Operations research analysts formulate and apply mathematical modeling and other optimizing methods to develop and interpret information that assists management with decision making, policy formulation, or other managerial functions. They may collect and analyze data and develop decision support software, service, or products. Once the data has been gathered and formulated, these business specialists will collaborate with senior managers and other decision-makers to identify and solve an array of problems.
Therefore, these analysts are high-level problem-solvers who use advanced techniques, such as optimization, data mining, statistical analysis and mathematical modeling, to develop solutions that help businesses and organizations operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. For example, UPS uses operations research to chart the flow of packages, provide real-time route guidance to drivers and help plan and manage distribution. In the health care field, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York used operations research to design a radiation treatment plan for prostate patients using sophisticated modeling and computation techniques.
Regardless of the type or structure or the organization, an operations research analyst’s role is to provide analysis in the support of management’s quest for performance improvements. Usually this process begins by managers describing the symptoms of a problem, whereupon the analyst, utilizing a variety of complex analytical techniques, seeks resolution to the problem.
The educational emphasis will be on mathematics, business or industrial engineering at a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. There are degrees offered in Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Sciences and Operations Science. Those interested in becoming operations research analysts should consider coursework that teaches quantitative analysis and computer sciences. Classes in communications and writing are also valuable because the analyst frequently compiles and delivers reports.
A typical undergraduate program will entail courses in:
- Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
- Management Science Optimization Methods
- Managerial Psychology
- Data Analysis
- Statistical Thinking
- Financial Accounting
- Finance Theory
- Computer Science
For the student to make himself/herself more marketable, a master’s degree is recommended. This means a master’s degree in operations research or a closely related subject field, such as industrial engineering, computer science, mathematics, business, management science, or information systems.
Colleges and universities offering a Master of Science in Operations Research have courses such as:
- Mathematical Programming
- Linear Programming
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms
- Dynamic Programming
- Computer Simulation Techniques
- Value and Decision Theory
Regardless of the degree route chosen, there are specific skills required to enhance success in this profession. The top five are:
- Complex Problem Solving- Ability to review and assess related information to the problem, in order to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
- Mathematics- Using mathematical methods and formulas to solve a problem
- Critical Thinking- Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to a problem.
- Judgment and Decision Making- Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
- Reading and Writing Comprehension- Ability to read and understand information presented in written form.
These skills are not an all-inclusive list, nor are they in order of importance (though some reports stress math as the most important). They are presented to give the prospective operations research analyst further insight into the demands of the profession.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated in 2012 that the median annual salary was $72,100 with a bachelor’s degree. The projected employment change is 27% or 19,500 jobs through 2022. According to the BLS, the highest number (25%) work in the finance and insurance industry. The federal government employed 8% as of 2012, with most of those in the Department of Defense.
This profession requires a diverse skill-set as well as the educational background-preferably a master’s degree. Opportunities lie in industries from manufacturing to insurance, as well as private consulting firms. Most of the time will be spent in an office, although, there remains the possibility of traveling to visit clients. Discuss and gather information in the field, then return to the office to compile a report.