Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Optimising the sub-system or the system?

There was heavy snow in Southern England yesterday, and there were problems with the transport infrastructure. In London, all the buses were cancelled, flights were cancelled, trains delayed, roads congested and blocked by accidents. Inevitably, some people asked the question "Why?". "Why can other countries cope with heavy snow, while England cannot?"

"Why?" is, of course, the correct question for an O.R. analyst to ask. And, I am pleased to note, there were people prepapred to give an O.R. answer. It comes down to the words of today's title. Should one optimise the system or the sub-system? For the commuter whose journey has been disrupted, the sub-system is non-optimal because he or she believes that the optimal solution is for there to be no problems with the commuter's journey. But the speaker explained that optimising the system means that it is not economic to have expensive equipment and trained staff needed for one or two days every ten years. It was a matter of costs and benefits. Naturally, the speaker didn't use these words, but they were implicit. And then the speaker added that with increasing numbers of people able to work from home, the difference between optimising the system and optimising the sub-system became even greater.

The picture is of my back garden this morning.

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