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Book Contents

Ch. 8
Implementing Communications-Driven and Group Decision Support Systems

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Key Terms

Managers spend a significant amount of their time working with other managers and their own staff in teams and work groups. Cross-functional business teams, project teams, new product teams and even crisis management teams operate in businesses. Many of these groups use Email, bulletin boards and groupware systems. Group support systems, video conferencing, and GDSS are especially valuable in helping teams where members are geographically separated or where they cannot meet in face-to-face sessions. Group DSS also have been shown to improve the effectiveness and productivity of some types of face-to-face meetings.

Meetings can now occur when participants are separated by distance and computer supported meetings can occur at various times or asynchronously. The business and social changes created by implementing these tools to support group communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing are many. One set of significant changes that has resulted from implementing collaborative computing technologies is the creation of virtual organizations.

Communications-Driven DSS is a category of DSS that emphasizes communications, collaboration and shared decision-making support. A simple bulletin board or threaded email is the most elementary level of functionality. The comp.groupware FAQ defines groupware as "software and hardware for shared interactive environments" intended to support and augment group activity. Groupware is a subset of a broader concept called Collaborative Computing. Communications-Driven DSS enable two or more people to communicate with each other, share information and co-ordinate their activities. Group Decision Support Systems are a hybrid type of DSS that allows multiple users to work collaboratively using various model-driven software tools.

We use a number of terms to describe software that supports groups in decision-making and knowledge work tasks. You will encounter the terms electronic meeting system, collaborative workgroup software, groupware, and GDSS. All of these terms refer to tools intended to help members of a group make better decisions and perform tasks better than they could working alone without computer support.

The Web and intranet infrastructures are important factors enabling development of more powerful Communications-Driven DSS. The latest group support software is based on these technologies. Communications-Driven DSS software has at least one of the following characteristics: enables communication between groups of people, facilitates the sharing of information, supports collaboration and coordination between people, or supports group decision tasks.

Group Decision Support Systems are an important type of Decision Support System. They are designed to support a group rather than an individual. DeSanctis and Gallupe (1987) defined a GDSS as "an interactive computer-based system to facilitate the solution of unstructured problems by a set of decision-makers working together as a group".

Group Decision Support Systems provide software tools to assist communication, collaboration and decision-making in groups. Groupware is hardware and software that can be used to support and assist in completing group tasks. Groupware applications are not meant to replace people in an interactive situation; rather, groupware is an extension or an enhancement tool for the collaboration process. Groupware consists of "group oriented" products designed to assist groups of people working together. These types of products are very different from single user applications that can isolate a decision-maker and limit the user to performing independent rather than interdependent tasks.

GDSS are often used in a Decision Room. It is a specially arranged room designed for using Group Decision Support Systems. In the room, computer workstations are available for use by meeting participants. The objective for using a Decision Room is to enhance and improve a group's decision-making process and the quality of its decisions.

A term that overlaps Communications-Driven DSS is Multimedia Decision Support. It refers to the integration of video, computer and decision support technologies. A video capture program and various computer programs including a white board are used together under the control of decision-makers. In multimedia decision support, the decision makers' actions, choices, and decisions affect the way in which the group interaction occurs, the information that is reviewed and discussed, the analyses that are performed and the actions that are agreed upon. Company Intranets and Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN) provide a viable, affordable delivery mechanism for the deployment of multimedia decision support applications to a manager's desktop and to Decision Rooms.

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