Universal Problems

By Peter Horner, editor

This is our fifth annual Special International Issue aimed at giving readers a taste of the wide world of operations wherever it happens to be practiced or preached. Once again, Andres Weintraub, a past president of IFORS and current director of INFORMS, was instrumental in bringing much of the work to our attention. While previous international issues noted the nuances presented by different countries, cultures and conundrums, this time we set out to tackle some universal problems as viewed by an international cast of operations researchers.

Our quest begins in North America where Michael Carter, a professor at the University of Toronto, examines perhaps the most important problem facing the world today: health care. Carter notes that the United States spent $1.2 trillion on health care in 1999. The question is, Did the U.S. get the most bang for its health care bucks? The evidence suggests no, and Americans aren't the only ones being shortchanged by widespread inefficiencies in the health care system. The industry's mismanagement of resources cries out for operations research-type help, yet relatively few OR professionals practice in the field. What's wrong with this picture? For answers, read "Diagnosis: Mismanagement of Resources."

While health care's future remains cloudy, clear trends are shaping the business world. One of the more prominent developments is the emergence of the truly global enterprise linked by a complex supply chain involving far-flung suppliers, vendors and customers. Modeling, managing and ultimately optimizing the supply chain has drawn the interest of operations researchers. Researchers at IBM, for example, are now exploring a new frontier in which "sense-and-respond" systems push value chain management beyond its current limitations. In replacing the old "make-and-sell" model, the SAR enterprise "utilizes real-time, predictive and proactive modeling" to meet the needs of its customers in a dynamic environment. Grace Lin of the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and several co-authors paint the whole picture ("The Sense-and-Respond Enterprise").

Our tour continues in Canada with an OR success story in which mathematical modeling rode to the rescue to solve a frequency allocation dilemma in cellular phone networks. Professor Jean-Marie Bourjolly of Concordia University in Montreal and several researchers at AirTel Communications Inc. make the right call.

Next, Professor Laureano F. Escudero of the Universidad Miguel Hernandez in Spain provides a series of industrial applications of mathematical programming in which the goal is a familiar OR challenge: trying to capture dynamic behavior.

Our search for the meaning of life, at least in an OR context, concludes fittingly enough in India where Professor Goutam Dutta of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad outlines a new business school course he recently launched called "Modelling for Management Decision Making." The centerpiece of the course is a real-world project that answers the question that students at business schools everywhere ask whenever quantitative methods are introduced: How can I use this stuff? (Practical Project)