Identifying DSS Opportunities and IS Planning
How can a manager identify opportunities to create DSS that can provide a competitive advantage? Once a manager believes it is possible to gain advantage from DSS then a creative search process is needed to identify problems and needs. A cursory review of articles indicates there are many planning processes and analysis frameworks that might help (cf., Neumann, 1994). The Information Systems Planning process should provide a systematic method of searching for and evaluating opportunities. The IS planning must be linked to Business Strategic planning and the process should be ongoing and open-ended. Managers need to collect competitive intelligence, fund DSS research and development projects, conduct brainstorming sessions, and follow hunches and intuition.
The IS planning process needs to examine the technical infrastructure to determine what is currently possible and examine enhancements that would facilitate or enable new capabilities. IS planning should involve broad consultation and both problem-oriented and opportunistic search. DSS do not always solve specific problems; rather DSS may create new capabilities. Evaluating DSS opportunities is sometimes difficult because of problems with assessing costs and benefits. In some situations the analysis will be directed to a build versus buy decision because industry-specific packages are available. This type of DSS may be needed but it probably will not provide a competitive advantage.
DSS projects have various levels of risk associated with them. When DSS projects have ambiguous objectives and low structure, the projects have higher levels of risk because the costs and scope of work of the project are hard to define. Also, because the objectives of the project are ambiguous, it can be difficult to assess the return on the investment. DSS projects with a higher degree of structure and more clearly defined objectives generally are lower risk. More detailed planning is possible for projects with specific objectives. The size or scope of a DSS project in terms of the number of users served and the size of databases developed also impacts the risk of the assessed projects. Small DSS projects in terms of scope or dollar expenditures tend to be of lower risk than large projects. Finally, the sophistication of the technology and the experience of the developers using the technology influences the overall project risk. The ultimate decision to invest in a DSS project should not be based solely on project risk. Sometimes, the DSS project that is most likely to result in a competitive advantage is the riskiest project (cf., Applegate et al, 1996).
If managers want to develop effective IS plans and evaluate DSS projects it is important that they attend Information Systems, Industry and Vendor conferences. Also, to gain knowledge and search for opportunities, managers and MIS staff should use the World-Wide Web to search for DSS information and visit DSS vendor web sites. The DSSResources.COM web site provides a knowledge resource about many aspects of information systems (see Figure 2.1).
Figure 2.1 Summer 2000 version of DSSResources.COM web site.
DSSResources.COM (Decision Support Systems Resources) is a Web-based knowledge repository. The mission of the site is to help people who are interested in learning about how to use information technologies and software to improve business and organizational decision-making. The target audience is MIS professionals, MIS students, managers interested in DSS and academics teaching MIS/DSS. The site is needed because Decision Support technology is changing and evolving very rapidly. MIS managers, business managers and academics face a difficult challenge trying to stay abreast of those changes and to make good, informed decisions about building and maintaining DSS for organizations.
We are challenged by too much information and by too many sources of information. Much of the information about DSS is hard to find or "noisy". The DSS web site is an integrated source of information relevant to Decision Support Systems. DSS Resources is a "living" hypertext document. The on-going challenge is to have to have the site reflect the state-of-the-art in DSS research and practice. DSS Resources changed its URL to www.DSSResources.COM on September 29, 1999.