Operations Research: The ORIGIN

The origin of Operations Research can be traced back to the World War-II
period. During the time of war, the military management in England had called
upon a team of scientists to study the strategic and tactical problems related to
air and land defence of the country. Since, the military resources were limited,
it was upto these scientists to decide upon the most effective utilization of them,
eg. the efficient ocean transport, effective bombing, etc.
During WWII, the Military Commands of U.K. and U.S.A. engaged several
inter-disciplinary teams of scientists to undertake scientific research into strate-
gic and tactical military operations. Their missions was to formulate specific
proposals and plans for aiding the Military Commands to arrive at the deci-
sions on optimal utilization of scarce military resources and efforts, and also to
implement the decisions effectively. The OR team were not actually engaged
in military operations and in fighting the war. But, they were only advisors
and significantly instrumental in winning the war to the extent that the sci-
entific and systematic approaches involved in OR provided a good intellectual
support to the strategic initiatives of the military commands. Hence, OR can
be associated with ”an art of winning the war without actually fighting

As the name implies, ’Operations Research’ was apparently invented because
the team was dealing with research on (military) operations. The work of this
team of scientists was named as Operations Research in England.
The encouraging results obtained by the British OR teams also motivated
the United States military management to start with similar activities. Suc-
cessful applications of the U.S¿ teams included the invention of new fight pat-
terns, planning sea mining and effectively utilization of electronic equipment.
The work of OR team was given various names in the United States such as
: Operational Analysis, Operations Evaluation, Operations Research, Systems
Analysis, Systems Evaluations, Systems Research, Systems Analysis, Systems
Evaluation, Systems Research and Management Science. The name Operations
Research, though is most widely used.
Though OR initially started with the intention to utilize limited military
resources efficiently during war, after the end of WWII, OR got attention of
Industrial Managers who were eagerly looking for a solution to their complex
executive-type problems. The most common was : ”what methods should be
adopted so that the total cost is minimum or total profits maximum?”. The
first mathematical technique in this field called the Simplex Method of Lin-
ear Programming was developed in 1947 by American mathematician George
B. Dantzig. Since then, new techniques and applications have been developed
through the efforts and co-operation of interested individuals in academic insti-
tutions and industry.
Today, the impact of OR can be felt in many areas. A large number of
management consulting firms are currently engaged in OR activities. Apart
from military and business applications, the OR activities include transportation
system, libraries, hospitals, city planning, financial institutions etc. Many of
the Indian industries making use of OR activity are: Delhi Cloth Mills, Indian
Railways, Indian Airlines, etc.
While making use of the techniques of OR, a mathematical model of the
problem is formulated. This model is actually a simplified representation of
the problems in which only the most important feature is considered for rea-
sons of simplicity. Then an optimal or most favourable solution is found. Since
the model is an idealized instead of exact representation of real problem, the
optimal solution thus obtained may not provide to be the best solution to the ac-
tual problem. Although, extremely complex and highly accurate mathematical
models may be formed, these are often omitted because they may not be easily
solvable. So from both cost-minimising and mathematical simplicity point of
view, it seems beneficial to develop a less accurate but simple model, and to
find a sequence of solutions consisting of a series of increasingly better approx-
imations to the actual course of action. Thus, the apparent weaknesses in the
initial solution are used to suggest improvements in the model, its input-data,
and the solution procedure. A new solution is thus obtained and the process is
repeated until the further improvements in the succeeding solutions become so
small that it does not seem economical to make further.
If the model is carefully formulated and tested, the resulting solution should
reach to be good approximation to the ideal course of action for the real problem.

Although we may not get the best answers but definitely we are able to find
the bad answers where worse exist. Thus, operations research techniques are
always able to save us from worse situations of practical life

Leave a Reply