February 1996 Volume 23 No. 1
Significant Challenges Ahead
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,
By Alfred Blumstein
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
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
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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