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Archive: 2015 (Features)


Friday, 4 Dec 2015
Jeffrey Jones

John Hopes


It may be to do with getting older, but I have recently been thinking about risk. This is, of course, in the context of O.R. and analytics where I believe there are some particular opportunities.
In the world of corporate finance, for example, a key focus is on shareholder value, which is increased by enhancing revenues, cutting costs or reducing risk. And the joy of O.R. and analytics is that they can make big contributions to all three of these. But since the financial crisis and recession there has, in my perception, been a particular and understandable emphasis for OR and analytics on the cost reduction agenda in both the public and private sectors, whether through smarter ways of distributing product, more efficient ways of deploying people on tasks, reductions in working capital including inventory or pruning branch networks. In all these cases and others O.R. has been used to identify the best ways in which the business can deliver the same for less or more for the same.
This is not to say that O.R. and analytics have been absent from revenue enhancement, for example in optimising pricing strategies, marketing spend, promotions and website interactions; it is just that it seems as if the higher priority has been cost reduction. But what about the third leg of the value stool: risk reduction? This is an area where O.R. and analytics have some unique selling points in providing tools for identifying and quantifying risks. And this is what I wanted to cover in this article, because I think it is time for us to raise the profile of O.R. and analytics in the context of risk.
First, in terms of demand, there seems to have been a management progression from cutting cost in order to survive to chasing growth in the upturn to the beginnings of a perception that risk management focus might have been lost. This has been highlighted by some headline risks including cyber-attacks, the VW emissions fiasco, Libor rigging and commodity price crashes. But across the board there are signs of a return to a need to reflect risk in decision making in a more systematic way.
As is so often the case for O.R. a lot of this is not about solving new problems, but is often more about applying techniques and methodologies that have been around for decades. There is, however, an added opportunity in the area of advanced analytics that arises from the recent data explosion and the rapidly expanding internet of things.
Starting at the more long-established end of the spectrum, my personal observation is that 20 years ago a great deal of what I did as an OR analyst and modeller had to do with risk quantification. There also seemed to be a lot going on in O.R. and risk generally in those days as championed by Chris Chapman at Southampton and others. Monte Carlo simulation and other risk modelling techniques were being used to quantify such diverse things as nuclear power station decommissioning provisions, major project cost estimates or the risk transfer associated with PFI schemes or privatisations. Indeed Monte Carlo simulation is yet another of those OR techniques that has gone so mainstream that most of its users do not think of themselves as OR analysts. For example, in complex security valuation the complexity does not have to become very great before simple approaches such as Black Scholes cannot handle the problem and Monte Carlo simulation becomes the preferred approach. And yet very few quants would think of themselves as using an O.R. technique.
In the nineties I remember running workshops for clients entitled “why are projects always late”. This started with a simple example in which two people are planning to meet at 9am, with both of them being just as likely to be up to five minute early as up to five minutes late. When asked what time, on average, the meeting will start it is amazing how many experienced project managers say nine o’clock. And this probably goes to show why meetings and projects are still always late. There are a number of O.R. techniques to allow project plans to reflect risks, options and dependencies, but they are still generally not deployed, as a result of which management make decisions with an incomplete information set.
In terms of the newer opportunities, some of the most interesting and, more importantly, high value applications of advanced analytics are in the risk domain, including using machine learning and other techniques to identify fraud or evidence of cyber-attack. Similarly, with sensors distributed through manufacturing or other operations, predictive analytics is being used to estimate risks of process or component failure. Other opportunities range from quantitative support to bank stress testing to quantifying supplier risk. The digital age is creating major new risks but is also providing far more data and new mechanisms for managing both these and more conventional risks.
But what does all this mean for the O.R. Society? Well, there seems to be less on risk management applications at our conferences than there once was, although I could be wrong. Also, on our training programme, there is one course on decision and risk analysis, so we certainly have something, but there could be more. And when it comes to special interest groups and publications, well the best that could be said is that the topic is embedded in them somewhere. But most importantly, risk is another high profile management issue where OR and analytics should have a point of view which is expressed loudly.
In conclusion, in some ways OR / analytics and risk is just an example of a more general rule. We often seem to be solving the same old problems for a new generation of decision makers. But, at the same time, there are some genuinely new and highly important problems to solve, particularly arising from the impact of digital technology and the data explosion. This is an ideal combination to ensure that OR and analytics remain relevant.



