An Operations Cyberinfrastructure: Using Cyberinfrastructure and Operations Research to Improve Productivity in the Enterprise

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Service Enterprises

The service sector has been the focus of much CI activity during the past decade. It has also historically been a major venue for OR research and practice. From the viewpoint of the service sector, the leading function of CI is to acquire, store, transform, and transmit information. OR techniques can then be used to manage and interpret this information, to optimize procedures for collecting it, and to provide decision support for users of the information. The synthesis of these technologies in the OCI could lead to important improvements in the quality of services delivered in this sector.

An economic taxonomy of the service sector usually classifies services as being Business-to-Business (B2B), Business-to-Consumer (B2C), Financial Services, Healthcare, and Transportation. In some cases, Educational services are also considered as service enterprises. While there is no commonly accepted definition of “service,” one system-theoretic definition that applies broadly is the following: a service is an action or a series of actions undertaken in response to a request to change a customer’s “state” either at the time of the request (now) or in the future.

Service enterprises, especially those providing B2B services, have been growing at a phenomenal rate. Companies like IBM and General Motors, which used to be primarily manufacturing organizations, now view themselves as service providers. B2B services help each company maintain its focus on what it does best, thus providing for greater overall efficiency.

Electricity markets illustrate the potential relationship between the data-gathering capabilities of CI and its successful integration with OR tools. Today, many states have separated electricity generation from electricity transmission, which has become the domain of independent system operators (ISOs). While there have been studies of the economic behavior of agents within a deregulated electricity market, studies of the impact of such markets on electricity transmission have been impractical, because each ISO has access to data only within its specific region. In the absence of easily available, interoperable models of portions of the power grid, it is not possible to predict how certain market transactions might affect the overall stability of the grid. However, if we could create a test-bed that mimics power flows for each ISO, studies of the impact of markets on transmission would become feasible. The integration of electricity market models with nonlinear power flow models will require general-purpose tools that can be plugged together without revealing sensitive network data; this integration of tools will become possible with the development of the OCI.

Development of sensor networks and the pervasive connectivity between physical infrastructure and cyberinfrastructure provide an opportunity for business transformation. However, these areas will not develop without critical research at the interfaces between the OCI and Enterprise research. Examples of such transformations include RFID in the supply network and the use of intelligent sensors for maintenance of machines. The OCI’s contributions to the services sector promise to deliver significant savings and cost reductions to other sectors, including the entire product lifecycle from concept through delivery, retirement, and recycling.

Data and network security services are emerging as a necessity for applications in both manufacturing and service areas. Related issues to which OR tools are critical involve network reliability models under complete or partial information. An OCI has obvious potential to contribute in these matters, particularly by enabling hybrid approaches such as combination of experimental component testing with analytical modeling and real-time interactions.

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