Why study computerized decision support?

by Dan Power


Using information technologies to improve decision making is interesting and important. Sadly, we seem to adopt decision support technologies easily and sometimes without thinking of the consequences. Study implies an active pursuit of knowledge and serious scrutiny. People with various roles and purposes can and do study computerized decision support. We study decision support to make a difference.

Some University Professors want to create new knowledge or codify what we have learned. Doctoral students may find the area interesting for research and teaching. But we especially need to understand why practicing managers, IT professionals, as well as business and information systems students should want to study the subject. Computerized decision support can help people do their jobs better. In general, learning about the what, how, when and why of computerized decision support can be interesting, challenging and career rewarding.

The word "why" means we want to explain the cause or intention associated with an action, like studying decision support. What is the reason, cause, or purpose to study a topic especially one that may seem intuitively obvious to some and/or thoroughly explored to others? So why study modern decision support?

First, there is a "lack of clarity" about the field of computerized decision support. We all need to learn more to effectively exploit the use of computers and information technology to enhance and improve organizational decision making.

Second, decision making has become more difficult, decision making speed needs have increased, overload of information is common, there is more distortion of information, and there is a greater emphasis on fact-based decision making.

Third, many organizations have an increased need for distributed and multi-participant decision making in the risky, challenging environment of global business.

Fourth, managers want more analyses and more targeted and specific reports on demand with current and historical data. Managers need to learn what is realistic to help manage expectations.

Fifth, managers have many and increasing information needs. Current and future managers need to learn how to get, create and use "better" information.

Sixth, Information Systems Technology (IST) professionals need to learn how to provide access to "better" data and information for management decision making. Rebuilding the proverbial "wheel" is no longer acceptable. Studying decision support provides good job opportunities.

Seventh, there is a pressing need to use technology to help make "real decisions" better. The world is getting more complex and most people can benefit from computerized support. Even "great" decision makers can perform better.

Eighth, computerized decision support can help transfer and organize knowledge.

Ninth, decision support can provide more independence for users. Information technology can provide users access to data to create their own reports as they need them. So managers need to learn to create reports, retrieve and analyze data, interpret results and express their decision support needs.

Tenth, if targeted users and builders better understand organizational and technological constraints, barriers and problems associated with computerized decision support, that knowledge will improve chances of successful implementation of advanced, more sophisticated DSS.

Finally, potentially all managers will use computer and information technologies to support their work whether in a functional area or in a more general management role. All managers need a broad familiarity with what is possible so they can participate in designing and evaluating proposed and current systems.

Beginning in the late 1970s, many vendors, practitioners and academics promoted computer-based decision support systems (DSS). They created high expectations for DSS and much optimism about the prospects for improving decision making. Despite the hyperbole, the success rate of DSS applications has been less than anticipated. Although the computing industry has transformed how business transactions and data are processed, managers have often been disappointed by attempts to use computers and information technology to support decision making (cf., Power, 2002). Technological developments, have created a renewed interest in using information technology to support decision making, but both managers and IST professionals need to learn, discuss and review their expectations about computerized decision support before beginning important projects.

Managers and IST professionals need broad knowledge of the managerial and technical issues associated with the various categories/types of decision support systems. Most large companies and many other organizations have implemented decision support technologies. Many organizations have integrated computerized decision support into day to day operating activities, also managers download and analyze sales data, create budget sheets and make forecasts, and analyze and evaluate computerized decision support model results. Decision support can help managers perform tasks like comparing budget and actual results, retrieving sales data, drilling down to analyze results, projecting revenues and evaluating scenarios.

Today, organizations need more sophisticated, more integrated computerized decision support. To achieve that desirable goal many of us need to study this important subject. In recent years, we lost sight of the importance of preparing IST majors and future managers in the art and science of computerized decision support. Professors, students and managers were seduced by eBusiness, data mining and even data warehousing and forgot to develop a firm foundation in the basics of computerized decision support.


Power, D. J., Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for Managers, Westport, CT: Greenwood/Quorum Books, 2002.

A version of this column appeared in DSS News, Vol. 9, No. 11, June 1, 2008. Updated for DSS News, Vol. 13, No. 3, February 5, 2012.

Last update: 2012-02-05 07:37

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