Friday, 23 Oct 2015
Jeffrey Jones

There is a large job market for people with O.R. skills, but at the same time there is a considerable shortage of people with the required skill set.  The OR Society intends to review the recruitment of people into O.R, and the training that the Society can provide. For this purpose, the Society is calling for bids for two charitable projects, on the O.R supply chain, and a strategic review of the Society training programme. The deadline for both is the 30th November.

 

Understanding the O.R. Supply Chain in the UK

The supply chain for O.R. workers is becoming more complex with less-and-less reliance on the traditional entry route of a Masters in O.R.  Indeed, there are many undergraduate and postgraduate courses which teach at least some elements of O.R.  These courses are provided from a range of disciplinary backgrounds: Business, Management, Mathematics, Economics, Computer Science, and Engineering. Some of these courses are “pure” O.R., some of them have a strong O.R. element such as analytics, operations management, logistics, and supply chain.  Moreover, there are O.R. practitioners who have not taken O.R. courses.

 Given this situation there is a need for academics, practitioners, employers and the O.R. Society to better understand the supply chain for O.R. from school level through to early career employment.  This can then form the basis for determining how to improve the supply of workers into O.R. We are commissioning a piece of work to investigate the O.R. supply chain.  This article is a call for proposals.

For details of what is required, and how to apply click on Supply.

 

Strategic Training Review

The O.R. Society offers an annual training programme consisting of over 20 courses varying in length from 0.5 – 5 days, covering a range of O.R.-related topics from the introductory to the advanced. The majority of courses are open to members and non-members; some courses are bespoke and delivered in-house for client organisations.

There are regular discussions about ways in which the Society’s training programmes could be improved. This inevitably leads to questions around the marketing of courses, the topics covered, electronic delivery, pricing etc. Underlying this discussion is a general sense that training could be improved for the Society, our members and non-members. The aim of this project is to review the Society’s training offering and to make proposals for how this should evolve. 

 For details of what is required, and how to apply click on Training.



Wednesday, 7 Oct 2015
Jeffrey Jones

By Tony Bendell, chair of the Quality Improvement Section of the Royal Statistical Society

Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, there are members and Fellows within both the Royal Statistical Society and the Operational Research Society who are currently questioning the same thing. Is the writing on the wall for our disciplines, and by implication our professional societies?

The trend for the new generation of data and analytical professionals to not identify as either Statisticians or as Operational Research analysts, does not appear to be abating despite both societies claiming that Big Data and Analytics represent an unprecedented opportunity for their disciplines.

It can well be argued that such mismatches between the perspectives of the established institutions within society and an emerging generation of new professionals is itself an indicator of shifting sands, of emerging practice that will change for ever the status quo that those institutions within society represent. Is this happening? And if it is, is it irreversible?

 If it is, then if we don’t successfully recruit the next generation of professionals into our named disciplines then it is our disciplines that lose out, not only suffering from reduced numbers but also from the competition that the emerging group of professionals then represent. This is a real threat, as by definition they are simultaneously both more relevant to current thinking and needs, and less encumbered by the thinking, traditions and infrastructure of the old disciplines which, if they do not successfully and speedily evolve, must be less relevant today than when they were created.

Learned and professional societies such as ours originated in a world which, compared to the one we inhabit today, was slower and less connected. The societies therefore fulfilled a crucial function, unifying members, providing access to information, peer review and discussion with likeminded professionals, as well as professional status.

But the world has changed. The trend worldwide may be to diminishing attendance at local professional group meetings and a greater use of the worldwide web to provide up to date information. Social media resources are now where we debate, so why should a new generation brought up on transient association with a virtual group on an as-needed  or as -interested basis bother about joining a professional society, especially if the society’s defining discipline no longer directly matches the perceived need in society and within that new generation?

This is something that both societies should debate, and they are together at the RSS at Errol Street in London on 4th December. The meeting is organised jointly by the Quality Improvement Section of the RSS and the ORS, with senior participation from both societies, including the President and Vice President of the OR Society.

This is a topic of great importance to all of us, so reserve the date in your diary now, and come along and have your say.



Thursday, 30 Jul 2015
Jeffrey Jones

Charlene Timewell, Education Officer

Authorised vehicles only. Lydia (2011)
IMAGE: Authorised vehicles only. Lydia (2011).

This year, the British Science Festival will be taking place between 7 – 10th September. The University of Bradford, supported by Siemens, will be hosting the Festival’s exciting free events, talks and performances.

