Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help organizations solve problems and make better decisions.

Duties

Operations research analysts typically do the following:

  • Identify and define business problems, such as those in production, logistics, or sales
  • Collect and organize information from a variety of sources, such as computer databases
  • Gather input from workers involved in all aspects of the problem or from others who have specialized knowledge, so that they can help solve the problem
  • Examine information to figure out what is relevant to the problem and what methods should be used to analyze it
  • Use statistical analysis or simulations to analyze information and develop practical solutions to business problems
  • Advise managers and other decision makers on the impacts of various courses of action to take in order to address a problem
  • Write memos, reports, and other documents, outlining their findings and recommendations for managers, executives, and other officials

Operations research analysts are involved in all aspects of an organization. They help managers decide how to allocate resources, develop production schedules, manage the supply chain, and set prices. For example, they may help decide how to organize products in supermarkets or help companies figure out the most effective way to ship and distribute products.

Analysts must first identify and understand the problem to be solved or the processes to be improved. Analysts typically collect relevant data from the field and interview clients or managers involved in the business processes. Analysts show the implications of pursuing different actions and may assist in achieving a consensus on how to proceed.

Operations research analysts use sophisticated computer software, such as databases and statistical programs, and modeling packages, to analyze and solve problems. Analysts break down problems into their various parts and analyze the effect that different changes and circumstances would have on each of these parts. For example, to help an airline schedule flights and decide what to charge for tickets, analysts may take into account the cities that have to be connected, the amount of fuel required to fly those routes, the expected number of passengers, pilots’ schedules, maintenance costs, and fuel prices.

There is no one way to solve a problem, and analysts must weigh the costs and benefits of alternative solutions or approaches in their recommendations to managers.

Because problems are complex and often require expertise from many disciplines, most analysts work on teams. Once a manager reaches a final decision, these teams may work with others in the organization to ensure that the plan is successful.

Work Environment

Operations research analysts held about 73,200 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most operations research analysts in 2012 were as follows: 

Finance and insurance 25%
Computer systems design and related services 10
Manufacturing 8
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Management of companies and enterprises 8

Most operations research analysts in the federal government work for the Department of Defense, which also employs a large number of analysts through private consulting firms.

Operations research analysts spend most of their time in offices. Many also spend some time in the field, gathering information and analyzing processes through direct observation. Analysts may travel to work with clients and company executives and to attend conferences.

Because problems are complex and often require expertise from many disciplines, most analysts work on teams. Once a manager reaches a final decision, these teams may work with others in the organization to ensure that the plan is successful. Because they work on projects that are of immediate interest to top managers, operations research analysts often are under pressure to meet deadlines.

Work Schedules

Almost all operations research analysts work full time. About 1 in 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Education and Training

Applicants need a master’s degree for most operations research positions, but a bachelor’s degree is enough for many entry-level positions. Since few schools offer bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in operations research, analysts typically have degrees in other related fields.

Education

Although some employers prefer to hire applicants with a master’s degree, many entry-level positions are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. Although some schools offer bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in operations research, many analysts typically have degrees in other technical or quantitative fields, such as engineering, computer science, mathematics, or physics.

Because operations research is based on quantitative analysis, students need extensive coursework in mathematics. Courses include statistics, calculus, and linear algebra. Coursework in computer science is important because analysts rely on advanced statistical and database software to analyze and model data. Courses in other areas, such as engineering, economics, and political science, are useful because operations research is a multidisciplinary field with a wide variety of applications.

Continuing education is important for operations research analysts. Keeping up with advances in technology, software tools, and improved analytical methods is vital.

Other Experience

Many operations research analysts who work with the military are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.                                   

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Operations research analysts use a wide range of methods, such as forecasting, data mining, and statistical analysis, to examine and interpret data.

Communication skills. Operations research analysts need to be able to gather information, which includes interviewing people and listening carefully to the answers. They also need to communicate technical information to people who do not have a technical background.

Critical-thinking skills. Operations research analysts must be able to figure out what information is relevant to their work. They also must be able to evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative solutions before making a recommendation.

Ingenuity. Solutions to operations problems are not usually obvious, and analysts need to be able to think creatively to solve problems.

Interpersonal skills. Operations research analysts typically work on teams. They also need to be able to convince managers and top executives to accept their recommendations.

Math skills. The models and methods used by operations research analysts are rooted in statistics, calculus, linear algebra, and other advanced mathematical disciplines.

Problem-solving skills. Operations research analysts need to be able to diagnose problems on the basis of information given to them by others. They then analyze relevant information to solve the problems.

Writing skills. Operations research analysts write memos, reports, and other documents outlining their findings and recommendations for managers, executives, and other officials.

Pay

The median annual wage for operations research analysts was $72,100 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,550, and the top 10 percent earned more than $129,490.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for operations research analysts in the top five industries in which these analysts worked were as follows:

Manufacturing $79,630
Computer systems design and related services 74,490
Management of companies and enterprises 72,630
Finance and insurance 67,480
State and local government, excluding education
and hospitals
56,670

Almost all operations research analysts work full time. About 1 in 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of operations research analysts is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. As technology advances and companies seek efficiency and cost savings, demand for operations research analysis should continue to grow.

Operations research analysts will continue to be needed to provide support for the Armed Forces and to assist in the development and implementation of policies and programs in other areas of government. 

Technological advances have made it faster and easier for organizations to get data. In addition, improvements in analytical software have made operations research more affordable and more applicable to a wider range of areas. More companies are expected to use operations research analysts to help them turn data into valuable information that managers can use in order to make better decisions in all aspects of their business. For example, operations research analysts will be needed to help businesses improve their manufacturing operations and logistics.

Job Prospects

Opportunities should be better for those who have a master’s or Ph.D. degree in operations research, management science, or a related field.

For More Information

For more information about operations research analysts, visit

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

Military Operations Research Society

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Average Yearly Pay

$69,000

Holland Code

Thinking
Persuading
Organizing

Job Growth

22%

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