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                      DSS News
               D. J. Power, Editor
          July 16, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 15

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Featured:

* Ask Dan! - Are computerized decision aids decision support systems?
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Ask Dan!

Are computerized decision aids decision support systems?

by Dan Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

The term computerized decision aid refers to a very diverse set of tools
based on a variety of techniques. Some are complex and sophisticated
and hence should be classified as decision support systems. Other
so-called computerized decision aids are simple and unsophisticated,
i.e., a web page with information or a simple web-based checklist and
hence are not DSS.

The phrase decision aid has a much longer history in the academic
literature than the term decision support system and the decision aid
term is used broadly. A decision aid provides assistance or help for
reaching a conclusion and making a choice among alternatives. In
English, the verb "aid" means to give support or assistance and hence
the overlap and sometimes confusion with the concept decision support
system. At Google a search for decision aid returns 127,000,000
results and decision support system returns 365,000,000. I could
sample only a small fraction of the results. One definition on the
Web of a "decision aid" is "an object used to assist a person in
deriving optimal decisions, such as a particular medical diagnosis,
when to change a component on an aircraft, or which site to
investigate on a scouting mission in time of war. Decision aids are
computer-based, i.e., algorithms, software and/or hardware (cf.,
http://www.intota.com)."

Christophe David suggests a decision aid is all about "helping people
to make choices between several options (actions), based on several
aspects (criteria), taking into account the individual preferences.
In practice, this means helping people to find the compromise they
prefer, considering their own perception of the world." The website
Request for Proposal templates (rfp-templates.com) notes "Broadly
speaking, a decision-support systems (DSS) is simply a computer
system that helps you make a decision by leveraging the
multi-criteria decision-making model. DSS provide a means for
decision-makers to make decisions on the basis of more complete
information and analysis. Among the main advantages of the use of DSS
are the following: 1) Increased number of alternatives examined, 2)
Better understanding of the business, 3) Fast response to unexpected
situations, 4) Improved communication, 5) Cost savings, 6) Better
decisions, 7) More effective teamwork, 8) Time savings and 9) Better
use of data resources." This site is really selling simple
computerized decision aids and their DSS definition is drastically
narrowed and incorrect. Also, the broad benefits they claim for DSS
are exaggerated.

My DECision AID project was a computerized collection of heuristics
and a multicriteria model (Power, 1998). Most decision aids focus on
the convergent phase of the decision process and help a specific
decision maker come closer to making a decision or choice among
alternatives. Decision aids range from a simple heuristic like
mark-up pricing to a very complex tool based upon a multicriteria
model, algebraic model or even a complex genetic algorithm. The
heuristics used in computerized decision aids are rules of thumb,
generally based on expert experience or common sense. When
mathematical models are incorporated in decision aids they become
more complex and more sophisticated.

Computerized decision aids are also sometimes called recommender
systems. According to Wietsma and Ricci "recommender systems provide
decision aid and information filtering functions ... (and are)
exploited in eCommerce web sites to suggest products and provide to
consumers information for facilitating the decision process."

What are examples of computerized decision aids?

A quick review of web pages finds: a Diagnostic Decision Aid for
Pediatric Sinusitis, a patient decision aid for choice of surgical
treatment, a decision aid for nitrogen fertilizer management in
cotton, Weed Management Decision Aids, a decision aid for nutrient
management for forest trees in Hawaii, Oregon Water Quality Decision
Aid (OWQDA), Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA), interactive
multimedia decision aid on hormone replacement therapy, decision aid
for the management of diseases and pests of grapes, Tactical Decision
Aid for selecting munitions and establishing an attack plan, True Seed
Cost Decision Aid, and Dust Tactical Decision Aid (TDA).

The Corn/Soybean Planting Decision Aid "is designed to help grain
farmers decide whether to plant corn or soybeans. This program begins
by asking the farmer to input their estimate of their county marketing
assistance loan rate (LR) for soybeans. This information along with
information on variable cash production costs, yields, estimates of
local basis levels and storage costs is used to calculate a breakeven
futures market price required for an all-fall or January delivery for
corn in order for corn production to be equal to soybean production
based on returns above variable cash costs." (cf.,
www.uky.edu/Ag/AgEcon/pubs/software/cornvsoybean.html).

