Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Does software hinder innovation in Operations Research?
I make no secret that I am Open Source advocate. I blog about Open Source software in the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research realm. I also post comments on other blogs in both Open Source and Operations Research about software tools that are free to use and distribute. My reason for doing this is very simple. I want to make others aware of the inherit freedoms and innovation that Open Source software brings to the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research community. I believe there is much to discover and so little available.
There seems to be the haves and have nots in the Operations Research world currently. First, those that have the proprietary software tools to do incredible decision and predictive analysis. Second, those that rely on their education, intuition, and experience with ubiquitous or free software tools to complete the job. Most of my career has fallen in the latter as you can guess. I have made the most of what I was given to complete my work. I believe it is good work yet I know a lot of times it could be even better if I had the right tools.
I'm not bitter that organizations exist to sell their products. I believe there is nothing wrong with that philosophy. Yet I also believe that holding software in a proprietary realm stiffles innovation and advancement. To me software is just a set of rules, instructions, and algorithms. Software is akin to the Pythagorean Theorem or Little's Law. Where would we be today if Sir Isaac Newton had copyrighted calculus? Just as the Reinassance Era was a boom to modern thinking I believe the Free Libre and Open Source Software era can be a boom to new innovative ideas.
A lot of people are debating the merits of this today. There is an excellent example this week with Amazon's release of Kindle 2. Tim O'Reilly, of O'Reilly publishing fame, debates the merits of closing the source to the Kindle 2 and feels it should be opened. Yet Matt Asay at CNET feels Amazon should stick to their guns of being a content provider and push forward with being a proprietary system. They both have merit. To me opening the Kindle can still give Amazon its value as a content provider but also leverage the community to help generate new innovative ideas. This is a very interesting debate on the basis of core competecies versus innovation to new market trends. Only time will tell but to me the e-book will more than likely go the way of the World Wide Web as Tim O'Reilly pointed out.
Jim Orlin has a really interesting post on what Operations Research professionals should know and how will they learn it? Jim brings up good points about being subject matter experts in all knowledgable areas of Operations Research. A lot of times the Operations Research analyst is going to have to learn on the job. How are we to provide those resources and tools that they need on a continual basis?
Again only time will tell if the Operations Research realm is hindered by not opening software. I believe we are on the precipice of great things to come. The current recession has brought new thinking and demand to decision analysis. There is definitely greater appreciation for us "statisticians".