Operational what?

For a good number of years I was employed in Operational Research (OR).  There was a running joke among those involved in the discipline at British Airways featuring a conversation at a party.

Someone asks you what you do and, after about five hilarious attempts to explain it, the person in the joke says 'I work with computers.' These days my attempt at a short explanation is something like 'it was developed during the Second World War as a way of using maths to do things like calculate the most effective pattern to drop depth charges. But now it's used by organisations to solve business problems.'

The little squeezy plane above is from an anniversary get-together which I'm shocked to realise was three years ago. But I've had more recent OR action from a connection with Lancaster University, where I took my MA in OR many moons ago. I visited the university a year or so ago as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations and was delighted to meet up with one of my old lecturers, Graham Rand. As well as showing me around, he mentioned that the Operational Research Society was starting a new magazine called Impact which would be featuring articles on what's happening in today's OR.

I've contributed a couple of articles for the magazine, which has given me a great opportunity to revisit OR and find it still live, well and doing interesting things. The magazine is aimed at the general reader, rather than practitioners, so well worth a look. Fittingly, the first piece I wrote for them, featured on the cover of the first edition, is about a current use of OR in British Airways.