Kevin Glazebrook, current President of the Mathematics Section of the British Science Association and Distinguished Professor in Operational Research at Lancaster University, will be joined by Vincent Knight, a lecturer in Operational Research at the School of Mathematics at Cardiff University. In the Presidential Address, they will discuss how Operational Research is being used to reduce congestion at airports and to ensure emergency medical services are delivered efficiently. This event will be followed by a drinks reception, which is sponsored by The OR Society and the London Mathematical Society.

Mathematics Section Presidential Address: Advanced airports and on-time ambulances

Time: 16.30-17.30
Date: Tuesday 8th September
Venue: Richmond F21, University of Bradford

Book your free tickets online (http://bit.ly/1MtFa4O)

Kevin Glazebrook recently directed the LANCS Initiative and co-founded the STOR-I Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistics and OR in partnership with industry at Lancaster. He is a stochastic modeller and is part of the team, along with Konstantinos Zografos (http://bit.ly/1I0Ytzw) and Edmund Burke (http://bit.ly/1I0YKlW), directing a major new EPSRC programme grant concerned with the development of models and algorithms for allocating airport resources. Kevin was awarded the Beale Medal of The OR Society in 2013 (http://bit.ly/1DazNpg).

Vincent Knight obtained his PhD in pure mathematics in 2010. After this he was a research associate at Cardiff before taking up his present post. He has experience in the application of mathematics to solving real world problems faced by the National Health Service and is passionate about sharing his enthusiasm for the subject. Vince particularly enjoys Queueing Theory and Game Theory.



Thursday, 11 Jun 2015
Jeffrey Jones

 

Roger Forder, Treasurer

The Society’s financial year corresponds to the calendar year and our 2014 accounts have now been put to bed, so the May issue of Inside OR provides a good opportunity for me to bring members up to date on the Society’s finances.  For some, at least, I recognise that this is not as interesting a topic as my Board colleagues are able to address, but it does, I hope, serve a useful purpose, given the inevitably more daunting format of the full accounts that will be available on the website in the near future.

That said, I am sure that members would not want the accounts, or the Treasurer’s job, to be “interesting” in the sense of the supposed ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” and, thus far in my stint as Treasurer, I am glad to report that they have not been.  However, my experiences do illustrate another clichéd quotation:  “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (possibly Niels Bohr, but there are other attributions as well).  This has proved to be the case regardless of whether we are looking long-term or short-term.

 As most members know, the Society derives a very high proportion of its income from its academic journals and any significant diminution in this income stream could indeed make for interesting times.  For some years, therefore, the Board has been concerned about the possible impact of the move by governments, both in the UK and elsewhere, to mandate ‘open access’ publication of the output from publicly funded research.  Only a few years ago, there was a concern that this could happen quite quickly, and we increased our reserves as a precautionary measure.  Since then, the debates have continued, the polices are being implemented, but there has been no diminution in the number of papers submitted to our journals for publication in the normal way.   Part of this is because many of these papers originate in parts of the world where the open access bandwagon has not yet got underway.  Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that we are still not feeling any significant financial effect from open access.  However, we are by no means complacent; it seems highly likely that something will happen, but it is currently impossible to predict the timescale and the impact on our finances.  We may, perhaps, hope that the (unique?) ability of learned societies, like ours, to orchestrate the impartial peer-review process will continue to be a valuable, revenue-earning asset, regardless of how the current system evolves.

 Whilst longer-term unpredictability remains, last year was notable also for short-term unpredictability.   Throughout 2014 we had expected an outturn for the year that was fairly close to the breakeven point on income and expenditure (not dissimilar to the situation in 2013), although whether this would be on the deficit or surplus side tended to oscillate from forecast to forecast as the year developed.  But when the actual results for the year became available, it turned out that we had registered a substantial surplus of some £93k (about 9% of turnover).  The primary reason for this was a quite unexpected last-minute enhancement to our journal income resulting from some purchases of ‘back-file’ archives by institutions, no doubt with end-of-year money to spend.  (By the way, it should not be assumed that these institutions were in the UK!)

 This was, of course, a very pleasant surprise, but to the congenitally cautious it served also as a reminder that surprises are out there, and we cannot, of course, always assume that surprises will be in a positive direction. 

 Another unforeseen development was the announcement, earlier this year, of the planned merger between our journal publishers, Palgrave Macmillan, and the Springer publishing group as part of a joint venture to be established by the owners of the two companies.  Whilst there is absolutely no reason to believe that this will have a detrimental impact on the Society’s journals or the associated income stream, it is nevertheless a reminder that our publishing operations are set in a commercial context where times are often “interesting”.

