from DSSResources.com

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                          DSS News
                     D. J. Power, Editor
               April 14, 2002 -- Vol. 3, No. 8
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM

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             Check the Article "What is OLAP?" 
            by Nigel Pendse at DSSResources.COM
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Featured:

* DSS Wisdom
* Ask Dan! - What criteria should be used for evaluating DSS software 
packages?
* Spreadsheet-based DSS Tip - Add Hyperlinks to Integrate Your DSS with 
the Web
* What's New at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Stories

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Check Dan Power's new book, Decision Support Systems: Concepts and 
Resources for Managers.  Get more information at 
http://www.dssresources.com/dssbookstore/power02.html .

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This newsletter has more than 800 subscribers from 
50 countries. Please forward this newsletter to people interested in 
Decision Support Systems or suggest they visit DSSResources.COM.

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DSS Wisdom

Henry Mintzberg (1971) noted "The management scientist can learn to help 
the manager to the extent he can develop an understanding of the 
manager's work and the manager's information. To date, strategic 
planners, operations researchers, and information system designers have 
provided little help for the senior manager.  They simply have had no 
framework available by which to understand the work of the men who 
employed them, and they have had poor access to the information which 
has never been documented.  It is folly to believe that a man with poor 
access to the organization's true nerve center can design a formal 
management information system." (p. B109)

from Mintzberg, H.  "Managerial Work: Analysis from Observation." 
Management Science, Vol. 18, No. 2, Oct. 1971, pp. B97-B110.

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Ask Dan!
by D. J. Power

What criteria should be used for evaluating DSS software packages?

Some people might be quick to list criteria like ease of use, cost of 
the package, capabilities, vendor reputation and ease of installation.  
Although such factors are important and need to be considered in most 
situations, this question should be framed more broadly and some other 
issues should be addressed before specific criteria are discussed.

First, it is important to determine that buying a package versus 
assembling and customizing software for a DSS project is the appropriate 
response. It is often hard to know where the dividing line is between 
"buying off-the-shelf" and "building" because once the customization for 
the DSS becomes significant then buying a package has been transformed 
into a development project (even though that may not have been 
intended). So it is important to recognize that DSS software selection 
is a sequential decision situation. Begin the process by specifying 
requirements and ask "What functions and tasks will managers perform 
with the DSS? When and how will it be used?"

Second, if the decision is to buy "off-the-shelf", then one must 
determine what products might meet the need. It is important to 
recognize that one must identify comparable software packages -- or they 
can't be compared. "Off-the-shelf" is often appropriate for task 
specific or vertical market DSS software like healthcare scheduling 
software, collaboration and groupware software, Web-based reporting 
software, enterprise portal software, data mining software and 
competitive intelligence software. 

Third, once comparable products are identified then one can ask "which 
one is best in this particular situation?" At this point criteria can be 
specified and products can be compared. Evaluators need to recognize 
that dominant alternatives and dominating criteria exist in situations. 
Sometimes one criterion is so important in making a choice that all 
other criteria take on a secondary role.  For example, the cost of the 
package may be so important that relatively high cost packages have no 
chance of being selected.  In the same vein, some software packages may 
be so appropriate and be such a "good fit" with the perceived need that 
other packages receive little consideration.  For example, a manager 
developing a small-scale, model-driven DSS may almost without explicit 
evaluation "choose" to develop the application in Microsoft Excel. 
Prescreen the list of possible DSS products to eliminate those that do 
not meet constraints like the need to "fit" with other software or with 
existing processes, or the need to meet special regulatory or legal 
requirements.  Also, eliminate products that don't meet technical 
constraints in terms of operating systems or infrastructure.

Fourth, if a dominant alternative doesn't exist and if no one criterion 
dominates all others, then approximately five major criteria should be 
identified and weighted for evaluating the comparable DSS packages. 
Criteria should be generally independent of each other.  Some criteria 
that should be considered and tailored to the situation include the 
following:

1) Capabilities -- examine the functions that a DSS product can perform 
and how important they are to the decision support need of targeted 
users. Determine if the package can be customized and in what ways. Does 
it meet the need? Does it provide the desired support?

2) Cost of the Package -- examine the total cost of ownership including 
acquisition costs, implementation and training costs, maintenance costs, 
and any annual software license costs.

3) Ease of use -- the ease of learning and using the capabilities of a 
product to accomplish tasks. Ease of use is in the mind of the user so 
ask users to assess this criterion. 

4) Ease of installation and operation -- how easy is it to configure, 
deploy and control use of a product. Is it easy to transfer information 
to and/or from other company information systems? Are there potential 
technical implementation problems?

