Optimization modeling can be compared to a flight simulator. A flight simulator models the behavior of an aircraft. It is used by pilots to hone their piloting skills and to prepare them for potential emergency situations. In a sense it is a laboratory for evaluating actions and reactions. Flight simulators can model weather conditions, mechanical processes, foreign aircraft and other factors. A pilot can experience situations in the simulator within the course of a few hours that he/she might not experience in many years of flying experience. The cost of the simulator is relatively low compared to the cost of an airplane, not to mention the risk to life and limb associated with some training exercises.
You can also think of an optimization modeling system as a vehicle—a vehicle that can help your company make more money by helping determine the best use of all your resources including: raw material supplies, machinery, capital, labor and markets. To take the analogy of a vehicle a bit further, you can think of an optimization system as a formula one race car that is fueled by data, has an optimizing model for an engine, and a graphical user interface as a dashboard. The fuel tank is a relational database with the potential capability to “tap” into data from a variety of sources. No race was ever won by a car alone. The driver (model user) is a critical element. The driver communicates his/her needs to the vehicle through the various controls at his/her command.