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ORS response to Computational Modelling: Technological Futures report

Tuesday, 20 Feb 2018 (revised date: Wednesday, 21 Feb 2018)
Nomsa Sibanda

GOS Report CoverA recently published Government report promotes the increasingly critical importance of modelling, emphasising that it is essential to our future productivity and competitiveness, for businesses of all sizes and across all sectors of the economy.  As a learned society representing a large population of modelling professionals the Operational Research Society (ORS) supports this view and the main thrust of the report.

The report (Computational Modelling: Technological Futures) has been jointly published by the Government Office for Science and the Council for Science and Technology.  It drew together inputs from many experts from a wide range of backgrounds across industry and academia.  These included ORS Honorary Member Sir Alan Wilson and ORS Fellow Professor David Lane.

Professor Lane said: “We offer some ideas about the future of modelling, for example, that, in order to support strategic thinking, senior decision-makers will themselves increasingly participate in building and using models– an area which is one of my particular interests.”

The report highlights, rightly in the view of the ORS, the increasing opportunity for modelling to support better decision making.  This follows from the rapid growth in computing power, the explosion in available data, and the greater ability of models to tackle extremely complex systems.  For example, Operational Research (OR) professionals are now able to solve high value, large scale optimisation problems that were impossible to solve before.

One of the key messages of the report is the importance of close collaboration between the customer and the modeller throughout the modelling process.  It points out the dangers of improper use of models or the misinterpretation of model outputs, calling for decision makers to be intelligent customers for models provided with appropriate guidance and support by model suppliers.  The ORS agrees with these findings and believes in the need to provide greater awareness and training for decision makers on the importance of modelling and how to gain full value from modelling activity in the form of better informed decisions.  We are planning to provide more of this support to decision makers as part of our follow-up to the report.

The report also recommends that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should work with a wide variety of organisations, including learned societies such as the ORS, to support the further development of skills, research and innovation to enable the UK to stay in the forefront of advanced modelling technologies.  This is completely aligned with the current activities of the ORS and the OR community and we look forward to contributing to these efforts.

Other recommendations concern the need for a centre of excellence for modelling and for better governance and even formal regulation of modelling activity.  These reflect what the ORS would see as a fully justified concern about the dangers of poor quality modelling, but probably need more work in order to determine precisely what framework would be most effective.

The bulk of the report provides examples of the value of modelling across a wide range of sectors and problem domains.  These include, for example, the importance of OR modelling techniques such as system dynamics in the framing of public policy.  Given the breadth of the modelling and decision making landscape these examples cannot be exhaustive, and the ORS’s Impact magazine provides an excellent source of additional examples.  For instance, Issue 6 of Impact includes case studies showing how optimisation models have scheduled the South American qualification round for the football World Cup and improved resource usage in operating theatres in a US hospital. Issue 5 showed how a combination of simulation and optimisation modelling has improved service levels for BT’s field force.

The report is a timely reminder that modelling of all types, including OR, is going to be an increasingly important activity going forwards, that decision makers need to be intelligent customers of modelling, and that more skills, innovation and quality assurance will be needed to ensure that modelling delivers on its promise.

Access the full report here

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