Reflections of Decision Support Pioneers

Andrew M. McCosh

Andrew McCosh responded by email to six questions from Dan Power, editor, about his past involvement with computerized decision support systems and his current perspective on the issues that need to be addressed.

Q1: How did you get interested in computerized decision support?

McCosh's Response: I got interested in DSS because I was sharing an office with Michael Scott Morton when he started the whole idea. The Lyons teashop version was the first implementation, but Michael really started the ball rolling.

The first business computer was created by the managers of Lyons corner shop, a tea house in central London. This adventurous business was the first to use a computer for business purposes. The task was written up by the late Professor Peter Bird, who wrote a book entitled “The first business computer”. After that there was a hiatus of about a decade, during which other companies replicated the Lyons idea, and some replicated their machine.

The next activity on decision support systems was initiated by Michael Scott Morton of Harvard Business School. There were three of us sharing an office in the basement of Sherman Hall at the time. We were all trying to produce doctoral theses, all on different subjects. I think it would be fair to say that the concept of DSS as an academic subject was actually launched on March 4 1965. Michael presented his thesis idea to an internal audience consisting mostly of other doctoral students and also some of the Control department faculty at HBS. The ideas were endorsed and supported by the big bosses of Harvard of the day.

I rapidly came to the conclusion that my own dissertation, on financial accounting principles and how they were changed or adapted, was going to be seriously less interesting than the new subject which Michael had launched. I finished my own dissertation at a very high speed, and then started work on some joint papers with Michael and a number of other people, all focussed on the DSS concept. During the 1970’s, the concept of DSS was still quite experimental, but there were also signs of specialisation. In these efforts, there were numerous attempts to generalise the concept of DSS, but we did not really get the “show on the road” until about 1980.

By then, Michael’s first book was eight years old, the one I shared with him was three, and the one Keen shared with Michael was four or five. Our first papers were published earlier, in 1968 and 1969. These were very business orientated papers, in which we were trying to portray DSS as a new tool which would help a manager or a business owner to do better or more business. The first computerised analyses of merger situations were created for Thomson Ramo Woolridge and for Westinghouse in the late 1960s.

Q2: What do you consider your major contribution to helping support decision makers using computers? Why?

McCosh's Response: My main contribution was developing merger models for corporate acquisitions. I have now created about twenty of these, for assorted companies.

My own career in DSS has been a simple continuation of the original idea. In most cases I was trying to help a manager, usually in a financial institution, solve a financial problem as efficiently as possible. I specialised for many years on the writing of merger and acquisition models, which were mostly commissioned by financial businesses whose staff were active as consultants to big banks and major consulting firms. Almost all of my writing work has been done under the auspices of the International Federation for Information Processing, and especially within its Working Group 8.3, which specialises in DSS operations.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as vice-chairman and later chairman of this group for seven or eight years, which gave me good opportunities to make very good and close professional friendships. I am not doing so much work now on the creation and design of DSS models. I have moved over to take the Alvah Chapman chair of ethics and Management at Florida International University in Miami. My motto for the moment, in case anyone is interested, is “philosophy is fun”!!

Best wishes to all my friends in the DSS field, and even better wishes to any enemies I may have inadvertently created over the last forty years.

Q3: What were your motivations for working in this area?

McCosh's Response: Main motivation for doing M&A models was that they were highly profitable.

Q4: Who were your important collaborators and what was their contribution?

McCosh's Response: I did not really have any collaborators, except Michael at the very beginning.

Q5: What are your major conclusions from your experiences with computerized decision support?

McCosh's Response: I feel that the most important feature of a DSS is to make sure it is flexible and understood by the company executive who has to use it. If the designer tries to make the whole thing operational in one go, he will almost certainly lose his audience. The exec will get lost. He needs to have a huge role in the design and layouts. If you do not ensure he has big role in development, the model will probably be binned in a few years.

Q6: What are the issues associated with decision support that we still need to address?

McCosh's Response: I feel I have made as many contributions to DSS design as I am ever going to. Time for next generation to have a turn. I think we need to spend more time on decision analysis and decision definition than has been the case in recent work I have seen at conferences.

About Andrew M. McCosh

Eminent Scholar Department of Finance, College of Business Administration, Florida International University. He previously served on the faculties at Harvard, Columbia, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Manchester, and the University of Michigan. He has published research in the areas of innovation and business processes, ethics, decision support technology, and financial strategy. He received a DBA from Harvard Business School in 1966.

His publications include: American Accounting - An accelerating Evolution; Accounting Consistency - The Key to Stock Holder Information; Computerized Cost Finding Systems; Computer in Merger Analysis and Terminal Costing for Better Decisions. His research interests include the Development of Organizational Decision Support Systems, and Ethical Issues in the Financial Area.

As an entrepreneur, he has launched and successively sold several consulting practices. Currently, he is a consultant for the government of Cyprus, Lloyds-TSB Banking Corporation, and the UK Innovation Project.

DSS References

Scott Morton, M. S. and A. M. McCosh, "Terminal Costing for Better Decisions," Harvard Business Review, 46, 3, May-June 1968, 147–56.

McCosh, A. M and Scott Morton, M. S., Management Decision Support Systems, London, Macmillan, 1978.


Andrew M. McCosh Reflections, DSSResources.COM, 12/19/2007.

Andrew McCosh's responses were received December 11, 2007.