The MMR decision aid was designed to help people decide whether to
immunize a child with the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine
(see URL http://www.ncirs.usyd.edu.au/decisionaid/index.html).
Programmer Danny Goodman has a decision aiding application on the Web
called The Decision Helper --
http://www.dannyg.com/javascript/dhnocookie/dhLoad.htm .

Gomaa et al. note "Auditors may benefit from the use of decision aids
at all stages of the engagement, to provide guidance to engagement
teams and promote consistency of decision making across engagements
and over time. Decision aids may appear in many forms, including
advanced IT applications such as expert systems, neural networks, or
decision support systems and less advanced tools such as algorithms,
procedures, and standard forms."

Where can one learn more about computerized decision aids?

LAMSADE, the Laboratory for Analysing and Modelling Decision-Aid
Systems, is an excellent starting point for learning more about
research on multi-criteria, model-based decision aids. The site
explains that "Decision Aiding is a multi-disciplinary research area
merging contributions from fields as different as: cognitive
psychology, operational research, social choice theory, discrete
mathematics, formal logic, organisational studies, economics and
management, and measurement theory." The Decision Aiding research
area of LAMSADE is "founded by the seminal work of Bernard Roy and
has an almost 30 years record of activities" (check
www.lamsade.dauphine.fr/mcda/siteTheme/MCDA-ACPB.html). Prof.
Mousseau maintains a Multiple Criteria Decision Aid Bibliography at
the LAMSADE website. There is also a EURO Working Group on Multicriteria
Decision Aiding (EWG-MCDA) (check www.inescc.pt/~ewgmcda). The
International Society on Multiple Criteria Decision Making (ISMCDM)
has also been influential in promoting the development of
computerized decision aids (check www.terry.uga.edu/mcdm/). The 1st
International Conference on MCDM was held in 1975 and was organized
by Prof. Stanley Zionts.

In conclusion, complex, sophisticated computerized decision aids are
a subcategory of decision support systems. In general, DSS are
decision aids. Some computerized decision aids may be so simple that
we do not want to categorize them as decision support systems.
Computerized decision aids are generally knowledge-driven or
model-driven DSS. A common mathematical framework for building a
computerized decision aid is a multi-criteria model.

References

David, C.,
http://www.christophedavid.org/w/c/w.php/DecisionAid/Introduction

Gomaa, M., J. Hunton,and E. Vaassen, Auditorsí Reliance on a
Decision Aid: the Effect of Audit Quality Pressure Variations
Abstract, URL www.cs.unimaas.nl/auditing- 
symposium/Auditors_Reliance_on_a_Decision_Aid.pdf

Leyva Lopez, Juan Carlos. Multicriteria decision aid application to a
student selection problem. Pesqui. Oper. . Jan./Apr. 2005,
vol.25, no.1 [cited 16 July 2006], p.45-68. Available from World Wide
Web: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101- 
74382005000100004&lng=en&nrm=iso.
ISSN 0101-7438.

Power, D. J. "Designing and Developing A Computerized Decision Aid -
A Case Study", World Wide Web,
http://dssresources.com/papers/decisionaids.html, version 2.0, April
14, 1998.

Wietsma, R. and F. Ricci, Product Reviews in Mobile Decision Aid
Systems, eCommerce and Tourism Research Laboratory, ITC-irst,
http://www.medien.ifi.lmu.de/permid2005/pdf/ReneWietsma_Permid2005.pdf.


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        Purchase Dan Power's DSS FAQ book 
  83 frequently asked questions about computerized DSS 
   http://dssresources.com/dssbookstore/power2005.html 

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DSS Conferences 

1. DEXA 2006, 17th International Conference on Database 
and Expert Systems Applications, September 4-8, 
2006, Krakow, Poland. Check http://www.dexa.org .

2. ICDSS 2007, 9th International Conference on DSS, Jan. 2-4, 2007, 
Calcutta, India. Theme: Decision Support for Global Enterprises.
Check http://www.ICDSS2007.org . 

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