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Operations: The thrill of learning—and making it real right now

The Operations world is transforming like never before. Everywhere you look there are great opportunities to make innovation come to life.

I have always enjoyed working with numbers. It’s what drove me to pursue an education in technology and manufacturing, and then to specialize at MIT with a master’s degree in industrial engineering. It still surprises me to think that what used to seem like an obscure area of engineering—quantitative analysis of operations—has evolved into the practice of advanced analytics, driving impact throughout Operations today.

But exactly how digital and analytics can best create value remains a major question for many business leaders. To help them in a meaningful way, we as consultants must constantly evolve in our own skills, understanding, and experiences, looking for new perspectives and connections.

For example, to help a client manage procurement spend, I recently found myself re-visiting my graduate work, building on it to create a machine-learning application for automating and classifying various streams of data generated from multiple sources. Creative opportunities such as these are inspiring–working with clients and teams to learn new things and push our thinking beyond traditional boundaries.

What also makes working in Operations so rewarding is to see the impact straight away. It’s much more than just providing well-articulated, theoretical answers; it’s working directly with teams on the ground to drive action. The real-life implementation challenges, working side by side with our clients, provide tremendous learning.

My most important piece of advice to my colleagues? Focus on continually keeping up with knowledge and insights. There are so many new trends—especially in digital, analytics, and customer experience—that we all need to learn constantly to stay relevant and add value to our clients.

As a field, operations frequently suffers from some perception challenges. First, it is often seen as mainly about process improvements, which to a lot of people doesn’t sound very exciting. Second, to drive on-the-ground impact, it’s important to be on site—which may be in far-flung, out-of-the-way places.

However, I can see that this is all evolving very quickly. Today, more often than not, we are getting involved in digital transformations, at the cutting edge of robotics, process automation, and machine learning. It doesn’t get more exciting than that. This also means that the management and direction of Operations is moving closer to corporate headquarters in urban hubs, lightening the travel burden.

That has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities closer to home when we started our family. And Operations lends itself very well to building flexibility across sectors. Great experience developed in finding procurement synergies in mining operations could translate really well to achieving procurement excellence for semiconductors.

This all makes for a fascinating career in Operations—both for men and women. The trick is to be clear about what makes you happy: what work you want to do, your lifestyle and geographic boundaries, and what experiences will allow you to learn and grow along the way.

The Operations world is transforming like never before. Everywhere you look there are great opportunities to make innovation come to life!

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