Operations Research


Operations Research (OR) is the application of mathematical and scientific methods to solve certain classes of problem in the design and management of large or complex systems found in business, industry and government.

Areas of study

Typical problems involve deciding how to make the most effective use of limited resources such as people, machines, money and time. Mathematical and computer representations of problems are often used to solve them. Operations Research (OR) courses teach you the basic techniques used in solving resource management problems. They also discuss the most common areas of application. The basic techniques of OR can be grouped into two classes: 1. Optimisation methods such as linear programming (which may for example be used to minimise costs) 2. Modelling techniques such as computer simulation and forecasting.

You can study Operations Research in the following programmes:

What you will learn

Most of the modelling is probabilistic or statistical. Application areas include:

  • Inventory control: what should a supermarket stock and in what quantities, when should goods be re-ordered and in what quantities?
  • Transportation problems: how to manage a fleet of trucks.
  • Scheduling problems: constructing duty rosters for airline crews.
  • Games and competition: bidding for contracts, political campaigns.
  • Production planning: how often to produce batches of ice-cream, whether a single long production line is better than two parallel lines.
  • Queuing problems: what sort of customer queuing system should be set up in a bank, number of tellers operating in various situations?
  • Reliability: how long does equipment function, when should it be serviced or replaced?
  • Location problems: where to place warehouses?
  • Quality control: ensuring that good quality goods are produced.

Career opportunities

Operations research graduates work in a wide variety of businesses and industries, including health, transport, telecommunications, broadcasting, mining, and utilities. The aim is to turn data into meaningful information that can be used to increase the effectiveness or efficiency of systems, or to optimise resource allocation. As a result, analysts or consultants contribute to improvements in the design, performance, and management of large and complex systems. Graduates tend to work as consultants (for external clients) or as analysts (within a single organisation).

More information

For more information see Operations Research.