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OR analysis: do you speak my business language?

In terms of academic pedigree, operational research (OR) analysis has it all or pretty much. Underpinned by mathematics and endorsed by university faculties, it also has solid supporters among government agencies and the armed forces. And yet when it comes to business, operations research sometimes seems to be overshadowed by its more glamorous cousin business analytics. Is it just the name that gives  business analytics gets more support, or is there another factor at work?

How many business people can get to grips with OR math? Image source:

OR analysis and the science of better

‘How time-starved executives make better decisions with less risk’. This is the slogan that heads up the ‘Science of Better’ website, promoting the use of operations research. It’s not bad as a marketing positioning statement for a discipline with a reputation for coming from boffin-land, although it is missing the word ‘business’. Does that mean the site is happy preaching to the converted or is it in fact looking to notch up more acolytes in business – and if so, is this the right way to do it?

Business analytics has business embedding

Business analytics offers a view of the past (descriptive analytics), a glimpse of the future (predictive analytics) and recommendations about what to do about it right now (prescriptive or decision analytics). An increasingly large amount of business analytics now revolves around data resources such as data warehouses and big data. Systems that feed into business analytics include customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and supply chain management (SCM) systems.

Business analytics handling business-oriented problems Image source:

Is the difference in the data?

Rightly or wrongly, businesses appear to put their faith in databases, and the more the better. A whole IT industry has grown up supplying solutions to transform and massage data between different systems and data universes. Business analytics is in tune with this. Dashboards indicate how well objectives are being met and simulations to model outcomes and rank different options. Operations research and therefore OR analysis include simulation as a technique, but also spread themselves over approaches that emphasize the math rather than the data, such as queuing theory, analytic hierarchy process, game theory, decision trees and Markov decision processes.

Every mathematical formula halves your audience

When cosmologist Stephen Hawking wrote his popular book entitled ‘A Brief History of Time’, he heeded his publisher’s advice that every additional mathematical formula in the book would halve his potential readership. As a result, his book has very few formulae and made the British Sunday Times bestseller list for 237 weeks, a publishing record. Similarly, if OR analysis wants more recognition from business people, it might consider keeping more of the math under wraps and bringing more of the OR business success stories into the limelight.

Care for a little OR business analysis or OBR?

If OR analysis wants to get closer to business, putting that ‘business’ word in there seems like a good step too. OR business analysis might be an acceptable line extension; or perhaps OBR as in Operations Business Research.

If you’d like to know how Analytica, the modeling software from Lumina, can help you whether your background is OR analysis or business analytics, then try a free evaluation of Analytica to see what it can do for you.

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