Friday, December 26, 2008

Pour Feliciter 2009

if (celebrateXmas)
    { echo "Merry Christmas!" }
    { echo "Happy Holidays!" }

//but we prefer: "Merry Christmas!" :)

Warmest wishes from

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Operations Research's Irrational Fear of IT

IT is so embedded into the everyday running of businesses that almost no one can do their work without proper IT support these days. When was the last time your company's network or email or a very important application was down for maintenance, and literally employees would discuss whether they should go home early because they don't have anything to do? Well, that just shows the extent of IT and its effect on almost all departments of a company. OR cannot escape from IT either; in fact, I see OR depending on IT even more than the other lines of work. Advanced computing power is what helped OR to flourish in the first place. 

However, in practice, what I see more often than not is the fear of involving IT in OR projects, even though using an IT solution would avoid the painful change management required for process changes involving people. Let's face it. We only do change management because we have to, not because we like it. However, OR professionals do not like dealing with IT guys, because IT often has lengthy and formal processes to get things moving and done. The funny thing is, isn't this where OR guys can lend a hand to IT to help make the processes better? Just because a rule is defined (or in this case a set of IT processes is defined), it doesn't mean that we cannot invent new ways of doing things that would suit the situation better. Rules are made to guide the norm. When exceptions occur, new rules are employed and adopted. Pre-existing rules should not be the barrier to solving problems with simple solutions (simpler than changing people's behaviours that is).

On the other hand, to the IT guys, I would like to say the following, and bear in mind that I am on your side, IT folks, since I used to be one of you. As much as IT would like to think of themselves as the smart cookies, or worse the god's gift to humanity, IT should always remember that its entire purpose for existing is to simplify other people's lives with technological solutions. It is mostly a means to an end in the business world. Therefore, remember who your customers are, and serve them well - like everybody else does. Saying "No" should not be an option, since your purpose is to serve. IT is known as the "cutting edge" industry. Being innovative should be the virtue that IT guys hold high up above anything else.

I was reading an article on Analytics, titled "What's an IT Guy Doing at an O.R. Conference?" by Jeremy Yang from Cisco. He talked about some interesting differences between IT and OR professionals that were discussed at a session in the Practice Conference held at Vancouver, BC in 2007. One interesting point raised was the quest for an "end state": 
In practice, IT always needs an "end state" to the requirements of a project in order to start the development and testing process. However, in O.R. there is never a true "end state", since O.R. is constantly changing to find the optimal model. By nature, this is a cause of conflict and frustration between O.R. and IT.
Am I being silly or is this a prime candidate for the well-known agile development by iteration? Wait, isn't Google doing this constantly with their beta release of products?

The two groups that I am proud to be members of, Operations Research and IT, have highly intelligent people. Don't be afraid of each other. Use each other wisely. Foster a better working relation between the two groups to make each other's work having a greater impact. What about the idea of having an Operations Research liaison to IT? Personally, I think it would be an idea worth trying, because it would help simplify IT processes and reduce miscommunication or re-work. IT is not a black box to be avoided. OR and IT are both very logical groups of people. We should get each other, not be afraid of each other!