Tag Archives: Applied Research

Applied Research

Have you ever read a research paper that began something like the following?:

“Consider the situation were there is a single customer, and exactly two producers of widgets. Demand for widgets follows a poisson distribution with parameter λ. Further, on the first day of each month, each producer sets their price for the coming month without knowing the price of the other producer. Producer 1 has a maximum production capacity of M1, and producer 2 has a maximum production capacity of M2. To meet monthly requirements, the customer will buy as many widgets as possible from the low cost producer. We show that an optimal…”

Regarding papers such as this, Russell Ackoff, in a 1979 paper entitled ‘The Future of Operational  Research is Past’ wrote:

“…engaging in impure research couched in the language, but not the reality, of the real world.”

And, more recently, ManMohan Sodhi and Christopher Tang, in a 2008 paper, entitled ‘The OR/MS Ecosystem: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats’ wrote:

“…OR/MS research is retreating from real-world applications.” and

“Without testing in the “real world,” there is no correcting force to prevent OR/MS from becoming “too mathematical”. “

It seems that it has been recognized for some time, that much of the OR/MS research that is conducted, has become disconnected from real-world problems. In the view of Sodhi and Tang, this leads to “excessive self-referentiality”, and research that loses relevance to practitioners and end users. To the extent that this is true, such research will not increase the interest in, or the number of users of, OR/MS.

A Simple Solution

There is however, a simple way for OR/MS journals to encourage more relevant research. Currently, the journal ‘Operations Research’ has two main types of papers: applications and theory papers. Applications are solutions that have actually been deployed by an organization, while theory papers are not required to directly relate to a real-world problem. The overwhelming majority of papers published are theory papers. What is needed, is a third type of research paper: applied research. These papers will not describe deployed applications, but unlike theory papers, they will be required to describe and solve a real-world problem.

The determination as to whether the paper solves a real-world problem will be made during an expanded review process: judgements will be made as to whether the stated problem is an actual real-world problem, and whether the proposed model could actually solve that problem.

The new applied research category can be implemented in a completely positive way: a journal can allocate additional pages to this category, while continuing to publish the same number of pages in the theory paper and application categories. Applied research will become a new option available to prospective authors.

Everybody Wins

As authors begin to reconnect with real-world problems, and experience the benefits of publishing applied research papers — more consulting opportunities and greater recognition of their research — this type of research will become increasingly popular. Moreover, the benefits will not be limited to the authors of applied research papers: the departments in which they reside, operations research practitioners, government and commercial organizations, and the OR/MS profession as a whole, will benefit from increased awareness of the value of operations research solutions.

Going With The Flow

Somewhere in an alternate universe…

The INFORMS board members sat in the conference room and wrestled with a recurring question: what should they do about analytics? They had hoped that the problem might just fade away. After all, expert systems, neural networks, and most recently big data, had all come and gone. However, interest in analytics had continued to grow. They were frustrated, and so they decided to engage the prestigious consulting firm of McKinsey, Boston & Yoda to help them develop a strategic plan. They were thrilled when Professor Yoda, one of the firms managing partners, agreed to meet with them.

One month later…

After listening for awhile, as the INFORMS board members described their situation, Professor Yoda rose from his chair and strode toward the white board. There was great anticipation in the room: would he draw one of the matrix diagrams that his firm was famous for? Instead, he wrote two words on the white board. He replaced the marker in the tray; returned to his place at the table; closed his briefcase; and left the room. He didn’t return, and after a few minutes, he was seen driving away.

Everyone was stunned. What had happened? What did it mean? What should they do? They kept staring at the white board ……………………. and then ……………………. they understood! It was so simple really: all they had to do was to align their strategy with THE FORCE.

The way forward was now clear to them, but the INFORMS board members knew that it would not be easy. So they asked the membership for help. They were not disappointed. It turned out that INFORMS members had already created a lot of content that would be valuable to people interested in analytics. There were lectures, tutorials, white papers, podcasts and videos. This content was organized and presented on a special section of the INFORMS website. New content was created, and then promoted through social media. After a while, people began to notice these efforts.

Meanwhile, two years earlier, INFORMS had begun an initiative to encourage the submission of applied papers to its journals. These papers were now beginning to flow in. The INFORMS board members thought: why not summarize these papers and feature them on the INFORMS website? And that, is exactly what they did.

Eighteen months later…

Steve Jobs sat in his office and played with the iPad 6 prototype. He was trying to decide on the perfect shade of white for its case when he got a call from Tim Cook.

“Hi Tim.”

“Hi Steve. I think I have a solution to the problems we’ve been having on the iTV production line.”


“Yes, we have some people monitoring the INFORMS website; they came across a new article on the optimal sequencing of subassemblies. I think we can use that approach to improve our process.”

“That’s great Tim. Why don’t we just go ahead and buy INFORMS?”

“Ah…. Steve, I don’t know if we can do that. INFORMS is a non-profit professional society.”

“Oh. OK, then let’s hire the people who wrote the article.”

“I’m already on it. They’re coming in on Wednesday to meet with us.”

“Great. Listen Tim, how do you feel about antique eggshell white?”

Twelve months later…

The featured article in the journal Foreign Affairs is entitled “The On-Shoring Craze – Should Operations Research Get All The Credit?”.

Twenty months later…

Time Magazine names operations research discipline of the year.

Sixteen months later…

Each of the INFORMS board members was announced as they entered the East Room of the White House. When the president asked them how they had achieved such great success, the reply came back immediately: “Madam President, we owe all of our success to our belief in THE FORCE”. The audience applauded, cameras flashed, and the president smiled as she presented each of them with the Presidential Medal Of Freedom.

The End.