2016 January Inside OR

This month, we look into the problem-solving abilities of insects when faced with challenges such as route optimisation; Stewart Robinson reflects on the challenges and opportunities faced by the society in his presidency; and Nigel Cummings considers how to make OR part of your New Year’s resolution.

Inside this issue


Reflections on the Last Two Years


As I write this leader I am approaching the end of my two years as OR Society President. Two years goes very quickly! I have also just returned from a most enjoyable Blackett Lecture given by Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor for the Economist. Kenn gave an excellent exposition ‘In Defence of Big Data’.

In doing so he juxtaposed the world of big data and data science with the world of OR. The proposition that follows is that the key to the on-going development of OR is the need for us to engage with big data. Indeed, big data potentially represents a ‘gold mine’ for input to analytical methods that aid decision-making. As those who have heard my talks at regional societies and conferences will realise, a key theme of my presidency has been the topic of big data and analytics. Since its formation in 2014, the Analytics Development Group has led the society’s approach and response to analytics. We have reviewed our annual analytics event (‘The Annual Analytics Summit’) and following a recent survey we will be making significant changes to its format for 2016. This will be an opportunity to get a more detailed understanding of how organisations are accessing and using big data. Progress is being made towards The OR Society offering the INFORMS Certified Analytics Professional qualification on a franchise basis. We also continue to progress discussions around a new journal on the topic of big data and analytics.

The Analytics Network has well over 1,000 members in its own right suggesting that this is an important area in the development of the society and OR. There have been a number of other changes in the last two years. Free student membership was offered for the first time in 2014. As expected, this attracted many more students to join the society. Our challenge now is to capture those students at the end of their studies, either getting them to join the Society as fully paid members, or to a least remain engaged on a long term basis. We also launched Impact Magazine early in 2015. You will have received copies of this high quality magazine that provides accessible stories of how O.R. and analytics is being used in practice. The aim, however, is not so much to inform the OR community of the benefits of OR, we already know this, but to use the magazine as an outreach tool, especially to senior managers who might consume OR. We have made some progress in this respect, but we do need to get much greater penetration. 

As president I have become very aware of the level of on-going activity which is managed and delivered by the society’s committees and office staff. There is a very full calendar of events run at a regional, national and this year an international level with EURO being held in Glasgow in July. I should mention that ‘international’ refers here to the participants not the location; although the 2014 Scottish referendum nearly made that a reality as well. We continue to publish five academic journals, Inside OR and Impact Magazine; to maintain a very comprehensive website; to manage and deliver a training programme; to be active in social media; to run an accreditation scheme and a range of awards; to run a pro bono scheme; to deliver the OR in Schools initiative; and to network with a range of organisations including EURO, INFORMS, IFORS, the Council for Mathematical Sciences, the Science Council, the Heads of OR Forum, the Committee of Professors in O.R., the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences and the research councils. All this is only achieved through the hard work of staff and volunteers, to whom I am very grateful. 

So a lot is being done and there have been some significant changes over the last two years, but what of the future? Many challenges remain. I have already identified the challenges around engaging with big data and analytics, converting student members into long-term contacts, and growing the reach of Impact Magazine. But other challenges lie ahead. There continues to be a shortage of people with OR and analytics skills for both practice and academia; we are looking to fund a charitable project that will investigate the people pipeline.

Although 2015 has been a better year for the training programme, we need to perform a major review of the strategy around the society’s training offering. We continue to face the threat of open access publication impacting on the income from our academic journals; many of the activities listed above are funded by this income. The website needs updating, we need to extend our reach beyond our membership, the corporate membership scheme needs to increase in uptake, ... The years ahead are not going to be quiet. 

In concluding, I believe that OR and the society have a bright future if we continue to adapt to our ever changing world. I am convinced that in the present era this means that big data, analytics and data science should not be juxtaposed with OR, but OR should be a central part of these exciting developments. So it is now over to Ruth to lead the way forward. I know that she is already brimming with ideas on how to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and that she will hit the ground running. All the best Ruth!

Front cover of Inside OR magazine January 2016

2016 January Inside OR

Make OR Part of Your New Year Resolution; A Bridge Too Far; You Want How Much!; Awards Ceremony at Blackett Lecture 2015; New Years, New Careers.

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