DSS News is a free biweekly newsletter from DSSResources.COM 
about Decision Support Systems.


                         DSS News 
                    D. J. Power, Editor 
              January 30, 2005 -- Vol. 6, No. 4
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 


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* Ask Dan! - How should Decision Support Systems present 
  apparently "Bad News"?
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Ask Dan!

How should Decision Support Systems present apparently "Bad News"?
by Dan Power

On Saturday, January 22, 2005, a special issue of DSS News was sent to all 1066 
subscribers. The purpose of the special mailing was to showcase some rapidly 
approaching deadlines for submitting papers to conferences especially AMCIS 2005. 
I had been contemplating adding a conference announcement list to DSS News for 
some time and the project kept being pushed aside.  With some conference deadlines 
approaching, I wanted to act to support the efforts of those who organize workshops, 
meetings and conferences relevant to building and understanding decision support 
systems. So I hurriedly created the special mailing.

Doing a task in a hurry is often a mistake and I apologize for the informal nature 
of the mailing, but Saturday, January 22, 2005 was busy and hurried. I actually initiated 
the mailing myself at Topica.COM, the web-based service that DSSResources.COM uses to 
maintain the DSS News email list and support sending the bi-weekly newsletters. 

For almost 4 years, until September 2004, DSS News was sent using Topica's free email 
discussion lists. In the beginning, DSS News actually ran some Topica supplied ads. 
The free service is limited to fewer than 1000 subscribers and DSS News outgrew the 
service. That's good news for the DSS Community, but it meant that to grow our subscriber 
base we needed a new email service.  After some investigation, we moved to Topica's 
permission-based email marketing solution. The annual cost of the service is about 
USD $500. Readers can take a web-based tour of the interface and find out about the 
main features of the hosted application at .  Currently, DSSResources.COM 
revenues pay the cost for maintaining and mailing DSS News.

I was in a hurry so rather than having the DSSResources.COM Webmaster, my oldest son Alex, 
handle the mailing, I did it myself. Right! We were both still learning about how to use 
the many features of the new system. I created a Campaign which is Topica lingo for a mailing 
using the touted "point-and-click content entry system". I decided to try out Topica's 
Tracking feature and rather than sending the mailing to a more target audience I sent it 
to "All Subscribers". We have defined a number of audiences based upon email addresses 
and profile information. I also "cleaned up" the list.

At Topica "As forms are submitted, campaigns sent, messages opened, links clicked 
and transactions completed, valuable intelligence is being gathered, automatically 
enriching your Topica database. Topica provides detailed reporting to help you 
understand this information, so you can optimize your efforts. Daily list activity 
reports track the overall size of your list ... Real-time delivery reports confirm 
that campaigns were sent per your specifications and, more importantly, show you 
how recipients responded to those campaigns by detailing opens, clicks and purchases 
per link, per recipient, so you can see exactly who clicked what." So Topica has a 
data-driven decision support subsystem. Topica is primarily providing a transaction processing 
subsystem for subscriptions and an information dissemination subsystem.  The 
decision support subsystem is quite rudimentary.

So what does the DSS Conferences mailing have to do with "Bad News"?

On Sunday morning, January 23, 2005, I checked the DSS Conferences Campaign Detail 
Performance Summary. We had 130 bounces. The spam filters are wrecking havoc on email 
delivery, but the "real-time" delivery reports showed another troubling number. The 
Subscriber Activity Reports showed that 41 subscribers were "deleted" on January 22, 
2005. My initial reaction was "why did so many people unsubscribe?" Only 2 subscribers 
were unsubscribed on January 16 with 36 accounts disabled (mailing for DSS News vol. 6, issue 2) 
and 14 subscribers were deleted on January 2, 2005 (mailing for DSS News vol. 6, issue 1). I 
was concerned that those 41 people "unsubscribed" because of the unexpected DSS Conferences 
mailing. I was also blaming myself for hurrying with the mailing and doing it myself. 
Bad news!

In the Data-Driven DSS tradition, I decided to drill-down into the details of who 
unsubscribed and see if I could figure out what had happened. This was all happening 
on a Sunday morning. I went into the subscriber database and viewed the list of deleted 
subscribers. To my dismay, I noticed that my friend Murray Turoff at New Jersey Institute 
of Technology had been deleted on January 22, 2005. I did some additional investigation 
and finally decided to send Murray an email.  I had 2 email addresses for him and copied 
the message to both figuring that the subscribed account may have been disabled.