 All this means that we continue to keep the size of our reserves under review to ensure that they could provide us with at least some short- to medium-term resilience to shocks and surprises.  At the moment we aim to keep our reserves at the level of one year’s income and expenditure, currently about £1m.  At year-end we actually had about £1.25m in our investment fund, so we continue to have scope to underpin new initiatives in support of our charitable aims, including, of course, services for members.   Some of these initiatives are already firmly underway:  the first edition of the new Impact magazine should be on the streets by the time you read this and Louise Allison, our new strategic projects manager, is busy progressing key actions on the membership and analytics fronts.  However, we are in the fortunate position of being able to do more and the Board has a number of proposals to consider.

 Of course, management of our reserves poses some interesting questions of risk versus reward in the context of an unpredictable future.  Management of a £1m+ investment fund is not something to be taken lightly and the Society employs Investec, the well-known investment banking group, to undertake this for us, working to a fairly detailed mandate agreed by the Board.  Investec’s actions and proposals are reviewed by the Society’s Investment Committee, chaired by the Treasurer, which meets twice a year. 

 I wasn’t in post during the financial crisis of 2007-2009, which definitely counted as “interesting times” and which must have given the then Treasurer a few sleepless nights.  But, since then, our portfolio, with its high proportion of equities reflecting our long-term investment perspective, has done very well.  Recently, though, the Board has approved a modest change in policy which will have the effect of reducing slightly our overall equity component and also increasing the level of geographical diversification within that component.  This will go some way to reduce risk and volatility and, to an extent, crystallise some of the gains that we have made over the last 2-3 years.  Our new posture, which is very much in line with that adopted by charities in general, was seen by the Board as a judicious move in current circumstances and a useful hedge against those unpredictables that are always threatening to make the Treasurer’s life more interesting than he would wish.

 



Tuesday, 14 Apr 2015
Cara Quinton

John Hopes

One of the strategic aims of the OR Society is to ensure that operational researchers are knowledgeable, well-trained and in good supply. With regard to the supply part of this aim, whether or not you believe that it is consistent with our status as a charity or whether indeed we can do much to influence it, it doesn’t seem to be an area where we could claim great recent success, to put it mildly. And this is also at a time when demand has never been stronger.

As evidence of this strength of demand, the membership of the Heads of OR Forum (HORF) is at an all-time high (thanks to the efforts of John Ranyard as its secretary), and most of the members seem to be recruiting heavily, as they have been for some time now. Beyond this in the world of Big Data, analytics and data science the demand for OR and other highly quantitative skills is expanding rapidly while supply seems to be struggling to keep pace. In fact, one of the ways that OR could take more of a leading role in analytics and data science would be by becoming the major source of supply for talent. In that respect, our underperformance on the supply side couldn’t really have come at a worse time.

Taking a broader view of demand, and linking back to a more general point I made in my last leader, the UK is lagging many of its major competitors in productivity, and one of the key factors here is shortage of the more highly productive skills such as those possessed by OR professionals. This is therefore an issue with a broader economic impact.

Against this backdrop it is worth looking at OR MSc courses. Twenty years ago these provided a core component of the supply of OR professionals in the UK, although there were also a variety of other sources. In the UK our Universities provide some of the best OR MSc level training in the world. Unfortunately the beneficiaries of this are now largely overseas students, with fewer and fewer OR MScs coming onto the UK market. In fact there is a double whammy here – we are equipping our competitors with these valuable skills at a time when we are producing far too few for the UK market.

Unsurprisingly HORF has identified the shortage of MScs (and the broader supply problem) as an issue once again. We have been here before of course; and many of us are still bruised by the last failed attempt to retain EPSRC funding for MScs. But the demand pressures are bringing this issue back up the agenda, despite the fact that employers have over the years found alternatives, including hiring first degree graduates and training them themselves or even hiring some of the overseas MScs who want to stay on in the UK. This is, however, just a workaround for the supply crisis, and is not sustainable if demand soars as anticipated.

But what can the OR Society do to achieve its aim on the adequate supply of operational researchers? Particularly given that it is a combination of the actions, choices and behaviours of other stakeholders that results in the supply coming out of the Universities and into the UK market, where these stakeholders include the Universities, the research councils, the government through its education policy and the students themselves. The OR Society does, however, have the power and ability to influence all of these in a variety of different ways and perhaps should prioritise doing so.

