DSS News 
                   D. J. Power, Editor 
             March 14, 2004 -- Vol. 5, No. 6
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 

            Check the article by Tom Spradlin
    "A Lexicon of Decision Making" at DSSResources.COM

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* Ask Dan! - What is your analysis of the history and current 
status of DSS?
* What's New? at DSSResources.COM
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Ask Dan!
by Dan Power

What is your analysis of the history and current status 
of DSS?

This Ask Dan! is based upon the transcript of an interview Stephen 
Fitzgerald had with Dan Power in July 2001.  Excerpts from the interview 
were published in Fitzgerald's executive guidebook titled "Decision 

The introduction of the personal computer in the early 1980s led some 
people to conclude that technology had reached the level where we could 
do just about anything in terms of providing decision support to 
managers. By about 1986-87, managers became disillusioned with the 
realized capabilities and the promises that vendors and information 
systems staffs had made about computerized decision support systems.

In the early 1990s, there was a slowdown and a waiting period in 
implementing DSS, EIS and GDSS as graphical user interfaces like 
Macintosh and Windows 3.1 were introduced and new decision support 
software products were developed for those interfaces. Then the 
introduction of data warehouses and what I call data-driven decision 
support systems opened up new possibilities for providing 
enterprise-wide DSS for managers. I think decision support has really 
"taken off" since the Web and the Internet reinvigorated some tech firms 
and forced them to move their software onto a new platform. That's all 
happened since 1995.

Today you can find development software for all of the different types 
of decision support systems that you might want to build. Development 
software is a toolkit that allows one to add content and customize the 
application to provide specific decision support to targeted users. It's 
a set of building blocks that application developers can use to develop 
more specific DSS for companies, and our toolkits are much more powerful 
than they ever were before. You may still need to hire consultants to 
provide training, etc., but I think the capabilities are worth it.

In one way or another over the past 30 years, we have built DSS to help 
with many routine and semi-structured decisions in business decision 
processes. Part of the difficulty is that DSS developers have not always 
used the technology to make the process more efficient or more 
effective. Most of the DSS applications that were built in the past need 
to be reexamined, we need to go back to what we have done, as well as 
look for what's innovative and new in DSS.

From what I can tell, most companies don't have to look very far to find 
an application for one of the various types of DSS. The challenge is to 
figure out the ones that will give them the highest return in the short 
run. And I'm not sure that building more data warehouse systems is going 
to be the way for most firms to go. It's easy for such large, complex 
systems to go unused because managers don't know what they can do with 
them, and they are very expensive to create. You can find cost effective 
DSS, but you can also build systems that will not be cost effective. It 
has to be one of the issues that you look at. Some decisions and 
decision processes don't justify large investments in computing 

It's easy to neglect the issue of what kind of a decision support system 
a manager wants to use and will use. A computerized decision support 
system is often added to an existing process, rather than looking at 
what the tasks really are that need to be performed, and what the role 
of a DSS could be. 

Also, most of our DSS are developed in isolation. I don't think that 
when analysts consider proposed DSS that they critically examine how the 
DSS will be used. Typically there's a project sponsor who has heard that 
a competitor has implemented a DSS or BI system, and that's the starting 
point, rather than beginning from the stand point of examining 
organizational decisions and decision processes.  DSS development often 
starts with a bias.

What I'm pushing is that companies should do a decision process audit 
regularly.  The audit should focus on how "important" decisions are made 
in the company now and examine the processes.  There are a number of 
consulting firms that audit decision processes. In my DSS book, I put 
together some steps to follow in a decision process audit and some DSS 
readiness questions that managers can ask themselves about decision 
support in their organization.

A lot of DSS development is still about thinking. Looking for 
opportunities to put DSS into an organization is a major cognitive task. 
Managers should start by finding someone smart to help them look at 
organization processes and needs.

The thrust of decision support for the past 30 years has been to realize 
that computers are tools, adjuncts to decision-making. They are there to 
assist in information retrieval and application of analytical tools to 
data, to do the things that computers do best. We try to present the 
information in a way that allows people to make better decisions, but 
not to have the computer make decisions for people. There are certainly 
computerized systems that make decisions - we have them in manufacturing 
and power plants, for example - but that's not what DSS is all about. 
DSS is about supporting a manager in making decisions as part of a 
business process. DSS is about making fact-based decisions in an 
organization, monitoring and controlling activities, and supporting 
planning. The DSS idea has never been that the software was going to 
make decisions for managers.

There has been some resistance to DSS, but there's also been frustration 
and the two get intertwined. If you get excited about a decision support 
system and you think that it's going to make your job more interesting 
because you won't have to do as many clerical tasks and perform 
analyses, and then you find that you have to go to extra training 
programs, and the system crashes, and you're waiting for a new release 
from the IS department, even the people who get excited about the DSS 
right away may get turned off. There are always some slow starters that 
you have to bring along, but people who are quick to adopt, they can 
become frustrated and that leads to resistance.

High cost failures of systems are a problem too. I can't believe that 
people don't get very concerned when they read that 40 or 50% of data 
warehouse implementations are failures by one or more measures. We 
should expect that these systems are going to succeed more than they 
fail. Some of these DSS are partial failures - they don't get the 
functionality that was promised, or there's a changeover in senior 
management and the new managers don't like the new system.

Decision Support Systems probably fail more because of people issues 
than because of technology issues. The technology may have done what it 
was intended to do, but the failure rate is higher because people got 
frustrated with the system. Part of what I've been trying to do is to 
tell managers that every DSS is not the same, we've got to look at what 
it is we're trying to support. I think if you can talk about the 
different systems with managers they can start to see the types of 
systems that may make sense for them to use. For example, if they want 
to control financial results they can look at what kind of DSS can 
support that. If they've got project teams that are geographically 
dispersed and that need more input into decision-making, then we can 
look at the tools that might support that. But we need to look at the 
models and have people look at things in a little more detail than they 

I'm excited about the Web. Web-technologies have revitalized DSS and the 
possibilities for decision support. I'm excited to get through this 
recession. I think we're going to have another big technology boom as 
companies decide to use more technology to replace some of the people 
that they've decided are too expensive in some of their business 
processes, but then their customers will be unhappy because there isn't 
anyone to hear their needs. Technology will involve people in decision 
making from outside of the organization yet give managers more control 
over transactions and businesses processes. I think 10 years from now 
managers are going to be better informed decision makers than they've 
ever been. They're going to have access to facts - whether they're smart 
enough to use that information wisely is still going to be a concern. 
The computer is just a tool, DSS is just a tool - like a hammer, you can 
still hit your finger with it. And there will be some people who use it 
inappropriately, and some people who can't hit a nail to save their 
lives. But I'm very optimistic that we'll start to see a transformation 
in decision-making as we have in the operations area. So I'm excited to 
see the technology recession end, and to start to do more to integrate 
technology into our firms. Technology integration will continue to 
happen because our population keeps increasing and demands for goods and 
services keeps increasing. The only way we can meet that demand is by 
using computerized transaction processing and decision support systems.


Fitzgerald, S. P., "Decision Making," Capstone Books, 2002.

Fitzgerald interview with Dr. Daniel Power, Thursday, July 26, 2001.


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03/05/2004 Posted article by Tom Spradlin, "A Lexicon of Decision 
Making". Check the articles page.

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DSS News - March 1 to March 12, 2004
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

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03/01/2004 Announcement: Innovations in Teaching Decision Support 
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