ORSI turns 60

Operational Research Society of India prepares to celebrate milestone in December.

By Krishnendranath Mitra and Goutam Dutta

The Operational Research Society of India (ORSI; www.orsi.in), founded in 1957 and dedicated to the advancement and spread of knowledge of operational research (O.R.) in India, will celebrate its “diamond jubilee” on Dec. 21-23 in Kolkata, India. The celebration will be held in conjunction with the 50th Annual ORSI Convention (ORSI 2017), along with an international conference on “Advancing Frontiers in Operational Research: Towards a Sustainable World” (AFOR2017). ORSI welcomes all to attend.

History of ORSI

World renowned statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was the founding father of the Operational Research Society of India in 1957.

In the decade after India gained independence from Britain in 1947, when the hopes and aspirations of its people were very high, a small group of Indian academicians related to the field of operational research understood the importance of the subject as an effective tool for scientific management in an environment of rapidly increasing demand for resources. This led to the foundation of the Operational Research Society of India in 1957 under the able leadership of statistician and professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis of Kolkata, then deputy chairman of the National Planning Commission of India.

ORSI soon became a national forum for researchers and practitioners in the field of O.R. and allied fields. The objective of the society is to enhance the knowledge and promote the study of O.R. within the ranks of academicians and industrial professionals in India. The society gained importance in India by promoting theory and practice in O.R. As a result, the society expanded its presence throughout the country. Today, ORSI supports 16 operating chapters in four metropolitan areas and several mini-metros. It remains headquartered in Kolkata.

In 1959, ORSI became affiliated with the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS), which opened opportunities for ORSI members to create and share knowledge with O.R. enthusiasts from other parts of the world. In 1985, ORSI was instrumental in the formation of the Asia Pacific Operational Research Societies (APORS), which enhanced the society’s interactions with other O.R. societies of Asia-Pacific such as Australia, China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

ORSI addresses its objectives by publishing a quarterly journal named OPSEARCH (currently managed by Springer India) with original papers in O.R. and allied fields and by hosting national and international conferences, workshops and seminars on O.R. topics. The society was founded as a meeting platform for O.R. academicians and practitioners and to expand their horizons by sharing knowledge of theory and practice both inside and outside the country. As part of its 60th anniversary this year, ORSI also will celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of its founding president, P.C. Mahalanobis, by introducing three “distinguished educator” awards in his honor.

Professor Prem Vrat (third from left) receives an award for his outstanding contributions toward the promotion of operational research in India at last year’s ORSI Convention. The 50th Annual ORSI Conventional will be held in December.

The Founder

Born in 1893 in Calcutta, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was a renowned statistician and founder of the Indian Statistical Institute. As a prime architect and the first deputy chairman of the Planning Commission in India, he made a remarkable contribution to the field of statistics and operational research. Among his many honors, he received the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award from the government of India (1968). In addition, he received the Weldon Medal from Oxford University (1944), the Sir Deviprasad Sarvadhikari Gold Medal (1957), the Gold Medal from the Czech Academy of Sciences (1964) and the Durgaprasad Khaitan Gold Medal from the Asiatic Society (1968).

Professor Mahalanobis served as president of the Indian Science Congress in 1950 and as president of the International Statistical Institute in 1957. He was an elected fellow of several societies and academies such as the Royal Society of London (1945), the Econometric Society of United States (1951), the Royal Statistical Society of U.K. (1954), the USSR Academy of Sciences (1958), the American Statistical Association (1961) and was an honorary fellow of King’s College, Cambridge (1959). He also received honorary degrees from the University of Calcutta (1957), Sofia University (1961) and the University of Delhi (1964).

Professor Mahalanobis made significant contributions to flood control research. In 1922, a disastrous flood occurred in North Bengal. Another severe flood occurred in Orissa in 1926. Mahalanobis’ research pointed out the faulty methods of flood-control used by a government-appointed committee, and his recommendations led to a correct path of action in flood-control measures. His recommendations included flushing and irrigation schemes in river systems in Bengal. His research notes submitted to the government of Bengal in 1937 demonstrated Professor Mahalanobis’ extensive use of quantitative analysis, a technique that was instrumental in the discipline of operational research that emerged following World War II.

Professor Mahalanobis died in 1972.

ORSI Activities and Achievements

ORSI pursues its objective of promoting operations research through its various activities. These activities can be broadly classified into the following three categories:

  1. Publication of journal. Since 1964, ORSI has continuously published the quarterly journal OPSEARCH. Published (print as well as e-version) and distributed by Springer India, it was the first O.R journal from a developing country. The journal has had many eminent O.R. scientists as its editor in chief and is highly acclaimed by O.R. enthusiasts in India and abroad. The International Abstracts in Operations Research (IAOR), which is monitored by IFORS, publishes abstracts of articles from OPSEARCH.
  2. Educational course. The scope of formal education in O.R. was limited in India during the early 1960s. Keeping up with its objective of promoting O.R. education, ORSI introduced a course in O.R. in 1973. The two-year graduate diploma course in O.R. is administered in distance-learning mode, particularly to facilitate O.R. practitioners who are otherwise unable to enroll in any full-time course due to time constraints. The course is duly recognized by the government of India and holds an examination every year in May.
  3. Organizing workshops, seminars and conferences. ORSI holds annual conventions for O.R. researchers and practitioners in academics and industry to exchange knowledge on the latest developments in O.R. and allied fields. Participants (both individual and institutional) from India and abroad take part in these conventions that have a different theme every year. The different chapters of ORSI also host and organize workshops, seminars and/or conferences on O.R. topics at regular intervals.