5) Performance -- what is the speed or capacity of the product when 
performing its functions. Also, part of the performance criterion should 
be software reliability.

6) Vendor reputation and reliability -- the vendor matters, but in 
emerging product areas this criterion can be difficult to assess.  What 
kind of vendor and technical support is needed and is available? 

One hopes that comparable packages will have similar benefits, but in 
some cases it is necessary to rate and compare the anticipated benefits.

Over the years, the most common task that I have helped with is software 
evaluation. In many of those situations, political and bureaucratic 
issues have impacted what happened. In evaluating new fundraising 
software, it was clear the technical people wanted "anyone other than 
the current vendor". In another situation, everyone waqnted to upgrade 
capabilities, but it was clear the staff was psychologically "locked in" 
to their current vendor who was pushing a major new product. At a credit 
union, a group was evaluating data mining software, but cost was the 
dominant criterion. In many cases, a company is much better off to make 
no purchase than to be swayed solely or primarily by the cost of the 
product.

AVOID buying shelfware, software that gathers dust on a shelf instead of 
being used for its intended purpose.  I have some shelfware that I 
bought with good intentions, but I have had no time to implement it. I 
also have some old "obsolete" versions of software that still meet my 
needs; I have had no real reason to upgrade or no funds to make a 
discretionary upgrade.

Recognize that vendors can create the perception of need and a vendor 
representative may even be willing to help identify the requirements. 
Also, recognize the impact of personal relationships with vendor 
representatives on software evaluations.

If you prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a DSS project, it 
should focus on goals, capabilities and the vision for the project.  Set 
up the RFP so it is easy to compare proposals.  Get the same information 
from each vendor. Use the internet and sites like DSSResources.COM to 
identify vendors.

You may also want to read Power (1997) for more evaluation suggestions 
and my book titled Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for 
Managers.

For a major project, you may want to hire a consultant to support your 
organization's software selection process.  Also, it is often helpful to 
purchase evaluation reports from groups like Gartner and The OLAP 
Report. Try packages before you buy! Summarize your evaluation for each 
of the major alternative packages!!

One would like to think that evaluations of DSS software packages are 
primarily rational, technical decisions, but personal biases, company 
political and bureaucratic considerations can and often do impact 
software evaluations. 

REMEMBER -- The ultimate responsibility for making a good software 
purchase decision rests with you, the buyer.

Power, D. J. "Tips for Choosing Enterprise-wide DSS Software". DS*Star, 
The On-Line Executive Journal for Data-Intensive Decision Support, 
November 18, 1997: Vol. 1, No. 7

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

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Spreadsheet-based DSS Tip: Add Hyperlinks to Integrate Your DSS with the 
Web

Excel provides the capability to include internal and external 
hyperlinks in cells. Developers can enhance navigation of a complex 
application with hyperlinks, link to documentation in a word file or go 
to a web page. 

Choose the cell where you want a link and press Ctrl + K or use the 
Insert | Hyperlink menu to create  a hyperlink. When the Insert 
Hyperlink dialog box opens,  choose whether you want to place the link 
in this document or go to another document or web page. Then type in the 
cell or URL you want to link to and click OK. Now you have a hyperlink. 
Try it! You can Edit the Hyperlink or Delete it.

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What's New at DSSResources.COM

04/14/2002 Posted article by ProClarity Staff, "ProClarity Helps Major 
Preferred Provider Organization Enhance its Value in Many Ways", 
ProClarity Corp., 2002, URL DSSResources.COM/cases/emerald_health.htm.

04/07/2002 Posted article by Pendse, N. "What is OLAP", 
DSSResources.COM, 04/07/2002, URL 
http://dssresources.com/papers/dssarticles.html.

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DSS News - April 2 to 11, 2002

04/11/2002 Corel includes Crystal Reports in its Technology Research 
Group Portal. 

04/11/2002 TyMetrix Collaborative Matter Management selected by 
Microsoft as best productivity tool.

04/10/2002 eOptimize uses the Microsoft .NET platform in Healthcare 
Enterprise Scheduling Solution.

04/10/2002 Call for Papers: 2nd International Workshop on Integration 
and Collaboration Aspects of Data Mining, Decision Support and 
Meta-Learning.

04/08/2002 DecisionPoint enhances analytical capabilities associated 
with Oracle 11i.

04/03/2002 Ascential Software introduces MetaRecon product that reduces 
implementation time for data integration projects.

04/02/2002 Banco Popular invests in Web-based reporting solution from 
Cognos.

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