February 1996 € Volume 23 € No. 1

President's Desk

Significant Challenges Ahead

By Alfred Blumstein

As I begin my term as the second president of INFORMS, I marvel at how much has been accomplished for our community in the past year and a half since the overwhelming vote in favor of the merger of ORSA and TIMS. All the ORSA technical sections and TIMS colleges have been merged into a coherent set of sections. We have a strong Board of Directors, now augmented for the first time with five subdivision representatives. Two separate and autonomous business offices have been combined into a single general headquarters office located in Maryland under the direction of our new executive director, Randy Robinson. And the important but separable functions of meetings management and publications management are still being carried out by staff in Providence, R.I.

That so much has been accomplished is a great credit to John D. C. Little, who was the principal architect of the merger, and who devoted considerable time and attention, along with his strong management skills, to establishing the organization in its first year.

Despite this enormous progress, however, we still have some important problems facing both the INFORMS organization and the OR/MS profession, and these need continuing attention.

The INFORMS organization has to recover from a sizable budget deficit experienced in 1995. This deficit can be attributed almost equally to three major factors: 1) one-time costs associated with the transition; 2) a drop in membership and associated dues payment (probably also provoked by the transition and its unsettling effects on those who were marginally committed to the profession); and 3) significant operational duplications and inefficiencies that took time to control.

I am pleased to report that these problems appear to be very much under control at this time. We begin 1996 with a balanced budget -- a result of careful review of all budget items by our treasurer, Karla Hoffman, by Randy Robinson, and by Ellen Duncan and Jeff Cohen in the Maryland Office. Balancing the budget without injuring any of our important programs required some hard decisions by the Board last fall to keep expenditures under control. In addition, a new financial-management information system now gives us a means for exercising much tighter control over expenditures than was previously possible. The merger has also enabled us to significantly reduce our office operating costs while strengthening services to members, subdivisions and management.

In addition, we are planning some significant recruiting efforts to identify and recruit new members -- especially student members -- who are critical to the future of our field.

Perhaps more fundamental to our concerns are the problems we see in our profession. We have seen many organizations disband or significantly shrink their corporate OR units, largely because the methods and innovations we have introduced have been diffused to more specialized units. At the same time, we have seen a general move away from required quantitative courses in business schools, and these courses have been a source of employment for many of the Ph.D.s in OR.

These changes have injured some of our colleagues, and so they represent a very real concern to all of us. However, they also are indicative of our success. But those successes do not necessarily carry the label "operations research." We have seen the methods we brought to light incorporated by many disciplines as part of their standard armamentarium. We have also created -- or at least contributed in a major way to their creation -- disciplines like marketing science, information science, organization science, operations management, transportation science and quantitative criminology. First-generation participants in these fields are usually identified as OR/MS people, but later generations are trained in these distinct disciplines and lose their connection to their forebears. These changes are inevitable, especially in a field like ours that has its methodologies, but no distinct substantive area with which we are uniquely identified as certified experts.

Thus, our major challenges for the future include a search for new frontiers to which we can bring the powerful modeling paradigms that we all take for granted and that we have brought to many kinds of operations. But there are many people to whom those perspectives remain quite foreign. Anyone who has watched the recent political debates will find many examples of this situation.

At the same time, we must recruit as active participants individuals from the various application areas where we have been successful. We want those who have the strongest commitment to analysis and modeling. They will benefit from being able to transfer applications reported in other operations areas. They will also want to be able to scoop up new models or algorithms that they can use in their fields. Typically, these individuals will be involved with our sections or societies, and so strengthening and expanding sections is a critical challenge. Certainly bringing the sections into a prominent role on the Board has been an important step in that direction.

Thus, it is important to treat some of the traumatic changes we have seen over the past decade as an opportunity for strengthening INFORMS and our profession. But that will require aggressive outreach to recruit people who are comparable to those who have made it so strong in the past -- people with excellent technical skills, but also with an intellectual scope that enables them to deal with the complexity of operating systems. It also requires that we communicate the excitement and contributions of our field to a broad audience. And that is the primary charge for our Outreach Committee, which I will discuss more in the future.

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OR/MS Today copyright 1997, 1998 by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. All rights reserved.

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