign manufacturers have structural advantages including greater government subsidies, lower costs and fewer regulatory burdens.

He said solutions to protect US healthcare security must address the risk by creating a critical mass of domestic manufacturing infrastructure to protect domestic interests; a level playing field for global competition; and sustainable domestic markets for American manufacturers.

“Tony’s outstanding research shows the impact of being both values-based and data-driven,” said Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship and CABI’s co-director. “This principle is core to Olin and to CABI.”

The new study follows a previous one aimed at understanding the business, societal and governmental environment of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Sardella and Paolo De Bona, a consultant and formerly a staff scientist at WashU’s School of Medicine, conducted an extensive review of academic research, media reports and public policy statements to discern the causes of chronic pharmaceutical shortages in the United States and develop policy solutions to address them.

The work has gained the attention of policymakers in Washington, DC, and compelled the pair to join with the Brookings Institution in hosting a public forum on the subject

About the Center for Analytics and Business Insights: CABI serves as a  conduit between business, academia and the broader community, helping leaders better leverage analytics and technology to make a positive and principled difference in organizations, communities and society at large.