International and Cultural Issues
As companies expand into the global marketplace Decision Support Systems must support communities of users from different nations. There are many issues and obstacles that need to be evaluated in considering such projects. Some of the obstacles to using technology to support decision-making in global corporations include: accounting and currency issues, different regulations and import/export restrictions, lack of spontaneous or informal communication among individuals when using Communications-Driven DSS, the impersonality of electronic communications, cultural differences including languages and different work-hours, a multiplicity of technology standards, the possible lack of a telecommunications infrastructure, different interpretations of screen displays, and time zone differences. It may be difficult to build trust and commitment among individuals using only electronic communications. Let's look at some of these issues in more detail.
Accounting and Currency Issues
Accounting and other business practices differ from country to country. This makes getting accurate financial reports difficult. Also, currency conversion and fluctuations are another source of challenge in designing some DSS.
The purpose of a Decision Support System is to inform decision-makers, and ignoring cultural issues may create mis-information or mis-interpretation. For example, not all cultures have the same assumptions about group decision-making and hence the use of a Group DSS. In some cultures, the norm is that all should have an equal voice in decision-making. Some cultures encourage an open and collaborative problem-solving atmosphere. Some cultural norms support detailed meeting notes and a very structured decision-making process. We need to ask if the project team has considered cultural issues.
Impersonality of Electronic Communication
In a global corporation, much of the communication will be electronic. There will be fewer "real" face-to-face meetings and probably not many face-to-face meetings using Interactive Video. Instead bulletin boards will likely proliferate. This change may isolate managers in different parts of a company. To keep from getting "out of touch", managers will need to work harder to communicate feelings and develop trust relationships. Communications-Driven DSS should probably include pictures of participants and background materials.
Lack of Spontaneous or Informal Communication
When using a Communications-Driven DSS in a global corporation, much of the information sharing will probably involve e-mail, bulleting boards and other non-real time methods of communication. Also, most of the communication will be written, and not face-to-face. This behavioral change means that there will be less spontaneous and informal communication in the company. This possibility needs to be anticipated.
English is the unofficial language of business and technology. The problem with accepting this conclusion about language usage when constructing DSS is that it may create a communication barrier between managers. Some countries, such as China, require that a certain percent of business documents be written in the native language. France requires that all public documents in France be written in French. Should a Decision Support System be available in multiple languages? If so, what is the cost?
Regulations and Import/Export Restrictions
Some laws and regulations insist that a certain percentage of data collected in a country must be processed there. Also, some countries have data import/export restrictions. This makes it harder to aggregate all data assembled throughout the world. These restrictions can have a major impact on the design of Data-Driven DSS.
Culture impacts evaluations of DSS layout and design. Language can cause confusion in screen displays. Also, colors and icons may have different emotional and political meanings in different countries.
Telecommunications access, reliability, and standards differ from country to country. In many countries, the government owns or controls the communication industry and it may be difficult to install communication lines. Also, costs are a factor. Costs for telecommunications in Europe may be 10 to 12 times more than in the U.S. Some possible solutions to this are the Virtual Private Network and satellite systems. Technological infrastructure in different countries varies and constrains DSS implementation.
Time Zone Differences
There are many different time zones throughout the world. This makes it harder for companies to have real-time meetings and to have standard working hours for its employees.
One possible solution to many of these problems is what has been called IS/IT Internationalization. Internationalization is the process of planning and implementing IS/IT products and services so that they can easily be adapted to specific local languages and cultures. The internationalization process is sometimes called translation or localization enablement. Localizing a Decision Support System can include: allowing space in user interfaces for translation of text into languages that require more characters; developing DSS with products like Web editors or authoring tools that can support international character sets (Unicode); creating graphic images so that text labels can be translated inexpensively; and using examples in help systems and software documentation that have global meaning. At a minimum these issues must be addressed in the evaluation of a proposed DSS that will have a global reach.