Here is an essay on ‘Operations Research (O.R.)’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay # 1. History of Operations Research:
Operations Research encompasses a methodology and a set of techniques derived from the physical sciences and mathematics with an objective of improving the quality of managerial decisions.
As compared to decision-making done on decision-maker’s previous experience and intuition in the past, operations research facilitates the comparison of complicated alternatives and encourages rational decision-making based on the best available approaches and techniques.
Operations research came into existence during World War II, when the British and the American military management called upon a group of scientists with diverse educational background, namely, physics, biology, mathematics, psychology etc. to apply a scientific approach to deal with strategic and tactical problems of various military operations.
The purpose was to determine the effectiveness of specific operations and to devise methods for improving the use of weapons.
The first such deliberate resort to science was concerned with how to set a time fuse of a bomb to be dropped from an aircraft onto a submarine. The team of scientists to whom the problem was handed, succeeded in evolving the right formula.
But this was not the solitary instance. The scientists improved the effectiveness of several combat operations and their services were demanded in many countries to discuss the improvement in war strategies and weapons. Hence the name operations research or O.R. came directly from the context in which it was used and developed, viz. research on military operations.
After the war ended, O.R. received more and more civilian attention as the possibilities of its application to industry, business and non-military aspects of government became apparent. With the entry of government into business the study in Public Administration has acquired significance. In non-business activities of the government also, the methods of Operations Research can be gainfully utilized.
In India, O.R. came into existence in 1949 with the opening of an operations research unit at the Regional Research Laboratory, at Hyderabad and also in the Defence Science Laboratory which devoted itself to the problems of stores, purchase and planning.
For national planning and survey, an O.R. unit was established in 1953 at the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta. In 1957, O.R. Society of India was formed. Many Universities and Institutions in India accord specialization in operations research. Organised industries, government and others are gradually becoming conscious of its role in decision-making.
Essay # 2. Meaning of Operations Research:
Attempts to define O.R. have been relatively unsuccessful, because the whole field covered by it is so new that the scope and limits are still not fully known. The American Encyclopedia of Management defines O.R. as “the quantitative study of an organisation in action carried out in order to find ways in which its functions can be improved.”
Another definition is that “O.R. is the application of specific methods, tools and techniques to operations of system with optimum solution to the problems”. The Operations Research Society of America has offered a short definition, i.e., operations research is concerned with scientifically deciding how best to design and operate man-machine systems, usually under conditions requiring the allocation of scarce resources.”
According to Morse and Kimball, “O.R. is a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions under their control.” In the words of H.M. Wagub, “O.R. is a scientific approach to problems solving for executive management.”
Churchman, Ackoff and Arnoff state that “O.R. is the application of scientific methods, techniques and tools to problems involving the operations of a system so as to provide those in control of the system with optimum solution to the problem.”
On the basis of the above definitions, the following are the characteristics of O.R.:
(i) O.R. takes the totality view of a problem so that relationships can be established among all the factors related with the problem,
(ii) O.R. is the application of mathematical techniques which require the use of electronic gadgets,
(iii) Its approach is quantitative, hence the quality aspect of a problem cannot be analyzed by O.R. method,
(iv) O.R. is basically an optimization process—optimize the achievement of the objective. Thus the objective should be clear, precise and well-defined.
The O.R. differs from other management sciences in two of its unique features. Firstly, O.R. involves an inter-disciplinary team approach. As modern science has become more and more complex, there has been growing tendency to use mixed teams of physicists, mathematicians, biologists, engineers, economists, psychologists and other specialized persons.
Secondly, O.R’s approach is wholistic, i.e. while evaluating any decision or action in an organization, the important interactions and their impact on the whole organization against the functions originally involved are reviewed.
The O.R. utilizes the scientific method and attempts to find the best or optimal solution to the problem under consideration. It provides objective measure of effectiveness based upon quantitative data from the particular operation studied, rather than recommendations and opinions drawn from generalized experience.
It may also be mentioned that in the study of public administration where human factor is more involved O.R. has a limited use because O.R. provides solution only when all the elements related to a problem can be quantified. The tangible factors such as price, product, etc. can be expressed in terms of quantity, but intangible factors such as human relations cannot be quantified.
Further, O.R. tries to find out the optimum solution taking all the factors into account. In the modern society, these factors are numerous and expressing them in quantity and establishing relationships among these require huge calculations. All these calculations cannot be handled manually, but require electronic computers which bear very heavy cost.
Essay # 3. Techniques Used in Operations Research:
O.R. uses mostly the techniques used in mathematics and statistics. These techniques are probability theory, game-theory, queuing theory, replacement theory, network analysis, linear programming, non-linear programming, stochastic programming, discrete programming and dynamic programming. Of these, we may briefly describe the game- theory and queuing theory.
Game-theory is concerned with a type of decision problem characterized by conflict or competition among two or more competitors, e.g. union leaders and management. The objective of the game-theory is to develop rational criteria for selecting a strategy.
This is done under the assumption that each player (parties to the conflicts) is rational. The problem is how to make decisions in a conflict or competitive situation. Game theory provides a systematic quantitative method for analyzing conflict situations in which the competitors make use of logical processes and techniques in order to determine an optimal strategy for winning.
The queuing theory, also known as waiting line theory involves the mathematical studies of queues or waiting line. This theory uses mathematical techniques to balance the cost of waiting lines versus the costs of preventing lines by increased services. Since it is frequently impossible to predict when units will arrive to seek service, it becomes difficult to determine the quantity of service facilities.
Providing too much service facilities would involve excessive costs. On the other hand, not providing enough service facilities would cause the waiting line to become excessively long at a time. Excessive waiting is also costly in the form of lost customers, or the capacity to become idle at some time.
Therefore, the ultimate goal is to achieve an economic balance between the cost of service and the cost associated with waiting for that service. Such situations are common in banks, post-offices, booking-offices, aero planes waiting for the runway to be cleared. Should more banks or post-offices or booking offices be opened or runways constructed to provide service facility to those waiting for it?
In each such case, the objective of the queuing theory is to determine the capacity of the service facility in the light of the relevant costs and the characteristics of the demand pattern so that the sum of all costs associated with the waiting line system will be minimized.
It may be noted that queuing theory itself does not directly solve the problem of fixing appropriate level of service facilities but it does contribute vital information required for such decision by predicting various characteristics of the waiting line.