While businesses have more data than ever available to them, most of the information is abstract, disorganized, and not easily understood. That’s where an operations research analyst comes in.
Operation research analysts are top-level problem-solvers who use data mining, mathematical modeling, optimization, statistical analysis, and other advanced techniques to develop solutions that help businesses and organizations operate more cost-effectively and efficiently. It’s a growing field that U.S. News & World Report ranks as the #4 Best Business Job, #10 Best STEM Job, and #20 overall Best Job.
Find out more about the operations analyst career path, including what they do, required skills, and job responsibilities.
What Is Operations Research Analysis?
Operations research emerged during World War II as a method for planning efficient supply routes, and other organizations based their strategies on these techniques in the decades that followed.
Today, while the military continues to use operations research throughout its divisions and strategies, this type of analysis is integral to such diverse fields as logistics, entertainment, business, manufacturing, and health care.
What Does an Operations Research Analyst Do?
Wherever they are employed, operations research analysts are essentially high-level decision-makers who use statistics and data tools to draw conclusions from the information available and present solutions.
Because these are senior-level employees who report to a department head or management, these analysts work in a team environment, perhaps overseeing entry-level and mid-career employees.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following responsibilities are typically included in an operations research analyst job description, whether in a small business or corporate environment:
- Advise managers and other decision-makers on courses of action and their consequences
- Collect and organize information from computer databases, customer feedback, sales histories, and other sources
- Compose reports, memos, and other documents explaining their findings and action points for officials, including executives and managers
- Examine data to find relevant information about a problem and to identify methods that might be used to analyze it
- Gather input from general workers and specialists to solve a problem
- Identify and find solutions for problems in areas such as business, health care, logistics, or other fields
- Use statistical analysis, predictive modeling, simulations, or other methods to analyze information and develop practical solutions.
What Techniques Does an Operations Research Analyst Use?
Completing these tasks often involves a significant amount of technical know-how and business acumen. Operations research analysts use databases and statistical packages, along with other sophisticated computer software, to analyze and solve problems.
Along with industry-specific tools, you should know how to use statistical analysis software, C++ and other programming languages, SQL, and data mining techniques and have a thorough understanding of machine learning.
Instead of making estimates or doing a strict competitive review, operations research analysts frequently employ these common techniques:
- Design mathematical models or model simulations that factor in a range of variables, objectives, restrictions, and potential alternatives.
- Employ statistical software, data mining, and other analytics tools to examine raw data to forecast and make predictions for potential business outcomes, factoring in seasonal trends, expected sales, and potential uncertainties to produce a cost-benefit analysis.
- Use quantitative reasoning to examine cost-effectiveness, labor requirements, and distribution channels in relation to company operations.
What Tasks Are Given To Operations Research Analysts?
Operations research analysts work mostly in the world of numbers and statistics, which can at first appear to be detached from the real world. However, these skills and the analyses derived from them are highly useful and extremely important in the real world.
This is what operations research analysis looks like in action:
- A city planning office needs to time how and when traffic lights operate at a range of intersections to avoid traffic jams.
- A major league sports team needs to plan out its schedule for the season, factoring in home and away games with minimal cross-country and international travel.
- An airline needs to plan out its routes, schedule its crews, and set prices based on variable travel conditions and competitors’ rates.
- Any website that provides product or profile recommendations often has someone creating formulas that suggest relevant connections or related items, encouraging its users to make meaningful connections or purchases in the process.
- A shipping or logistics company needs someone to plan out distribution routes for drivers to ensure all packages arrive on time and uses real-time data to anticipate and work around traffic and other interruptions.
- For troops deployed overseas, the U.S. military employs operations research to anticipate and plan attacks and find supply routes that won’t be intercepted.
- In the event of a disaster, humanitarian and relief organizations strategically plan where and how to send food, medicine, and supplies to vulnerable populations.
- Manufacturing companies are increasingly seeking to “go green” by streamlining their in-house and material acquisition processes to use less and decrease their carbon footprint without driving up costs and reducing output.
- Retail stores covering a regional or national network have to plan out inventory by location to meet customer demands, while avoiding both surplus and under-stocked merchandise.
What Education Do I Need to Become an Operations Research Analyst?
There is no single operations research analyst degree available. However, math-heavy programs, including those in engineering, computer science, and physics, give someone a leg up, as does a business degree with a math- or analytics-related concentration. Regardless of the course of study, candidates should have completed calculus, statistics, linear algebra, and economics, as well as computer science-related subjects.
The BLS says a bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level education needed to work in this role, but some employers may prefer to hire applicants with a master’s degree. Experience on the job, along with any industry certifications, may help you move in a more specialized direction, such as toward a data analyst role.
Increasingly, job postings for operations research analysts list a master’s degree among the requirements. Although a Master of Business Administration (MBA) has been an asset in the past, a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) anticipates the field’s increasingly technical nature and covers software, modeling, machine learning, and analytics methods in greater depth.
Along with these educational credentials, candidates need to keep up with the latest software, hardware, and analytical methods, while earning certifications to support their skills.
What Is the Employment Outlook for an Operations Research Analyst?
The future looks bright for operations research analysts, according to the BLS. The bureau says operations research analyst jobs are expected to grow 25% through most of this decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. That’s a gain of approximately 26,000 jobs, to more than 105,000 total.
Jobs for operations research analysts are available in several different industries. These are the fields that hire them:
- Finance and insurance: 28%
- Professional, scientific, and technical services: 23%
- Management of companies and enterprises: 10%
- Manufacturing: 6%
- Federal government: 6%
How Do I Learn More About Operations Research Analysis?
Take the next step toward a career as an operations research analyst. Wake Forest University offers an online MSBA that will empower you with the analytical, technology, and management skills to become a leader in the workforce. The flexible online format means you can learn from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Request additional information today.