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Monday, September 10, 2001
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Computer plays major role in OR
Sumesh Raizada

A good career in management is everybodyís dream. To fulfill this dream, students pursue several courses of different duration and disciplines. However, there are many courses and careers, which begin after the basic education in management or in specialised fields. Career in operations research is one of those careers, which though starts at graduation or pre-management studies and matures at post-management studies. Career in operation research is promising and in a way itís your passport to the top-level management.

All science graduates or other students, who have studied mathematics in the university, must have come across this interesting subject at some stage. Itís all about applying quantitative techniques to make decisions and solve business/organisational problems. Basically, the quantitative techniques are statistical models, which are being used in predicting critical results. These quantitative techniques are well proven and some of them date back to the World War II era, when they were developed and used to help take the guesswork out of missions such as deploying radar, searching for enemy submarines, and getting supplies where they were most needed. Following war, the world felt the need of these magnificent studies for peacetime applications also, as this study found its useful application in many industries and occupations. However, today it has become a management tool for planning and managing the organisation.

 


Todayís business revolves around 4 Ms ó Men, Money, Machine and Material. If any of these components of modern business system go out of control, then the organisation comes into trouble. Thus the task of the operation research analyst is to determine the optimal means of coordinating these factors of production to achieve specified goals by applying mathematical principles to organisational problems. The OR analyst, works out alternatives and optimal method to handle an opportunity or problems, and suggest the best way to the management, which helps them in coordinating these results in their final decision. Thus the basic function of Operation Research professionals is to define strategy, forecasting, resource allocation, facilities layout, inventory control, personnel schedules, and distribution systems.

The basics of working of an Operation Research analyst though remains same on a broader parameter yet the actual modus operandi may vary from organisation to organisation depending on its size and nature of business. Normally the task of an OR analyst begins with communication from the manager about the details of a problem, for which the alternative sets of solutions are being sought. The OR Analyst, then after studying the problem breaks it into several parts. All these parts are then studied in detail, with data feedback from the relevant sources for each and every part or component. These parts could be different departments of an organisation or even a process like production, marketing etc.

With all relevant information OR Analyst then selects the analytical technique like simulation, linear and non-linear optimisation, networks, waiting lines, discrete and random variables methods, dynamic programming, queuing models and other stochastic-process models, Markov decision processes, econometric methods, data envelopment analysis, neural networks, genetic algorithms, decision analysis, and the analytic hierarchy process etc.

Based on these techniques, a model is defined that uses the parameter defined by the problem and also the data feedback received by the OR Analyst from different parts or components. These data are then being used to work out the optimal solution by testing the model under different data and statistics. This way, by working out the correct strategies, OR Analyst works as a backbone of an organisation.

Like other mathematical tools, various business alternatives were being evaluated on pen and paper. However, with the computer coming to the forefront, the task of the operation research analyst has become rather easier. Nowadays, computers are a must for the operation research analysts. However, besides being a computer literate other important qualifications necessary are a Masterís Degree or Ph.D in statistics, mathematics, operation research, management science or other closely related subjects. Even the students of economics can opt for a career in Operations Research. Besides, regular studies OR analysts also must be able to think logically and work well with people, and employers prefer workers with good oral and written communication skills.

Computer plays a major role in this career. All these quantitative techniques are derived and work under certain parameters. If the parameters are changed then the corresponding results will also change. Therefore for an Operation Research analyst, it is quite significant to know the desired level of programming for defining his parameters of research besides having a command over the programs, which are frequently being used in Operations Research.

In fact, a dual graduate degree in operations research and computer science is a hot combination in the field of operation research.

Some of the useful programs in Operations Research are Giden, Decisionarium, Cooperative Simulated Annealing, DP Studio, Linear Programming: Foundations and Extensions, LP Explorer, RIOT Applications, AMMO (ActiveX Mathematical Modeling Objects), GAMBIT Game Theory Software (Game theory software for performing various operations on n-person games) etc.

For formal education in Operation Research one can pursue a higher course in mathematics from various universities, as almost all of them cover specialisation in Operation Research. For example The Institute of Mathematical Science in Chennai runs a specialised course in OR. Similarly other prominent universities also have courses on operations research. However, on the Internet, you can find a lot of resources for online as well as other short-term courses in operations research. For example some of the links for course available on the Internet are www.statslab.cam.ac.uk/~richard/teaching/algnets, http://ubmail.ubalt.edu/~harsham/opre640/opre640.htm, An Introduction to Queueing Systems available at http://home.iitk.ac.in/~skb/ee679/ee679.html, Methods of Optimisation at www.math.utah.edu/~cherk/teach/opt/course.html etc. These were few of the courses available on the Net. You can choose the course and also the subjects of your choice and pursue specialised studies in it.

Talking about employment in Operation Research, it could be a surprise for many that there are quite a number of jobs in this field and major employers in this field include telecommunication companies, air carriers, computer and data processing services, financial institutions, universities, insurance carriers, engineering and management services firms, transport companies, airlines, construction companies, all type of manufacturing firms, government etc.

In fact, the job potential for OR Analyst is quite promising abroad and experts in quantitative research having good experience can bag some of the hot jobs in developed countries. However, the best part of this career is that it is a progressive career and its scope is likely to multiply in the coming years. According to a research individuals who hold a Masterís or Ph.D. degree in operations research, management science, or a closely related field should find good job opportunities through 2008, as the number of openings generated by employment growth and the need to replace those leaving the occupation is expected to exceed the number of persons graduating with these credentials.

This clearly means that a student, who is still looking for a dynamic career can find this career very attractive, as by the time he or she finishes the studies there will be a number of openings.

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