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What is Operations Research?

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Many people probably never heard the phrase “Operations Research” used. Operations Research (OR), or operational research in the U.K, is a discipline that deals with the application of advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions. The terms management science and analytics are sometimes used as synonyms for operations research. Yet, in my experience OR extends far beyond either. The figure shows a hierarchy of operations research activities, and I’ll let you decide if they are also performed in analytics.

  • Data Mining and Machine Learning
  • Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems
  • Financial Engineering
  • Games, Decision, and Strategic Planning
  • Marketing Research
  • Investment Science
  • Experimental and Engineering Design
  • Manufacturing and Production
  • Logistics and Transportation
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Enterprise Resource Planning

Modeling Systems and Optimization Services is an interface part that bridges OR modeling with OR tools. When implemented smoothly, it is the part that is not noticed by modelers or users.

Where do you find them?

Operation Research Analysts work in many industries, including maritime, space operations, defense, airlines, train lines, financial service, entertainment and many more. Wherever operation occur, operations research analysts are usually there. The following lists several key functional areas for operations research analysts.

  • Communications
  • Interfaces
  • Networks
  • Scheduling
  • Routing
  • Manpower
  • Modeling

What are Their tools?

Underlying Tools is the level that is typically regarded as what uniquely defines Operations Research.

  • Mathematical Programming
  • Computing Technology
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Stochastic Simulation
  • Systems Analysis
  • Organization Theory
  • Accounting Principles
  • Engineering Economics
  • Decision Analysis
  • Game Theory
  • Heuristics
  • Computer Programming
  • Numeric Methods
  • Stochastic Analysis
  • Queuing Theory
  • Evolutionary Algorithms
  • Dynamic Programming

What are they built upon?

Foundations upon which OR are built include:

  • Mathematical Theory
  • Statistical Theory
  • Computing Theory
  • Economic Theory

What is their history?

Operational Research was born during the early year of WWII and matured rapidly. One of its primary function was the planning of Operation Overlord or the Normandy Invasion. It has its foundations in mathematics, computing and economic theories, on which basic tools in optimization and simulation are built.  Today OR’s are employed by airlines, train lines, logistic systems, delivery systems (e.g., FedEx), defense systems, military, oil companies, insurance companies, financial institutions, manufacturing, marketing and many more.


Jeffrey StricklandAuthored by: Jeffrey Strickland, Ph.D. Jeffrey Strickland, Ph.D., is the Author of “Predictive Analytics Using R” and a Senior Analytics Scientist with Clarity Solution Group. He has performed predictive modeling, simulation and analysis for the Department of Defense, NASA, the Missile Defense Agency, and the Financial and Insurance Industries for over 20 years. Jeff is a Certified Modeling and Simulation professional (CMSP) and an Associate Systems Engineering Professional. He has published nearly 200 blogs on LinkedIn, is also a frequently invited guest speaker and the author of 20 books including:

  • Operations Research using Open-Source Tools (new)
  • Discrete Event simulation using ExtendSim
  • Crime Analysis and Mapping
  • Missile Flight Simulation
  • Mathematical Modeling of Warfare and Combat Phenomenon
  • Predictive Modeling and Analytics
  • Using Math to Defeat the Enemy
  • Verification and Validation for Modeling and Simulation
  • Simulation Conceptual Modeling
  • System Engineering Process and Practices
  • Weird Scientist: the Creators of Quantum Physics
  • Albert Einstein: No one expected me to lay a golden eggs
  • The Men of Manhattan: the Creators of the Nuclear Era
  • Fundamentals of Combat Modeling
  • LinkedIn Memoirs
  • Quantum Phaith
  • Dear Mister President
  • Handbook of Handguns
  • Knights of the Cross: The True Story of the Knights Templar

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