Some notable achievements of ORSI:

  • ORSI along with IFORS organized the International Conference on Transportation in 1980 in New Delhi. The proceedings were published by North-Holland.
  • ORSI and ORS of Britain lent their names to the First International Conference on Operational Research for Development (ICORD - I), which was held at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India, in 1992. Participants from 20 countries attended the event. Professor A. Tripathy from IIMA and Professor Jonathan Rosenhead from the London School of Economics took the initiative for the conference. The conference witnessed a position paper named “Ahmedabad Declaration,” which formed the basis for various initiatives of IFORS in O.R. for development.
  • ORSI organized the Sixth International Conference of APORS under IFORS (APORS 2003) in 2003 in New Delhi. The conference was titled “Operational Research: Emerging paradigms for Information Technology.
  • ORSI hosted the Fifth International Conference on Operational Research for Development in 2005 at Jamshedpur, India.
  • ORSI hosted the Eighth International Conference of the Association of Asia-Pacific Operational Research Societies within IFORS (APORS 2009) in 2009 at Jaipur, India.

O.R. Practice in India

Operational research has been practiced in India for quite some time in several industries. India is probably the first country outside of the Western World to have authors who received both the Lanchester Prize and the Edelman Award from INFORMS.

Most of the airlines and major hotels in India are using dynamic pricing and revenue management systems. The concept is gaining attention in several other sectors, and new academic courses are popping up to promote this field of knowledge. Besides airlines and hotels, other examples of O.R. practice in India include:

  • Railways: Indian railways are using dynamic pricing with some of its important trains.
  • One of the major steelmakers uses an optimization expert system to monitor the quality of blast furnace hot metals.
  • Many of the banks and FMCG companies use O.R.-based tools for competitive advantages.
  • Routing of vehicles for midday meal scheme in schools [3].

Some significant O.R. practitioners from India include:

  • Dr. Jagjit Singh, the second president of ORSI, was a leader in the introduction of O.R. in Indian Railways.
  • Dr. Vijay Chandru, an academic entrepreneur and INFORMS fellow, is the CEO of a company that deals with data mining, predictive modeling, computational chemistry software engineering, bioinformatics and human genome.
  • Professor G. Raghuram, a former president of ORSI, promoted the need for O.R. practice in logistics and supply chain management. He also developed O.R.-based strategies for managing people at the religious site Tirumala, which attracts a huge crowd of pilgrims every day.
  • For the past 15 years, Dr. N. Ravichandran has been conducting many workshops and seminar discussing the practice and promotion of O.R.

Future of ORSI

The future of O.R. in India is very bright. More than 50,000 people are working in an analytics-related area. Many multinational companies such as IBM, GE, HP and Motorola are present in India and are using or developing analytics tools for competitive advantage. The rapidly expanding interest in O.R. creates the opportunity for ORSI to expand its operations and presence even faster. ORSI can fulfill its objectives even sooner by establishing a meeting ground for O.R. professionals from different industries and helping out in the advancement of knowledge. Some emerging applications of, and opportunities for, O.R. in India include:

  • Marketing companies requiring help in optimization of marketing efforts.
  • Dynamic pricing of electricity at retail electricity market levels.
  • The use of analytics in pricing.
  • Supply chain analytics for routing, spacing and distribution will require the help of analytics in terms of optimization and simulation.

ORSI is steadily increasing in size and is looking forward for participation from more and more O.R. practitioners, academicians and other enthusiasts. As the future of O.R. in India is very promising, ORSI needs to take a leading role in promoting analytics.

Krishnendra Mitra is a Ph.D. student at the University of Calcutta. Goutam Dutta is a faculty member of IIM, Ahmedabad. He is the president-elect of ORSI and a member of INFORMS.
References

  1. G. Dutta and A. Tripathy, 1998, “OR in India-Country of Contrasts,” OR/MS Today, Vol. 25, No. 1 (February).
  2. B. Mahadevan, S. Sivakumar, D. Dinesh Kumar and K. Ganeshram, “Redesigning Midday Meal Logistics for the Akshaya Patra Foundation: OR at Work in Feeding Hungry School Children,” Interfaces, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 530-545.
  3. J. O’Connor and E. Robertson, Mahalanobis biography. Available at: http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Mahalanobis.html.
  4. Orsi.in, 2017, AFOR-2017. Available at: http://orsi.in/afor2017/pastpresident.html.
  5. Orsi.in, 2017, AFOR-2017. Available at: http://orsi.in/afor2017/about_orsi.html.
  6. Orsi.in, 2017, Operational Research Society of India. Available at: http://www.orsi.in/index.php.
  7. Orsidurgapur.in., 2017, Operational Research Society of India, Durgapur Chapter. Available at: http://orsidurgapur.in/synopsis.php.
  8. A. Rudra, 1996, “Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis: a biography,” Oxford University Press, USA.
  9. Sinha, B.K., 2010, “Operational Research Society of India,” Wiley Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470400531.eorms0587/full.