What is Operational Research?

Operational Research (OR) is the use of advanced analytical techniques to improve decision making. It is sometimes known as operations research, management science or industrial engineering. People with skills in OR hold jobs in decision support, business analytics, marketing analysis and logistics planning – as well as jobs with OR in the title.

Why is OR needed?

Because it makes sense to make the best use of available resources. Today’s global markets and instant communications mean that customers expect high-quality products and services when they need them, where they need them. Organisations, whether public or private, need to provide these products and services as effectively and efficiently as possible. This requires careful planning and analysis – the hallmarks of good OR. This is usually based on process modelling, analysis of options or business analytics.

Examples of OR in action

  • Scheduling: of aircrews and the fleet for airlines, of vehicles in supply chains, of orders in a factory and of operating theatres in a hospital.
  • Facility planning: computer simulations of airports for the rapid and safe processing of travellers, improving appointments systems for medical practice. 
  • Planning and forecasting: identifying possible future developments in telecommunications, deciding how much capacity is needed in a holiday business.
  • Yield management: setting the prices of airline seats and hotel rooms to reflect changing demand and the risk of no shows.
  • Credit scoring: deciding which customers offer the best prospects for credit companies.
  • Marketing: evaluating the value of sale promotions, developing customer profiles and computing the life-time value of a customer.
  • Defence and peace keeping: finding ways to deploy troops rapidly.

Some OR methods and techniques

  • Computer simulation: allowing you to try out approaches and test ideas for improvement.
  • Optimisation: narrowing your choices to the very best when there are so many feasible options that comparing them one by one is difficult.
  • Probability and statistics: helping you measure risk, mine data to find valuable connections and insights in business analytics, test conclusions, and make reliable forecasts.
  • Problem structuring: helpful when complex decisions are needed in situations with many stakeholders and competing interests.

Operational research at Lancaster

The Department of Management Science has one of the largest groups of operational research and systems teaching staff in Europe. Most of our faculty have previous industrial or public sector experience. We have a strong commitment to produce research of practical importance, capitalising on a tradition of collaborative research with industrial partners. Our taught courses reflect this orientation with a high proportion of lecture material based on studies carried out by the staff.

Our Department, as part of Lancaster University Management School, has received the highest rankings for its research and a rating of Excellent (the highest possible) for our teaching in the most recent assessments.

The MSc in Operational Research and Management Science is an intensive one-year postgraduate degree for people with first degrees that include some mathematics and statistics. The BSc degrees in Management Science and Operations Management, provide a good basic education in the fundamentals of operational research. The MSc and BSc degrees have excellent employment records and an active alumni network.