Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

A World of Difference

Craig Froehle links theory and practice for novel solutions.

 “Translational research” is the new sweetheart expression of the tech world. It acts as a go-between linking the chemist at the bench and the doctor in the practice, bridging fundamental, theoretical research and the applications that affect our everyday lives.

In other words, it “makes the theory useful,” says Craig Froehle, Ph.D., associate professor of operations management. In the same way, the Operations and Business Analytics Department in the UC College of Business acts as a bridge between the bench and practice, between the research and the results, between academia and industry.

Some might expect a consultant to play that role, Froehle says, but what consultants often do best is take “an idea, brand it, package it and mass-produce it.”

“We're good partners with industry,” Froehle says. Froehle not only walks the talk, he helps company partners walk their talks even better. In 2006, he helped radiology doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center develop a new method of triage, thus reducing wait times for radiology patients and resulting in better quality of care. (AMICAS, a leader in radiology and medical image and information management solutions, acquired the exclusive licensing and worldwide distribution rights to RadStream.)

The academic approach that departments such as operations and business analytics take is to apply academic rigor and find the best solution, not necessarily the “same” process with slightly different elements.

“We apply rigorous methodology with a knowledge of the theory behind it,” says Froehle. “We are a bunch of PhDs constantly keeping up with new developments. We attack novel problems, usually with novel solutions, whereas consultants tend to want to use the same methods they've used before.”

Froehle says that even things like Six Sigma are examples of where consultants communicate and rely on a package of ideas, but the ideas came from industry or from academia.

“That tedium is what led me to academia in the first place,” Froehle adds. When he first met Jeff Camm, head of the operations and business analytics department, he expressed to Camm some of the frustrations of being a consultant, asking him about developing generalizable solutions to these common problems.

“That's called ‘research,'” he remembers Camm saying. “That's what we [faculty] do.”

Operations and business analytics has faculty involved in high-end research. Many in the department enjoy “focusing on the concepts and theories that we employ that actually make a difference.”

That's one thing that distinguishes operations and business analytics from other similar departments across the country. They publish in Management Science, they edit some of the major journals in their field—they are academically engaged at the highest levels.

“It runs a bullet through the old saw of ‘those who can, do; those who can't, teach,'” says Froehle. But then there's the applied, pragmatic side. Operations and business analytics faculty members work with military. They are also heavily involved in collaboration and consulting with a variety of different industries and have written many of the textbooks used by other universities.

Froehle says they then bring experience, research and results into the classroom with students benefiting from illustrative examples and anecdotes taken from the faculty's work with industry.

Now, Froehle, through a joint faculty appointment at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, works with physicians every day to bring operational concepts and theory to practice. Improving the availability, quality and cost-effectiveness of care is an objective he shares with his industry collaborators.

“We are clearly concerned with making things work better in many fields,” says Froehle. “One foot in each realm—theory and practice—makes for a strong foundation for getting students ramped up for both academia and the real world.”