Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Bishop and Wartime O.R.

Earlier this year, Bishop Graham Leonard died. He had been Bishop of Truro (next door to Devon) and then a very distinguished Bishop of London. In his obituary in the "Church Times" there was a one-sentence reference to the fact that during 1944-1945 he had been seconded to the Army O.R. group. No further explanation, and I wondered how many of the readers of the paper would know what O.R. was. A further search led to a national newspaper recording that he had worked on fuses. That led to yet another search using the keywords "Operational Research" and "fuses" which didn't turn up any more about the late bishop.

However, the search turned up a reference that in 1944-45 the Army O.R. group had been working on fuses used against the V2 "flying bombs". And that reference was also fascinating, as Dorothy Hughes one of the first four lady "Chelsea Pensioners" had been involved with that section.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Automated attendants

I learnt a new technical term today: "automated attendant". It describes the telephone systems that are familiar (and often infuriating) in the 21st century. The caller dials the number, and an automatic service directs the caller to select a service using the buttons on the telephone. There are all sorts of jokes about this and I found a You-Tube video of the song "Press one for English".

My curiosity was aroused when I rang the offices of a national club in the UK. The club advertises that it has 60,000 members. When an automated attendant answered, I wondered what the economies of such a system might be. At what size of organisation does it become worthwhile to install one? Has anyone done an O.R. study of this? There needs to be a measure of the number of calls that come to the office per day, both on average and -- for a club -- the peak times for renewals. And there's questions of the number of people in the office whose job includes answering the phone. It could be an interesting study. The model would be straightforward, the data collection more challenging. However, I have discovered that the systems are so cheap, that they are probably worthwhile for more offices than currently use them.