There have been some troubling signs: a 2010 article in OR/MS Today suggested that analytics would subsume operations research; a 2013 LinkedIn discussion asked “Will Big Data end Operations Research?”; and ominously, even INFORMS seems to be distancing itself from operations research.
How should we react to this? Should we:
- Take early retirement, move to Vermont, and open a bed and breakfast?
- Claim to be analytics professionals, and hope no one asks us about Hadoop or NoSQL?
- Return to school to study data science?
No! None of the above will be necessary. To understand why, it is necessary to go back to first principles.
The original meaning of the name operational research (what operations research is called in Great Britain, where it was invented) was literally, scientific research on operations. The name was meant to distinguish scientific research on operations, from scientific research on the underlying technology of some product, e.g. radar. In the late 1930‘s the British Government funded scientific research directed towards creating radar equipment with sufficient range and precision to locate attacking aircraft. They also initiated an operations research study to determine the most effective way to deploy the radar stations, and integrate them into an effective air defense system.
This type of scientific research, and the scientific method upon which it is based, is a problem solving paradigm. Operations research is the application of this problem solving paradigm to the solution of operational and management problems.
During the summer of 1940, this paradigm arguably saved Great Britain from defeat. Today, as the Edelman Competition routinely demonstrates, this paradigm creates benefits so great, that they transform entire organizations. And, it is because of this paradigm that operations research can create value that can be created in no other way. This value — lower costs, higher profits, military advantage, more efficiency, better service — was needed in 1940, is in evidence all around us today, and will be in demand for as long as human civilization persists.
So, there is no cause for alarm. Just continue ‘Doing Good with Good OR’.