1. Overview

The results of the global OR practice survey were presented at IFORS 2011, together with six individual country presentations, which were based around the survey responses and local knowledge of OR practice.

This report summarises the main results from the global survey and the key points from the country presentations, leading to suggestions on how IFORS might better support OR practice and OR practitioners. It is intended as a final report on the survey for the IFORS Executive, though a paper for ITORS based on the survey results is also planned. The detailed results are contained in a series of PowerPoint presentations, which are referenced in the appropriate section of this report.

The report is complemented by several Annexes:

Annexes A1 to A6 present the main points from the individual country presentations, USA, UK, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Annex B gives the programme for the two survey-based conference sessions and the abstracts for the individual presentations.
Annex C1 gives the slides and detailed results for the overall survey
Annexes C2 to C7 give the slides for the individual country presentations
Annex D IFORS Newsletter article, September 2009, New Survey of OR Practice Around the World
Annex E IFORS Newsletter article, September 2010, IFORS Survey of OR Practice – Update
Annex F IFORS Global Survey of OR Practice: Progress Report 2010 (for the IFORS Executive)
Annex G IFORS Newsletter Article, March 2011, Some Results from the OR Practice Survey
Annex H: Proposed Survey of OR Practice around the World (project contract)

2. Overall Results from the Global Survey

2.1 Comments on the Survey

Responses were received from 28 of 49 member countries of IFORS but most countries returned just a handful of responses. Sixty two per cent of the responses came from the UK and USA. Thus much care needs to be taken in interpreting the results. There is a good balance between public, private, consultancy & academic organisations but a low response from small/medium private companies. No understanding of OR-type practice outside the OR community was gained. The detailed results are given in the PDF file “IFORS2011 Global Results

2.2 Summary of Results

a) Personal Experience of OR
OR Practitioners are highly qualified academically and professionally:
85% have postgraduate qualifications; 69% belong to the local OR Society; and 49% belong to other OR and professional societies. 55% have more than 10 years in OR (average 12 years) and nearly 50% have 5 years or less in their current organisation (average 8.5 years).

b) OR Practice
OR is applied across all functions of client organisations with strategic planning & logistics being the most popular. Many OR techniques are used regularly, particularly spreadsheets and statistics but the use of OR software is more limited, except for Excel and statistics packages. On the Job Training is commonplace, particularly for software packages and consultancy skills. In some countries a significant amount of OR consultancy practice is carried out by academics.

The term ‘Operational Research’ is rarely used in an OR group’s name, with more meaningful alternatives such as Decision Support or Business Analysis preferred instead. Despite this, a company’s lack of awareness of OR and clients’ lack of understanding of OR were reported as key barriers to wider use.

3. Key Points from Six Country Presentations

(USA, UK, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)

- OR practice is successful where it is established but lack of awareness of OR is the main barrier to the spread of OR practice.
- Much OR-type work is undertaken outside the OR community
- The OR label is rarely used by OR groups
- Little networking amongst OR practitioners is carried out
- Collaboration between academics and practitioners is patchy.
- Academics provide significant expert OR consultancy in some countries
- Only the USA and UK are reaching out to the wider analytics’ community

4. Concluding Comments

It is clear that many IFORS Country Representatives have limited knowledge of OR practice or contact with OR practitioners and this has severely restricted the number of responses to the survey. Thus the results must be interpreted with care.

OR practice is successful where it is established and OR practitioners are highly qualified. However the survey responses and the six country presentations, all pointed to a lack of awareness of the value of OR by potential clients as the main problem limiting the use of OR. It is also clear that the meaning of the term ‘operational research’ is not widely understood, since few OR groups use it in their name. Also, and again from the survey and the country presentations, much OR-type work is being undertaken outside the OR community. (INFORMS and the UK OR Society are considering rebranding OR to include ‘analytics’ and are reaching out to the wider analytics community.) Academics provide a significant amount of OR consultancy in some countries and also provide training for practitioners. The results from this survey will help academics to identify key training needs in their country.

Other than in the USA and UK, there appears to be little networking amongst OR practitioners and collaboration between academics and practitioners is patchy.

5. Suggestions for Supporting OR Practice and OR Practitioners

IFORS could encourage support for practitioners by:

a) Stimulating local OR societies to identify and engage with practitioners
b) Publicising successful OR projects, that have made an impact on client organisations, in the IFORS Newsletter
c) Promoting high profile OR practice streams at IFORS conferences, based on practice in the host country and supported by organisations with successful OR groups
d) Ensuring that practice-based plenary talks are included in IFORS conferences
e) Participating in the current discussions about rebranding OR to include analytics.

Dr. John C. Ranyard

John Ranyard

John Ranyard is a Senior Research Fellow at the Management Science Department at Lancaster University and previously an OR manager in British Coal. You may reach him at jranyard@cix.co.uk


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