Should We Re-Brand Operations Research?

There are some in the operations research community who want to re-brand operations research. They would like to be called analytics professionals. The reasoning behind this appears to be the following:

Operations research is not that popular;

Analytics is very popular;

They would like to be popular, so;

They will call themselves analytics professionals, and then;

They will be popular.

Here, I will not dwell on the flawed premises, or faulty logic embodied in this reasoning. Instead, I will focus on the consequences of a successful re-branding. When considering these consequences, we should keep the following points in mind:

  • While those promoting analytics have trouble defining it, they are in agreement that it encompasses many different disciplines (see Confusion Over Analytics), such as statistics, computer science, data science, big data, business intelligence and operations research.
  • Operations research represents a tiny fraction of the IT/analytics universe.
  • The existence of generic analytics professionals would imply that there is no longer a meaningful distinction to be made between the ‘former’ disciplines of statistics, computer science and operations research.

To help you envision a post re-branding period, I offer two scenarios. In both, an IT executive is speaking to the leader of what was once an operations research group, but is now an analytics group after being re-branded. Remember, operations research no longer exists!

Scenario A

“Alice, I am assigning you and your team to be part of our data quality initiative.”

“But, Sir.”

“No buts Alice, big data is our priority — we must have high quality data!”

Six months later….

“Well done Alice. You and your team have reduced the error rate by 6%. I’m going to make this assignment to data quality permanent.

Scenario B

“Tom, I am assigning you and your team to our text analytics initiative.”

“But Sir.”

“No buts Tom, our competitors are all heavily involved in this area — we will not be left behind!”

Six months later….

“Tom, you and your team don’t seem to be up to the task — all of your projects are months behind schedule. I’m going to have to let you and your team go. Report to human resources and pickup your termination package.”


So, in one case those who have re-branded survive, and in the other case they do not. In both cases, the practice of operations research ends.

4 thoughts on “Should We Re-Brand Operations Research?

  1. John Ranyard, Companion, OR Society

    I have written in the UK that the label ‘operational (or operations) research’ is unhelpful outside the OR community. ‘Operational’ implies a tactical focus, which is not the case in practice, whilst ‘research’ implies a long term academic focus, whereas pragmatism is frequently the driving force in many consultancy studies. In my view, this is a major reason why OR is so little known or understood. Indeed my survey of global practice for IFORS, which had responses from many members of INFORMS, showed that only about a quarter of practitioner groups used OR in their title. ‘Analytics’ (or perhaps ‘business analytics’) has a literal meaning closer to what we do than OR and may help to explain why it has become more widely known and understood in recent years.

    Can we capitalise on the popularity of the analytics movement, without alienating those in the OR community, particularly academics, who find the OR label helpful eg via journals and conferences? The key is to position our interests within the analytics spectrum so as to reflect the skills and approaches that we have. In the UK we are tending to use ‘decision analytics’ so as to separate us from the hardware and data end of analytics. So how about ‘OR/Decision Analytics’ as a label, given that we have lived with OR/Management Science’ for many years?

    Finally I don’t believe that the scenarios are realistic. Data quality is critical to any OR investigation and so trying to improve it is a worthy OR project. And as a former OR manager, I would not want to take on a project, such in as the second scenario, if my team did not have the necessary skills to carry it out.

    1. Robert Rose Post author

      Hi John,

      In your comment, you write “within the analytics spectrum”, and the need “to separate us from the hardware and data end of analytics”. I fully agree that analytics is not a single discipline. (In my post ‘Confusion Over Analytics’, I explain analytics as a conceptual grouping of the quantitative decision sciences.) It is for this reason that re-branding operations research as analytics is inappropriate: it would obscure the unique value that operations research can create.

      I have no problem with your ‘OR/Decision Analytics’ label. In general, I do not oppose using the interest in analytics to promote operations research, as long we don’t lose our identity in the process.

      1. John Ranyard

        I am not advocating replacing the label ‘OR’ with ‘Analytics’ but associating ‘Decision Analytics’ with OR in our branding. Sadly, in my view, only those within the OR community know and understand the full potential of OR – unfortunately our current label is unhelpful to those outside the OR community.

  2. O.R. Guy

    As for stupid branding exercises: INFORMS.

    Operations Research Society of America and The Institute of Management Sciences both meant something (when spelled out, as they often were). What the heck is INFORMS? STUPID A$$ decision. I said it at the time, and I still believe it. Of course, over time, some people have come to hear of INFORMS.

    Was the choice of the name INFORMS the sole or primary reason for the diminution in stature of O.R.? Probably, not, but it sure didn’t help.

    And don’t get me started on this CAP nonsense. Oh, and now they are going to have associate CAP. Maybe they can add a K-CAP, and kindergarteners having a K-CAP will be preferred for admission to competitive 1st grades over those not possessing this valuable credential.

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