WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OF OR/MS?
UCLA Anderson School of Management
One of the persistent challenges of OR/MS is explaining itself to people outside
the field. There is often a great lack of understanding about OR/MS on the part
of students, colleagues in neighboring fields, university administrators, prospective
university donors, the business community, and the public at large.
This challenge can be addressed by developing crisp messages that can be used
to frame discussions with outsiders. By delivering these messages consistently
over a long period of time, people may come to better appreciate what OR/MS
has to offer.
Operations Research/Management Science is in many businesses. Among
others, OR/MS is in the business of ...
I used some of these points (p. 25ff) in "Prospects
for Operations Research in the E-Business Era," with R. Krishnan, Interfaces,
Vol. 31, No. 2 (March-April, 2001), 6-36.
- ... rationalizing decision-making, design, and other managerial activities
with the help of analytic thinking based on the classical scientific method,
models, and computers.
[Other fields also attempt rationalization, but they take a different
- ... supporting all the functional specialties of business and
other types of organizations. This includes, but is not limited to: bidding,
design, finance, forecasting, human resources, information systems, logistics,
marketing, manufacturing, and service operations. Contrary to some rumors,
the service sector is just as amenable to OR/MS as the more traditional manufacturing
[Computers, mathematics, and the scientific approach are universally
- ... helping managers to achieve a deeper understanding of their organization
through the analysis and modeling of selected aspects of the organization
and its environment.
[Understanding enables control.]
- ... helping organizations to exploit the revolutionary developments in computers,
communications, and related information technologies.
[OR/MS's synergy with these technologies works both ways.]
- ... adding value to data. Through modeling and analytic thinking, OR/MS
helps managers to make strategic, tactical, and operational sense out of the
vast and rapidly increasing data resources available to most organizations;
this includes coupling or embedding decision technologies into existing and
new information systems.
["Adding value" is an enduring business priority. With their analytic
skills, OR/MS professionals are able to add value beyond what typically can
be added by IS groups and information technologists.]
- ... helping managers to deal with rapidly increasing organizational complexity.
OR/MS does this by solving organizational problems, enabling better planning,
improving the efficiency of operations, etc.
[Some managers erroneously believe that the rising complexity of
managerial tasks tends to defeat the applicability of OR/MS.]
- ... embedding decision technology into important business processes,
systems, and recurring tasks. The result is new functionality and improved
[This is the antithesis of the one-shot OR/MS project. Embedded
applications can accumulate great impact over an extended period of time.]
- ... helping to improve productivity and competitiveness, in the context
of economic globalization and the transition to a service and information-based
- ... helping with the quest for quality in an organization's products
and services, through process redesign and through quantitative measurement
and models that lead to a deeper understanding and greater control.
- ... achieving the objectives of expert systems whether or not an expert
is available, and in ways that (a) will not rapidly become obsolete (as will
the static wisdom of yesterday's expert in the face of tomorrow's problems),
and (b) do not overlook opportunities to achieve super-human performance.
[OR/MS has some of the goods that ES and KBS promise, and is not
limited to heuristics when superior methods exist.]
- ... finding the best way to cope with constraints, wherever they come
from -- limited resources, government regulation, competition, the environment,
or elsewhere. OR/MS also can shed value on the marginal value of relaxing
- ... coping with uncertainty and doubt. This includes ways tobalance
risk against likely gain.
- ... experimenting with computerized replicas (often analytical or simulation
models) of situations and systems, which can be a more revealing, quicker,
cheaper, and safer first step than experimenting on the real world.
- ... handling trade-offs.
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