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Unit 1

Introduction to Operational Research

Lesson 1: Introduction to Operational Research


Introduction to Operational Research
This teaching module is designed to be an entertaining and representative
introduction to the subject of Operational Research. It is divided into a number of
sections each covering different aspects of OR.

What is Operational Research?

This looks at the characteristics of Operational Research, how you define what OR is
and why organisations might use it. It considers the scientific nature of OR and how
it helps in dealing with problems involving uncertainty, complexity and conflict.

OR is the representation of real-world systems by mathematical models together with


the use of quantitative methods (algorithms) for solving such models, with a view to
optimising.

Battle of the Atlantic

Considers the origins of OR in the British military and looks at how OR helped to
ensure the safety of merchant ships during the "Battle of the Atlantic" in World War
II.

Introduction to OR

Terminology

The British/Europeans refer to "operational research", the Americans to "operations


research" - but both are often shortened to just "OR" (which is the term we will use).

Another term which is used for this field is "management science" ("MS"). The
Americans sometimes combine the terms OR and MS together and say "OR/MS" or
"ORMS". Yet other terms sometimes used are "industrial engineering" ("IE") and
"decision science" ("DS"). In recent years there has been a move towards a
standardisation upon a single term for the field, namely the term "OR".
Books

There are many books on OR available in the college library and you should not need to
buy any books. If you do find you need a book then I recommend:

J.K.S harma: Operations Research (Theory and

Application) N.D.Vohra: Quantitative Techniques in

Management

Journals

OR is a new field which started in the late 1930's and has grown and expanded
tremendously in the last 30 years (and is still expanding). As such the academic journals
contain many useful articles that reflect state of the art applications of OR. We give
below a selection of the major OR journals.

1. Operations Research
2. Management Science
3. European Journal of Operational Research
4. Journal of the Operational Research Society
5. Mathematical Programming
6. Networks
7. Naval Research Logistics
8. Interfaces

The first seven of the above are mainly theoretical whilst the eighth (Interfaces)
concentrates upon case studies. All of these journals are available in the college library so
have a browse through them to see what is happening in state of the art OR.

Note here that my personal view is that in OR, as in many fields, the USA is the country
that leads the world both in the practical application of OR and in advancing the theory
(for example, the American OR conferences have approximately 2500 participants, the
UK OR conference has 300).

One thing I would like to emphasise in relation to OR is that it is (in my view) a


subject/discipline that has much to offer in making a real difference in the real
world. OR can help you to make better decisions and it is clear that there are many,
many people and companies out there in the real world that need to make better
decisions. I have tried to include throughout OR-Notes discussion of some of the
real-world problems that I have personally been involved with.