Inside Story

World full of problems, O.R.-driven solutions

Peter Horner, editor

I don’t have any scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure based on personal observation that the older you get, the faster time flies, and from my vantage point, time is now traveling at Mach 2. Can it really be 20 years since Andres Weintraub and I had breakfast together at an INFORMS conference hotel somewhere to plan the first in what would become an annual international issue? The answer is yes, and let me be the first to welcome you to the 20th anniversary of the special international issue of OR/MS Today.

From the beginning, the goal of the international issue was to highlight interesting and innovative applications of operations research (and now high-end “analytics”) around the world. This issue remains true to that goal, but with a slight twist. Instead of focusing on nation-specific work, this issue looks at global problems and O.R. solutions, as well as key developments that serve to advance the O.R. profession from an international perspective.

For example, Graham Rand, retired from Lancaster University in the U.K. and an O.R. historian, chronicles the founding of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS) and its international conference (page 24). I think it’s safe to say that no organization has fostered the recognition, growth and cooperation of O.R. societies on a global scale more than IFORS.

This issue also examines several universal issues where O.R. and advanced analytics have or can play a major role, from feeding a hungry world (page 34) to fighting human trafficking (30). In the former, Joe Byrum of Sygenta says that “data-driven farming is more than a good business decision; it’s the only truly sustainable option for the future.” The latter is certainly a serious international problem that knows no boundaries. “Almost every country is affected by human trafficking as a source, transit point or destination of victims,” note co-authors Renata Konrad, Andrew C. Trapp and Kayse Lee Maass.

Our international O.R. tour makes several stops in Europe, including Germany, where an initiative known as Industrie 4.0 is driving innovation in a variety of organizations across the public and private sectors (page 38), and Belgium, where a team of researchers are working on collaborative shipping and logistics in the sharing economy (page 20). Speaking of starts and stops, and thanks to a team of researchers from Finland, our tour also explores the flow of people and building safety as it related to elevator use in both normal and emergency situations (page 42).

As I’ve said in this space many times before, this special international issue would not exist without the foresight, help and guidance of Andres Weintraub, professor at the University of Chile and a former president of IFORS. The issue is also indebted to Jim Cochran, professor at the University of Alabama, chair of the OR/MS Today committee and co-founder of Statistics Without Borders, whose input to the international issue in recent years has been immense. Both of them have extensive worldwide contacts – and an extraordinary number of frequent flying miles – all of which have greatly benefited this and past versions of our special international issue.

Andres, Jim and I met last fall at the INFORMS Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., to discuss this special issue. Not all of our ideas and plans materialized, and due to page constraints, not all of the contributions we received made it into this special issue, but several will be published in upcoming issues of OR/MS Today.

As always, we look forward to your feedback.