FORUM

A call for arms: How INFORMS can help in ‘Making Value for America’

Sheldon Jacobson

The manufacturing sector is a key target for “Making Value for America.”

The manufacturing sector is a key target for “Making Value for America.”

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Engineering hosted a briefing in Washington, D.C., to discuss the report “Making Value for America,” summarizing the outcomes of a study it undertook to identify new opportunities for creating value in U.S. manufacturing and service sectors. The three primary objectives of the study included: identify best practices, identify educational approaches and provide recommendations to add value in these sectors within the United States (https://www.nae.edu/129940.aspx).

One observation from the study is that strategic, rather than tactical, engineering solutions will be the driver for changes in the coming decades. This places a focus on system solutions rather than problem-solving. The report does not call for incremental adjustments to existing approaches, nor does it seek to return to past eras of activity (such as 1950s and 1960s manufacturing), but rather, encourages bold initiatives and steps to be taken that will catapult the United States into positions of global leadership, developing human capital and enhanced economic and social well-being.

Analytical approaches were widely discussed in the report; this is an area where INFORMS members can contribute to this “call for arms” in reshaping the U.S. manufacturing and service sectors. Given that the report contains many “shoulds” but few “hows,” the expertise offered by the members of INFORMS can fill in many of these gaps. Just as INFORMS is spearheading the analytics revolution, we can also become leaders in the “Making Value for America” campaign, showing the pathway for achieving the “shoulds” by defining the “hows” for such transformative objectives.

What can INFORMS members do to become a part of this revolution? Our sections/societies structure provides an ideal means to facilitate such activities. Our national meetings and our section/society-focused meetings provide a convenient forum for discussion and dialogue. To get involved requires INFORMS members to gather around a particular “should” and define the “how,” and demonstrate the value that can be gleaned from our contributions. INFORMS members are already conducting research to fulfill this objective. What is lacking is a means to communicate such findings. Writing an article for OR/MS Today focusing on a particular facet of the report is one step that INFORMS members can take. Organizing a session at one of our meetings to discuss aspects of the reports where operations research and analytics research has or can take a leadership role is yet another vehicle for communicating value.

Is there research funding available for such activities? The simple answer is “no.” However, like all good ideas, when packaged with the right mix of innovation and impact, anything is possible.

There are no boundaries in how INFORMS can contribute to this important national initiative. If you have an idea, share it with INFORMS Director of Communications Jeff Cohen (jeff.cohen@informs.org). Such opportunities do not come along often. Let us seize the moment with this low-hanging fruit and showcase the value that INFORMS members can bring to this dialogue.

Sheldon Jacobson is a professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and treasurer of INFORMS.