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Book Contents

Ch. 1
Supporting Business Decision-Making

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Characteristics of DSS

Although the term Decision Support System has many connotations, based on Steven Alterís (1980) pioneering research we can identify the following three major characteristics:

  1. DSS are designed specifically to facilitate decision processes,
  2. DSS should support rather than automate decision making, and
  3. DSS should be able to respond quickly to the changing needs of decision makers.

Clyde Holsapple and Andrew Whinston, in their book Decision Support Systems: A Knowledge-Based Approach (1996), identified five characteristics one should expect to observe in a DSS (see pages 144-145). Their list is very general and somewhat abstract, but it provides an even broader perspective on the DSS concept. The Holsapple and Whinston characteristics are:

  1. A DSS includes a body of knowledge that describes some aspects of the decision-maker's world, that specifies how to accomplish various tasks, that indicates what conclusions are valid in various circumstances, and so forth.
  2. A DSS has an ability to acquire and maintain descriptive knowledge (i.e., record keeping) and other kinds of knowledge as well (i.e., procedure keeping, rule keeping, etc.).
  3. A DSS has an ability to present knowledge on an ad hoc basis in various customized ways as well as in standardized reports.
  4. A DSS has an ability to select any desired subset of stored knowledge for either presentation or deriving new knowledge in the course of problem recognition and/or problem solving.
  5. A DSS can interact directly with a decision maker or a participant in a decision in such a way that the user has a flexible choice and sequence of knowledge-management activities.

Sprague and Carlson (1982) and others define Decision Support Systems broadly as interactive computer based systems that help decision-makers use data and models to solve ill-structured, unstructured or semi-structured problems. Bonczek, Holsapple and Whinston (1981) argued the "system must possess an interactive query facility, with a query language that ... is ... easy to learn and use (p. 19)". Various types of DSS help decision-makers use and manipulate very large databases; some help managers apply checklists and rules; others make extensive use of mathematical models.

Case studies from the past 25 years have demonstrated that it is possible to support management activities in many ways. Some DSS help managers by expediting access to information that would otherwise be unavailable or difficult to obtain; others contain explicit models that provide structure for particular decisions. Some systems are primarily tools for individuals working more or less alone on decision tasks; others serve primarily to support communication among people whose work must be coordinated.

Many terms are used for specific types of DSS including business intelligence, collaborative systems, data mining, data warehousing, knowledge management and on-line analytical processing. Software vendors use these more specialized terms for both descriptive and marketing purposes. What term we use for a system or software package is a secondary concern. Our primary concern is finding software and systems that meet a managerís decision support needs and provide appropriate management information.

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