In addition, in our constitution, we include among the list of activities of the Society the awarding of bursaries and scholarships. Perhaps we should intervene more directly in the supply of operational researchers by sponsoring or part-sponsoring MScs. This seems to be very much aligned with our charitable status, particularly if such sponsorship is targeted at those who are unlikely to be able to afford self-funding. Who knows? Perhaps the sponsored students could also conduct charitable projects for us as part of the deal. Our current strong revenue flow from our journals has probably caused us to ease back on seeking additional sources of revenue. If, however, we had a need to fund additional charitable activities it feels likely that we could increase revenue to cover them.

Whether or not, however, we intervene directly through sponsorship, we can certainly influence others to do so. In addition, we could promote the provision of lower cost alternatives to the MSc route, potentially including online qualifications. Plus we could work more with first degree students as we have done so successfully with schools to point them in the direction of a career in OR.

Whatever we choose to do, though, I am sure that there are no easy answers to this issue. But I am equally sure that ensuring an adequate supply of operational researchers has become a top priority for our profession and for the Society.



Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015
Cara Quinton

Ruth Kaufman

For the last few years I have been writing occasional leaders in my role as chair of the OR Society’s Publicity, Membership and Website committee. I am no longer chair of PMW, having passed the baton on to Jane Parkin, and this is my first leader in the role of President Elect.

I am absolutely delighted to be in this august role, but also slightly surprised –it is not something I foresaw 40 years ago, when I took my first naïve steps into the world of O.R., nor even 5 years ago when I took early retirement and launched into the patchwork world of the self-employed. It crept up on me.

That puts it in the same class as the subject of this leader: the discovery that – rather like Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain, who was overwhelmed to be told that he had been speaking prose all his life – my friendly interchanges with a life-time of co-workers and other random people constitute ‘Networking’; and my various address-books, scraps of paper and business card collection constitute a ‘Network’.

I never set out to build a network. ‘Networking’, I thought, meant selecting contacts according to their usefulness; and using them to gain unfair advantage, via cronyism or nepotism. Unethical, and joyless. However, as I moved through the world of work, I met analysts, other colleagues and customers. I liked (most of) them. I learned from (almost all of) them. I went to the occasional conference or Special Interest Group meeting, and met interesting people. I became involved in voluntary activities and met campaigners, volunteers, beneficiaries, donors. People I knew introduced me to people they knew. It turns out that all this was networking, and that everybody I haven’t lost touch with over the years is my network.

“Networking” is what underpins giving, taking and sharing: be it Information, opinions, speculations, criticism, advice, perspectives; be it shoulders, to cry on or stand on; heads, two of which are better than one; hands which can be lent; ears which can be bent; brains which can be picked or racked. It supports illumination, innovation, education, for individuals and for the wider community.

All professionals benefit from interchange with other professionals, but arguably it is particularly important for O.R. workers. By its nature, O.R. forces you beyond your own speciality. It calls for multi-disciplinarity – working with people from other professions; for real-world implementation – working with problem-owners and decision-makers; for discovering the business within which your O.R. problem is set; for working on novel projects rather than business-as-usual.

One consequence is that (a) we are often dangerously ignorant but (b) there are usually other people who can spot that – and given half a chance will take great pleasure in putting us right. Another is that sharing information and insights can lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. An excellent way of opening the door to both those happy outcomes is to get out there and meet people.

That is exactly what conferences are for. Academics and academia tend to be well-aware of this. Practitioners, however, are less so, and their employers less supportive unless there are tangible benefits. That is why the forthcoming Euro2015 will be following the path set by recent OR Society conferences, to include activities intended to directly benefit practitioners: practical case studies, the Making an Impact practitioners’ stream, and the chance to develop their own networks.

But there is a problem. It cannot be denied that a great many people who are attracted to O.R., able mathematicians, keen to tidy up problems and sort out messes, are actually rather shy and introverted. We are not naturals at walking up to people we do not know and introducing ourselves. We are also self-deprecating souls, who do not wish to impose on a stranger’s time and find it hard to know what they might see in us. We may even be optimisers, keen not to waste time with people who we find dull and uninteresting.

To address this, we have introduced “Speed networking” at recent OR Society conferences, and will be running it again at Euro2015. Speed networking is safe; fun; and above all inclusive so that everyone gets a chance to be welcomed into the professional community. For more information about speed networking, and Euro2015 as a whole, go to [website reference to follow].

Of course, you can simply leave your professional interchanges to chance, and allow them to accumulate as you wander through life. But also, you can give fate a helping hand, and speed the process up a bit, by coming to the conference.

