from DSSResources.com

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                        DSS News
                  D. J. Power, Editor
           January 28, 2007 -- Vol. 8, No. 2

      A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM
              approximately 1,900 Subscribers

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Featured:

* Ask Dan: What are the features of a communications-driven DSS?
* DSS Conferences
* DSS News Releases

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  Check the interview with Henry Morris "Decision support
      and analytic applications" at DSSResources.COM

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Ask Dan!

What are the features of a communications-driven DSS?

by Dan Power
Editor, DSSResources.com

Questions about the features and characteristics of the five types
of DSS (Power, 2002) are common in my email. This Ask Dan column
examines communications-driven DSS. Kelvin asked "What are some of
the features of communication-driven DSS?" Sy wondered "What are some
good tools for communication-driven DSS?", Hy asked "How are decisions
supported by groupware?", and Emily wanted to know "What are the costs
associated with communications-driven DSS?" 

Features are identifiable capabilities or properties of an artifact
that can be directly observed. Features are a distinctive part or
attribute of an artifact that may or may not confer a user benefit. A
specific decision support system will not necessarily have all of the
features associated with a general category of DSS, but a list of
features can help in classifying and understanding computerized DSS. 

Many identifiable features are found in products variously known as
electronic meeting software, groupware, group DSS, conferencing
software, and collaborative software that can be used to create
powerful communications-driven DSS. Over the years, the technical
possibilities have expanded with the development of video and voice
over the Internet protocol. Web-based chat and instant messaging
software appeared in the mid 1990s. In the late 1990's, PlaceWare
created the first web conferencing capability and Microsoft
introduced NetMeeting (cf., Wikipedia).

Communications-driven DSS use network and communications
technologies to facilitate collaboration, communication and decision
making. Communications technologies are central to supporting
decision-making. Technologies include: LANs, WANs, Internet, ISDN,
and Virtual Private Networks. Tools used include whiteboards, Video
conferencing, and Bulletin Boards. 

A communications-driven DSS may support synchronous (same time) or
asynchronous (different time) communications and meetings or both
types. A specific system may support two-party or multi-party
communications and decision making. Communications-driven DSS are
usually purchased applications. The lowest level of asynchronous
communications-driven decision support comes from email. Threaded
bulletin boards with polling provide more functionality. For more
information see the column "Is email a good decision support tool?"
The lowest level of synchronous communications-driven decision
support comes from voice telephony. Dedicated video conferencing
provides more functionality.

The architecture for communications-driven DSS may involve a
distributed deployment model or a centralized video conferencing
deployment. The focus may be on desktop, team oriented systems,
distributed "boardrooms", or web-based deployments. The major
constraint when video conferencing is included in the architecture is
the bandwidth and capacity of the system.

Over the years, I have used a wide variety of groupware, GDSS and
conferencing products and I spent about six months working part-time
on a consulting project involving interactive video. The following
alphabetical list of features is based upon my experiences.

1) Agenda creation. Decision meetings are more productive with an
agenda of issues and tasks. Ideally a communications-driven DSS will
facilitate creating and following an agenda.

2) Annotation, participants can highlight or mark items on the
shared display. In a decision meeting all participants should feel
that they can contribute to the group decisions and outputs.

3) Application and document sharing. During a meeting participants
should be able to easily share analyses, documents, etc.

4) Bulletin boards or forums. Exchanging ideas by posting messages
to a web-based bulleting board or forum can be a useful asynchronous
decision support tool. 

5) Chat or text interaction, real-time text-only conversation between
two or more people online. In a decision meeting chat can create a
secondary communication channel. In some situations however this
feature can actually hinder decision making.

6) Meeting scheduling and management. A communications-driven DSS
should help team leaders easily and quickly organize meetings. Also,
the system should automatically send invitations and confirm
participation of those invited.

7) Polls. During a meeting, it can be useful for the team leader to
conduct a vote on a topic or gather opinions.

8) Record meetings. Communications-driven DSS should have some
capability to record inputs and ideally a team leader should be able
to record the entire meeting for replay and review. Ideally there
should be a feature so that a meeting space can "persist" from one
session to another. In some situations participants should be able to
return to a virtual meeting supported by a communications-driven DSS
and find their notes, files and applications as they left them at the
end of the prior session.

9) Slide presentations. It is common in decision meetings for
participants to make presentations and this should be possible in
virtual meetings facilitated with technology.

10) Video interaction. Seeing participants during a virtual meeting
expands the social interaction and can facilitate team building and
acceptance of a shared decision. During video interaction, users
should be able to see all participants and each user should be able
to choose who to "look at" during the interaction.

11) Voice interaction. When bandwidth or cost limits the
possibilities for video and voice interaction, a synchronous meeting
will be more productive with voice rather than text interaction.
Synchronous decision meeting software should facilitate interaction.

12) Web joint browsing. The world wide web is a rich information
source that should be available during virtual decision making
meetings. 

13) Whiteboard, an area on a display screen that multiple users can
write or draw upon. In physical meetings, a blackboard or whiteboard
is a powerful general tool for sharing information. In virtual
meetings, this same capability should be a feature of a
communications-driven DSS.

Vendors claim video conferencing software can raise productivity,
reduce travel expenses, build stronger relationships with remote
staff, and use limited resources more effectively. A
communications-driven DSS should have these benefits and should
reduce the cycle time for shared decision making, increase
accountability, improve acceptance of shared decisions and facilitate
implementation of decisions in a distributed organization.

The cost of deploying a low end synchronous communications-driven
DSS can be as little as the cost of a Webcam for each participant to
many thousands of dollars for more sophisticated deployments.
Bulletin boards can be inexpensively deployed for asynchronous
decision support. To budget deploying a communications-driven DSS,
break down the fixed acquisition costs of software and hardware from
the recurring and usage-based costs.

The following are some useful web links: HP Halo
(http://www.hp.com/halo/index.html), Marratech AB
(http://www.marratech.com), Neotechsoft
(http://www.neotechsoft.co.kr/English), Polycom
(http://www.polycom.com/home), Tixeo (http://www.tixeo.com), and WSI
eConferenceCenter (http://www.e-conferencecenter.com).

As always your comments, questions and suggestions are welcomed.

References

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

Power, D., "What is currently possible with Communications-Driven
DSS?"' DSS News, Vol. 2, No. 21, October 7, 2001.

Power, D., "How does the use of a Communications-Driven DSS impact a
decision-making meeting?", DSS News, Vol. 7, No. 4, February 12, 2006.

Power, D., "Is email a good decision support tool?", DSS News, Vol.
7, No. 18, August 27, 2006.

Feature entry, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features

Webinar entry, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webinar

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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. DAMA +Meta-Data, Boston, March 4-8, 2007. Check
http://www.wilshireconferences.com/MD2007/index.html .

 2. ISCRAM 2007, May 13-16, 2007 Delft, The Netherlands. 
Check http://www.iscram.org .

 3. AMCIS 2007, Americas Conference on Information Systems,
Keystone, CO USA, August 9-12, 2007. SIG DSS mini-tracks.
Check http://www.biz.colostate.edu/amcis07/ .

 4. DaWaK 2007, 9th International Conference on Data
Warehousing and Knowledge Discovery, Regensburg, Germany,
September 3-7, 2007. Full papers due: April 13, 2007.
Check http://www.dexa.org/ .

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