2017 January Inside OR

In this edition, OR Society Secretary and General Manager Gavin Blackett reports on our recent 2016 Blackett Lecture: 'Machines that learn'; John Crocker reviews 'Decision Sciences: theory and practice'; and Jonathan Rosenhead pens a letter to the editor.

Inside this issue


Have you been keeping up?


As we leave 2016 behind, now is the traditional time to take stock and to rekindle excitement about the potential of the New Year. Assiduous readers of OR Society publications will know that The OR Society has maintained its pace of output and new developments through 2016. Some highlights: conferences and events that have almost all seen increased attendance, tremendous buzz and positive feedback; new and important YouTube videos; a Research Panel to raise visibility and impact of OR research; a Science Council licence to offer the Chartered Scientist (CSci) award; continued publication of five academic journals, and of Impact magazine to promote awareness of O.R. in practice; a Pro Bono scheme that has flown the OR flag far and wide. For the full list, I refer you to the complete 2016 Inside OR. This all comes about through the efforts of a small hardworking core staff and an army of volunteers. It takes place against a background in which OR itself is flourishing in a great diversity of locations, employers, methodologies, domain areas, and people.

Why are we doing all this? It is because we believe that rational analysis and an evidence-base for decision-making (i.e. OR) can improve the world we live in, and that the world needs improving. We believe that more people should be using, commissioning or doing good OR. The OR Society’s strategy and actions are all aimed at facilitating this. 

As well as all the above, there is much “work in progress”, including (once again, selected highlights only): adding the INFORMS ‘Certified Analytics Professional’ to the awards available to our members; launching a ‘Journal of Business Analytics’; reviewing training strategy; piloting Student Clubs and MSc scholarship awards; producing a number of marketing videos; designing materials to explain “What is OR”, for education, training and promoting OR; and re-developing the website. All these are scheduled for delivery in the coming year or so. If you think there are other things we should be doing, or want to help with any of this, do get in touch. 

As president, my job is mainly to cheer on from the side lines, or deliver the dressing room team talk, while the aforementioned staff and volunteers do all the work. But there are a couple of activities that I do plan to spend time on. One is promoting the perspective on OR identity and diversity which formed much of the substance of my presidential address at OR58; and one is outreach.

I hope this strikes a chord with anybody frustrated by the many different labels for what we call OR; and with anybody who feels that they personally are not doing ‘real’ OR, or are not really an OR person. It takes note of the fact that throughout its history, OR has continued to flourish and diversify in spite of its failure to establish exclusive OR rights over any research or problem area. It reflects my view that this is, at least partly, because “what OR people do” continually changes as the environment changes and technology evolves, so any attempt to establish such exclusive branding is doomed to failure. Whittled down to basics, it is this:

If you are interested in rigorous evidence-based approaches to help organisations make better decisions or design better systems, then you will benefit from knowing what is going on under the OR umbrella, and in turn, your involvement will benefit people working under the OR umbrella. Whatever you call your work, or yourself, you should take advantage of the resources, ideas and development opportunities of the OR field. 

I hope to promote and debate this message widely, and discuss its implications, because the ‘broad church’, multi-disciplinary view of OR is as vital now as it has ever been, for both the profession and its people. 

The corollary of this message is that we must continually reach out beyond the core OR constituency. The Analytics Network, the Analytics Summit held jointly with RSS, and 2017’s joint OR Society/IMA conference are major outreach initiatives. But one of the splendid things about being in OR is the number of opportunities for lower-key outreach conversations, enabling us to learn from, and to raise awareness of OR with, our near neighbours. For example, over the last year, colleagues and I have talked to leaders of bodies as varied as Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, Institute of Physics, Alan Turing Institute, Web Science Institute, Science Council and Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts. We have attended Parliamentary Receptions held for the science community; and responded to consultations. 

Almost always, it feels like pushing at an open door. The people we speak to recognise the potential for synergy, development, and collaboration. So during the coming year I hope to be doing more of this; with followup including cross-promotion of websites, joint events and so on. If you work across disciplinary or professional boundaries, please consider doing the same. Enlist the support and resources of The OR Society, if necessary, and share your plans and successes across the community. 

I have also visited Regional Societies, universities and large employers to meet OR Society members and others working in and around the OR community, and I hope to meet many more in 2017 to discuss your own perspectives on OR and The OR Society, and whether and how you want to get involved in helping achieve our ambitions. 

It is a great privilege to be the President of The OR Society, and I am enormously grateful to all the staff, volunteers and members who make the society what it is. In this leader there is space merely to touch on the issues, the plans and the opportunities, but I hope I have conveyed some of the excitement that I feel about the potential for our profession and our society. I wish you all a happy and fruitful New Year.

Front cover of Inside OR magazine January 2017

2017 January Inside OR

Have you been keeping up?; Blackett Lecture 2016; Decision Sciences; Medal Winners; What is in store for 2017?

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