Could OR help? Did OR help?

Academics in OR, and those who hold office in the various national societies for Operational Research, often ask why OR is not used more widely.  I asked this myself in an earlier blog.  There are numerous reasons why not, which are reiterated every time someone asks the question.

Every so often, I look at the news pages of both our local weekly paper in Exeter and the daily national newspaper and wonder whether any of the news stories relates to our discipline.  Last week the local paper (Express and Echo) had three headlines over such stories. 

Number one read "Advice leads to improved efficiency" and was about a scheme to advise companies about reducing their costs and carbon footprint.  The story dealt with a marketing advice company which had received such advice - resulting in a reduction in carbon footprint of 4tonnes per year and cost savings of £600 per year.  Obviously, financial and energy models had been constructed, and someone had identified areas for decision and choice - ideal for OR. 

Number two read "Flybe call centre jobs outsourced" describing how the airline Flybe, whose HQ is in Exeter, had decided to outsource its call centre.  There's a wealth of research in the OR literature about call centre modelling, and I suspect that the company which now handles the airline's calls uses some OR in its operation.  But, once again, the management of Flybe had faced a choice: outsource (and to whom?) or keep in house.  A financial model would link to queue models for the systems.  But there would also be the psychology of keeping a personal link between the telephone operators who had formerly been company employees, and the new, slightly remote, association between the call centre and the company. 

Number three read "Mole Valley's robust year", describing a successful year for Mole Valley, a local agricultural supplies business, which is run as a co-operative.  The business had been profitable, and the short report mentioned "improved processes" and "efficiencies" achieved during the year.  How much were these a result of detailed modelling?  Or suggestions from staff, even those who know nothing about the technicalities of OR can see opportunities for beneficial changes.

It would be an interesting exercise for an educator in OR to take a similar business page and ask students where they could apply OR.  Should I copyright the idea?


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