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Operations Research Analyst


Description

How many elevators should be installed in a new office building to cut waiting time? Or how long should the warranty on an automobile or appliance run, what should it cover, and what will it cost the manufacturer? These are characteristic questions operations research analysts might analyze, research and answer.

Operations research (OR) analysts, sometimes called management scientists, develop and apply analytical methods and mathematical models that provide information for business professionals with organizational problems. They try to predict potential solutions and outcomes by applying advanced analytical techniques and research theories. They are mainly concerned with issues such as strategy, forecasting, resource allocation, facilities layout, inventory control, personnel schedules, and distribution systems.

Most operations research analysts adhere to similar application methods. They begin by defining the problem at hand and immersing themselves in the details. Operations research analysts will methodically specify their objectives and then begin the research process including interviewing people and questioning every aspect of the industry. In assessing their compiled data, they create a scientific mathematical model evaluating possible alternatives and solutions. Examples of operations research techniques often applied are simulation, linear and non-linear programming, dynamic programming, and Markov decision processes to name a few. These theories are learned in school and practiced on the job. Regardless of the theory the OR analyst decides to use, it must focus on practical and workable results that will function effectively in the real world. Therefore, they must conduct several test case scenarios which test different variables to find out which one will work the best. A model for an airline flight schedule might include connection cities, passenger demand, the amount of fuel needed and maintenance costs.

Once the model is complete, they will present it to senior management officials in hopes of being able to implement the system. If they get the go ahead, operations research analysts will often help companies implement these changes.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Operations research analysts have good mathematical abilities and problem solving skills. It is a type of inquisitive yet linear thinking involved where individuals have spatial perceptions to visualize mathematical forms. Meticulousness is important because analysts must pay close attention to details and spot errors. They enjoy synthesizing information to develop innovative solutions while applying statistical theories and mathematical techniques. Finally, they have excellent communications skills because they must present their research logically and clearly to management officials
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • The duties of an operations research analyst will vary according to the structure and management philosophy of the client:
  • Interview and question different company members
  • Manage and analyze large amounts of data
  • Meet with decision-makers to identify problems and clarify management objectives
  • Observe the current system in operation to use a model of comparison
  • Design and build mathematical models, based on scientific methods and logical assumptions
  • Use computers to analyze the various outcomes of alternate courses of action
  • Solve problems in different ways and propose alternative solutions to management
  • Operations research analysts usually work in an office environment for different organizations. Since the work is project-oriented, operations research analysts may be hired on a contract basis. Hours of work are quite flexible and regular, yet longer hours may be required to meet project deadlines. Some travel may be involved to examine systems in operation, visit work sites and interview employees.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Operations research analysts are employed in both the public and private sectors, working for governments, universities, consulting firms, retail firms and manufacturing companies. Their skills are needed in hospitals, police departments, railway companies, airlines, oil companies, forestry organizations and hazardous waste companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Entry-level operations research analysts start working on well-defined problems and progress to less clear-cut problems. More experienced analysts may start their own consulting business or move up into other management fields. Since they have conducted study after study on the way companies work, it puts them in a prime spot to run their own. Those who specialize in a particular area can also move into a specific career such as transportation companies (airlines, railways).
 

  Educational Paths  
The minimum academic requirement for operations research analysts is a bachelor's degree in management science or quantitative analysis. Most operations research analysts have master's degrees as well, which gives them an advantage when seeking employment. It is also highly recommended that potential analysts have advanced computer skills in data analysis and statistical modeling.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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