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What's a great textbook for complex business systems analysis?
January 15, 2013 9:06 PM   Subscribe

"Logistics" is not quite the right word, but what are some very good "logistics" textbooks?

An airline has a complicated problem getting sets of passengers from one airport to another, on airplanes, which need flight crews and fuel and mechanical repairs and maintenance, and carry baggage items. Each baggage item has a claim check tag, so it can get to its owner at the end of the trip. Planes need to take off and land at highly constrained times. There's a lot of overwhelming complexity required, and all plates need to be spinning at once and information systems need to be working right for correct and smooth operation. Is that "logistics"? Not sure.

A big-box retailer like TARGET or WALMART has a complicated problem, of continuously ordering products from vendors and suppliers, stocking the products on miles of shelves, letting members of the public flow around inside the store choosing their items in a civil fashion, scanning each item as it exits the store, and making sure cash or creditcard payments are received in exchange for those items, recording the transactions in a database, with an army of ever-changing cashiers working at one of several cash registers. Also, at any given moment a customer may choose to return an item to the store, complicating the flow even further.

A college bookstore has a complicated problem, getting sets of books to thousands of students who all show up at once on the very first day of classes. Each student is enrolled in several different classes, requiring many different books, which can be new, used, or rental, hardcover softcover or looseleaf. Multiple methods of paying for the books must be managed, books arriving at the loading dock at different days needing to be received (thus, shipping and receiving) and needing to be unpacked and shelved in the right location. More cashiers, more cash register locations. Again, a lot of complexity. Is that logistics?

Whatever it is (Management / Information Systems? Business Process control?) , what's the best textbook for getting very serious indeed about this kind of process analysis?
I never looked into that ISO9001 stuff or Six Sigma stuff, and I am not an MBA, but someone here on AskMetafilter must know what I'm talking about.
posted by shipbreaker to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know specific textbooks, but it may help you to search for operations management or operations research.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:28 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Logistics and optimization. Other topics that might be related: algorithms and linear algebra.
posted by empath at 9:30 PM on January 15, 2013

In the manufacturing realm this kind of thing is called MRP.
posted by bac at 9:32 PM on January 15, 2013

Operations Research seems to be what you're after. I'm away from the computer so I'll have to come back with a link to the Rand Corporation manual on the subject. To tide you over until then, have a look at Michael Trick's OR blog.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:07 PM on January 15, 2013

Came in to say operations research. Amazon should have plenty of textbooks, Schaum's Outlines, etc. Googling for '"operations research" "syllabus" site:edu' turns up a bunch of links that might help you decide among them.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:08 PM on January 15, 2013

This list of resources at MIT OpenCourseWare might be useful.
posted by kellybird at 10:09 PM on January 15, 2013

I don't have a book suggestion, but your big box example is about supply chain management, mostly. Letting people walk around in the store is some combination of marketing, architecture, security, and interior design.

Operations research is where you'd find the tools to mathematically optimize different processes. To get the most out of a textbook on that, you might also want books on calculus, statistics, probability, and linear algebra. Industrial statistics is another area that might be of interest to you. Knowing some programming would be useful as well.
posted by yohko at 10:12 PM on January 15, 2013

Was able to coerce the Kindle into cooperation. Techniques of Systems Analysis by Herman Kahn, Irwin Mann is a good place to start with the foundations of OR.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:30 PM on January 15, 2013
posted by gjc at 3:15 AM on January 16, 2013

These scenarios were covered in our Operations Management course in college. That course is no longer offered at my alma mater and I'm at work and don't have the textbook with me, but what I do suggest is to go to a university bookstore website (pick any university!) and select "Operations Management" "Supply Chain Management" "Logistics" "Industrial Engineering" courses and see the textbooks they are using for the courses. If I find something that you are interested in just go onto or Amazon and buy a past edition because its WAY cheaper.
posted by xicana63 at 4:58 AM on January 16, 2013

The stuff about having the books at the bookstore is called supply chain management. At the most basic level, it's about getting stuff from Point A to Point B. So, transportation, but also things like warehousing, inventory management, and procurement.

People sometimes call SCM, "logistics" (it's what my degree was called, although I think they've changed the name of the program since). As other people indicated, at the edges, SCM bleeds into operations management; maybe logistics is best thought of as encompassing both.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:27 AM on January 16, 2013

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