[Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | | 0 comments ]

those are the words of Russell Ackoff who, according to wikipedia, is "an American organizational theorist, consultant, and Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Ackoff is a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking and management science."

about three decades ago, ackoff -- then an operations researcher himself -- wrote a pair of papers titled "The Future of Operational Research is Past" and "Resurrecting the Future of Operational Research". (for those who are curious about minutiae, the acronym OR translates to Operations Research in the US but into Operational Research in Europe, probably for historical reasons.) these articles were published in successive issues of the Journal of Operational Research Society.

ackoff makes several damning indictments of the field of OR. it is not my intent to defend OR. it could be argued the fact that OR survives thirty years after those papers were written is defense enough. nevertheless, there are several points that ackoff makes that ought to be of interest to this audience. practitioners of OR may recognize that some of the criticism he offers is valid to this day.

the two papers are worth reading in their entirety. given that you're reading this blog, i suspect that you may not be inclined to read something quite as heavy as a pair of journal papers. in my opinion, ackoff's paper is better nibbled on and chewed carefully rather than swallowed whole. to make it easier for you, i plan to produce excerpts from those papers and comment on each of them. each entry in this series is intended to highlight an aspect of ackoff's pronouncement of the death of OR or an element of his recommendation for its resurrection. stay tuned ...

[Saturday, April 10, 2010 | | 0 comments ]

for those unfamiliar with pune (or poona as it was known before the anglicized version was dropped), it is a city in western india that has, over the last decade or so, quietly established itself alongside bangalore and hyderabad as a hotspot for tech activity. it is the home of PuneTech.com a site that "brings together in one place all information about interesting software technology in Pune - the companies, the tech user groups and organizations, the people, and the technologies, the news and the events."

last year, amit paranajape, a friend, former colleague, and co-founder of PuneTech.com encouraged me to write a piece about "optimization" for publication in PuneTech. for reasons that may have something to do with the fact that i've made a living for a couple of decades as a practitioner of that dark art known as optimization, he felt that i was best qualified to write about the subject for an audience that was technically savvy but not necessarily aware of the application of optimization. it took me a while to overcome my initial reluctance: is there really an audience for this? after all, even my daughter feigns disgust every time i bring up the topic of what i do. after some thought, i accepted the challenge as long as i could take a slightly unusual approach to a "technical" topic: i decided to personalize it by rooting it in a personal-professional experience. i could then branch off into a variety of different aspects of that experience, some technical, some not so much.

what followed was a series of postings that began with "
Optimization: A case study". in this entry, i recounted the details of one of my first engagements as a professional. it was an experience that was rich with potential for learning, perhaps made more so by the combination of boundless enthusiasm and naivete that are hallmarks of a young man who is has been recently unleashed on the real world.

i followed this with a series of articles, each of which was intended to expand on a particular aspect of the learning experience.

in the first of the follow-up articles titled "Architecture of a decision-support system", i shared my ideas on how one ought to think about decision-support systems. the ideas i present there are not exactly earth-shattering. instead, they are born from the many scars that i bear from the times when i let my technical training get ahead of the needs for decision-making in the real world.

in the next piece titled "Optimization and Organizational Readiness for Change", i reflected on the pitfalls of diving head-first into implementing a technology-based solution without ensuring that the seeds are being planted into fertile, receptive soil.

in the last of the pieces titled "Optimization: A Technical Overview", i touched upon the areas of study that have contributed to the body of knowledge and software that are the tools of my trade.

i'm sure there is much more to write about. i hope that the discussions that this entry will spawn will generate fresh insights.