Returning to the title of this leader: certainly, a lot of what I know comes from courses, books, websites, journals... But a lot of what I know – indeed, the deepest wisdom, the widest variety, the greatest stimulant to reflection - comes from who I know. If that includes you: thank you!



Monday, 12 Jan 2015
Cara Quinton

Part of the OR Society’s mission statement is that the Society “effectively promotes the use of OR”; and this is something we do extensively through our publications, our events, our training, our OR in schools initiative, our web sites and elsewhere.  But despite this activity we do seem to suffer from low public profile by comparison with some other professions.  For example, I struggle to remember the last time I came across the phrase, “a leading Operational Research Analyst was quoted as saying…”, whether in a newspaper or on broadcast media.  But raising the media profile of OR is not an easy task.  And first we need to be clear about the issues on which we would expect an OR spokesperson to be consulted.   That is, we would need OR to have a point of view about something.

One category of issue on which the OR Society has indeed expressed opinions in the past is the type of issue that directly affects OR itself such as the importance and shape of mathematics teaching in schools.  This kind of issue does give us the opportunity to make the case that mathematics teaching is important to OR and that OR is in turn important to the economy and Society.  A similar case can and should be made for Government support for OR MScs, particularly given the increasing skills gap and the potential impact that will have on international competitiveness.  We should definitely keep expressing points of view on this type of issue and using them to explain in addition the importance of OR.  But what about general issues where an OR perspective is required?  What news story would require a quote from an OR professional?  Economists find it all too easy to be consulted by the media on a wide range of issues relating to the economy, regardless of the fact that so few of them foresaw the last financial and economic crisis.  But what is the equivalent for OR?

There are, of course, important issues where those of us on the inside of OR know that an OR professional could add great insight to a story.  For example, on anything to do with queuing, whether relating to hospital waiting times, transport delays or the infamous teething problems at Heathrow Terminal 5.  The problem here is educating those in the media to know that they need an OR expert when such a story crops up.  And this will take time and effort.

But what about turning this around and considering the big megatrend type of issues that are being widely discussed and determining whether there is a distinctive OR angle to any of them?  One, for example, where I think we should have a point of view is that of productivity.  In fact, in my opinion, this is an issue where Economics can ask the question but only OR can provide an answer.  And it is an issue that has come to the fore following the economic downturn.  Both Government and Industry are currently grappling with the dilemma of how to increase the productivity of both the economy as a whole and of individual enterprises.  The beauty of OR is that it not only demonstrates where there is a productivity enhancement opportunity, it also shows management how to achieve that improvement.

Other examples of potential major issue OR points of view could include:  the extent to which policies or strategies fail because they fail to take account of feedback effects; or how poor (or non-existent) quantification of risk leads to over-optimistic plans, failures and value erosion.  In addition, many tough management issues concern optimisation, which is certainly a topic where OR has an opinion.  For example, how do I optimise my: capital structure, dividend policy, brand portfolio, trade-off between customer service and cost, allocation of spend to marketing or training activities? And OR can also provide insights on poor decision making, such as erroneous assumptions of linearity, an inability to handle probability or a failure to consider key areas of complexity.  Having something to say about such issues could provide us with a way to start to engage more effectively with the media.  And in my experience, the media are always looking for specific stories and interesting numbers, content that OR is well-placed to provide, through case study examples and quantification of the improvements that can be achieved by using the right approach.

And, on top of these, one of the biggest megatrends where OR definitely comes into play is that of emerging technology, including the world of digital communications and Big Data.  I was feeling pretty good about myself in having got this far through an article without mentioning the A word.  But analytics is still attracting media attention, and OR does I am sure have a point of view on, for example, how increasing use of continuous digital monitoring can lead to increasingly real time optimisation of processes or, to tie this back to a previous point, how increasing data availability can drive productivity or other talent metrics such as retention, motivation or engagement.  Unfortunately, this is an area where the RSS has recently stolen a march on us with their data manifesto.  But Big Data is a big topic and there is plenty of space within it for OR to occupy.  For example, instead of focusing on the data we could make our subject the effective use of that data to provide insight through modelling and analysis.  There is a growing tendency among software vendors to want to put advanced analytical tools in the hands of everyone, despite the fact that not all have the skills to use such tools safely.  What is the right balance between wider education and the use of specialists?  And what are the dangers of getting this wrong?

As you have probably guessed by now, it is definitely my point of view that OR needs to have a point of view.  But it would be good to hear the views of others.  And is there one particular issue we should major on (as with the RSS and their data manifesto) where we could raise a distinctive voice above the general media babble?

John Hopes



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