Skip to content

Operations Research in the New York Times and I am annoyed and depressed

The term “Operations Research” appears in the New York Times today (May 20, 2007) in an article entitled “Reaping Results: Data-Mining Goes Mainstream“. Here is the start:

RODNEY MONROE, the police chief in Richmond, Va., describes himself as a lifelong cop whose expertise is in fighting street crime, not in software. His own Web browsing, he says, mostly involves checking golf scores.

But shortly after he became chief in 2005, a crime analyst who had retired from the force convinced him to try some clever software. The programs cull through information that the department already collects, like “911” and police reports, but add new streams of data — about neighborhood demographics and payday schedules, for example, or about weather, traffic patterns and sports events — to try to predict where crimes might occur.

Later comes the “Operations Research” reference:

The desire to exploit computing and mathematical analytics is by no means new. In the 1960s and ’70s, “operations research” combined computing and math mainly to make factory production work more efficient. And in that period, “decision support” software was intended to help managers more intelligently use information in the big computing file cabinets — databases — that were becoming common in corporations.

That really burns my butt. I hate the idea that operations research is shunted into history and it is the new analytics that is the key. It is all Operations Research!

Otherwise, the article is great. Analytics are a key success path for companies. Here is a quote from Wired on why Yahoo! lost out to Google:

At Yahoo, the marketers rule, and at Google the engineers rule. And for that, Yahoo is finally paying the price.

On the personal side, I also cringed when I saw the following in the New York Times article:

“It’s really starting to become mainstream,” says Mr. Davenport, co-author with Jeanne G. Harris of “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning” (Harvard Business School Press, 2007). The entry barrier, he says, “is no longer technology, but whether you have executives who understand this.”

This was really the theme of my Hood Lecture, and I had the inklings of writing something longish on the subject. I will have to see if this book does a good job on this.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Gabriel Mihalache | May 20, 2007 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Conceptually and etymologically, it is all OR. But I can see how new stuff might want to make a name for itself, on its own, and how “Research” sends the wrong message in business circles.

  2. Respiro the logo design guy | May 20, 2007 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    It seems that there’s a confusion in terms. “Analytics” is a more tech- and Internet-related term.