The effect of the global economic crisis has been profound on the UK business sector. As a result, a new generation of entrepreneurs and business owners looks set to emerge – and many individuals who found themselves leaving college within the last decade will soon be seen to embark on careers which demand a significant degree of managerial skill.

Subsequently, operations management has developed as a specialist subject of study on many management courses – but how does it differ from other more well-known aspects of business such as sales management and project management? And what is its importance to business today?

In the simplest terms, operations management is different because its primary concern is usually the efficiency of the production or delivery of goods or services within a company. Consequently, an operations manager will typically need to manage the amount of resources – for example, materials or labour – needed for the desired output.

In more depth, those eager to study operations management on any one of many management courses in the UK and US will quickly learn of the diversity of, and complexities within, the field. The focus on such modules will usually cover: facilities – including the planning and management of their location, analyses of production methods in order to ensure output is achieved with as little resource as possible, as well as issues with quality control and the risk of error.

The importance of operations management today is therefore quite easy to see, even if not necessarily in reference to the subject as an entire job description, but instead referring to the skills useful to anyone in a managerial position. Indeed, with the growth of smaller companies – especially within the digital and media sectors – the latter is more significant.

Increasingly, the trend amongst 21st Century industries is to offer both products and services, such as specialist programmes and tools alongside consultancy, in an effort for businesses to differentiate themselves and to offer more to prospective clients. Those with operations management skills will therefore be more prepared for differentiation between planning, control and delivery of either products or services.