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Ch. 4
Designing and Developing Decision Support Systems

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Case Study: MIDS at Lockheed-Georgia

In 1975, Robert B. Ormsby, President of Lockheed-Georgia, a subsidiary of cargo aircraft producer Lockheed Corporation, was interested in the development of an online reporting system that would provide top executives with concise, timely, relevant information that could be shared within the organization to aid with decision-making. Ormsby felt that the existing system was difficult to use, took considerable time to locate specific information, and did not provide timely, consistent information on which organizational units could base decisions. The goals of the new system would be correcting the inadequacies of the existing system and most importantly satisfying managers' information needs.

In the fall of 1978, development of the Management Information and Decision Support (MIDS) system began. By all accounts, MIDS was designed as an Executive Information System (EIS). The system was tailored to the preferences of individual executive users. The key objective of MIDS was to provide managers with crucial data and valuable information to support them in the executive decision making process.

A key decision made early on was to use an evolutionary or prototyping design approach that enabled information screens to be easily added or deleted depending on information demand from the user community. After interviewing executive staff, their secretaries, and evaluating use of existing reports, the MIDS design team determined what information the MIDS system must provide, in what form, at what level of detail, and how often it needed to be updated. These variables were defined as management's critical success factors. In spring 1979, after six months of development the first version of MIDS was released. Ormsby, the only user, was able to call up 31 screens of information. Over the next eight years MIDS evolved to 710 displays for 70 users. The initial version used a microcomputer from Intelligent Systems Corporation.

Displays were stored daily on floppy disks by MIDS staff. As more screens evolved, storage moved to a central DEC 11/34 so that all users could gain access. In the late 1980's, the system migrated to an IBM 3081 enabling Lockheed to standardize on IBM equipment.

By the mid-80s, MIDS allowed access through an IBM PC/XT via a password. Security was maintained on two levels. First, users were only authorized to access certain screens. Second, screens could only be accessed from certain computer locations. For example, a top executive may not be able to access certain screens from PCs in conference rooms. Functions of MIDS included the ability to retrieve data from any screen the user had authorization to use by inputting the screen number. Also users could obtain a listing of all screens updated; navigate using the main menu; use an online keyword search index; or obtain a listing of all persons given access to the system. If an individual consistently viewed the same information screens in the same sequence, then the system could be set up to display that sequence.

MIDS developers felt a graphics interface was the most important design consideration for an EIS. Developers kept this in mind for the in-house MIDS system. MIDS made it easy for managers to extract, compress, filter, and track critical data without the use of administrative assistants. Screen displays were designed to be easy to read. In a series of displays the first screen would be a summary graph, followed by supporting graphs, tables, and texts. Every screen contained a screen number for future reference, title, date of last update, source of information, and the MIDS staff member responsible for the screen. To further simplify matters, MIDS developed standard definitions and offered an online glossary for reference. Standard colors used were green for good; yellow for marginal or caution; and red was unfavorable or danger. Some additional flexibility was provided for the system by allowing comments on screens. Without these comments, managerial attention would be required when actually a problem had been noted and resolved.

With the standardization of screens and the ease of navigation throughout the system, executives were taught to use MIDS in a quick 15-minute tutorial. From an administrative perspective, MIDS was easy to edit since Lockheed MIS staff designed an editor to quickly update screens. The editor also indicated other screens that would be affected by the revision. Additionally, the editing feature was able to identify errors. At Lockheed-Georgia, the MIDS system generated reports on a daily and a weekly basis concerning the use of the system as well as display status and problems.

In 1990, after 12 years of successful operation, MIDS required a hardware update. The Intelligent Systems Company computers, used by MIDS support staff, were obsolete. At this time, MIS staff reviewed both hardware and software and decided to purchase a commercial Executive Information System called Commander EIS from Comshare (www.comshare.com) instead of developing another in-house system. MIDS II, as it became known, resembled the look and feel of the previous system. Lockheed requested that Comshare offer the ability to operate their system through a keyboard in addition to mouse and touch screen, and they wanted the ability of the old MIDS system to monitor the use of the system. Lockheed requested that these adaptations be executed not only on their version, but also on all Commander EIS packages. This requirement enabled easier upgrades to new versions of the software. MIDS II rolled out in 1992 with the intended improvements of faster response times, easier navigation, better links to outside resources, and lower maintenance costs.

Study Questions:

    1. What was the initial MIDS design and development process?
    2. How was MIDS II developed?

Nikole Hackett and D. J. Power prepared the above case example. The case example is based on a number of published sources including Sprague R. and Watson H., Decision Support Systems, 3rd Edition, PART 5: Executive Information Systems, 1993; Houdeshel G. and Watson H. "The Management Information and Decision Support (MIDS) System at Lockheed-Georgia", MIS Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 1987, (REV 1992); and materials from Comshare.

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