My email (1/23/2005 10:56AM) read: "Hi Murray-- I'm writing an Ask Dan! column titled How 
should DSS present 'bad news'? One example that I'm planning to use relates to the 
web-based data I received from today as part of managing my mailing lists. 
Yesterday, I sent out an email on DSS Conferences to promotes some Calls for Papers, 
ISCRAM 2005, ISDSS 2005, etc. and when I checked my stats this morning 41 addresses had 
been unsubscribed from the DSS News mailing list. Some had been removed because the address 
was bouncing and others through voluntary removal.  One of the addresses on the unsubscribe 
list was yours...Any help or comments you can give me about the unsubscribe would be 
appreciated.  It was "bad news" to see your email address on the list."

Murray responded (1/23/2005 6:44PM) "Dan I never did anything that should have removed my 
email address. ... I have no idea what happened.  Once in a while the NJIT computer could 
reject mail when the mail server goes down, but I don't recall that happening. They have a 
spam system and it should not have rejected the DSS newsletter.  I know I got one recently 
or in December at least." Murray's response made me feel better, but I knew I still had a 

After additional investigation, I determined that we were deleting subscribers after 4 
hard bounces.  So spam filters are causing problems for DSS News. Please let your friends 
know that if they haven't received DSS News in awhile that they should make sure it is 
"white listed" in their email spam filter.

How should Decision Support Systems present apparently "Bad News"?

Sunday, January 23, 2005 was not a good day for me.  I'm emotionally involved with DSS 
News and DSSResources.COM and my rudimentary DSS was giving me "bad news". I felt better 
after receiving Murray's email, but I continued my inquiry into what we as DSS designers 
could and should do when a system might present negative information, also known as "Bad 
News". Information presentation is especially important in DSS because a decision-maker is 
intended as the user of the system and hence will act and react to the information.  The 
more important the decisions that will be made using a DSS, the more attention that needs 
to be given to building the DSS and especially to the information displays.

I'm a DSS generalist and not a specialist in the intricacies of information display, and 
even a quick foray into this narrow, specialized topic shows how much knowledge needs to 
be "pulled together" to build "mission critical" DSS and to understand factors impacting 
the outcomes of using DSS. My experience demonstrated that 24-7 web-based operations can 
cause additional problems when apparent negative information is received by decision makers 
on evenings/weekends. Then the stress associated with decision making may be harder to 
resolve. I experienced a common problem with drill-down -- atomic facts without a context 
can be disconcerting. Also, the drill-down to who unsubscribed had inadequate detail.  I 
could see the date when a person was unsubscribed, but I couldn't tell if it was the result 
of a rule, i.e., more than 4 hard bounces, manual unsubscribe by the administrator, or a 
voluntary unsubscribe. Also, it became evident that presenting an absolute number like 41 
doesn't show the meaning or significance of the value. The red down arrow in the display 
was also disconcerting. In a DSS, it is important to create context and facilitate gathering 
follow-up information.

In my search for suggestions about improving DSS information displays, I turned to my 
library and Google. While surfing a few years ago, I had found Edward Tufte's 
blog ( and an Ask E.T. question about Executive Decision 
Support Systems. So I checked there. Tufte is a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, 
where "he taught courses in statistical evidence, information design, and interface design". 
Tufte was asked to share guiding principals or "best practices" in the presentation of Key 
Performance Indicators to the senior executives of a corporation. 

Let me paraphrase and summarize Tufte's ideas (check his site):

1. "ask first of all: What are the thinking tasks that the displays are supposed to 
help with?"

2. build systematic checks of data quality into the display and analysis system. 

3. good management information systems are boring.

4. "use simple designs to show well-labeled information in tables and graphics; displays 
should often be accompanied by annotation, details from the field, and other supplements."

5. "from a display, decision-makers need to learn what the story is and whether they can 
believe the story."

6. "most of all, the right evidence needs to be located, measured, and displayed. And 
different evidence might be needed next quarter or next year."

I also reviewed some user interface design articles and books and I want to recommend David 
Tegarden's tutorial on "Business Information Visualization" that appeared in Communications of 
the Association for Information Systems (CAIS) in 1999. Perhaps I can expand on what the experts 
have concluded in another Ask Dan?

This experience reinforced the importance of being careful in interpreting data; when data is 
presented in a negative way it is easy to focus on the worst interpretation of the data rather 
than upon multiple interpretations. Also, good information display is important in building 
DSS whether the information will be interpreted as negative or positive. A green up arrow can 
cause as many, if not more, problems as a red down arrow.  Many of us are actually complacent 
and accepting of "Good News", even if the facts don't support that initial conclusion.

Decision makers need all of the information that is realistic to provide, intentionally or 
unintentionally delaying, ignoring or distorting some data because it might be "bad" news is 
always a mistake.

In retrospect, I am strongly reminded that who gets decision support information is important 
and it is especially important to help decision makers interpret the information. In general, 
it is impossible to completely remove the ambiguity and provide the complete decision context 
in a DSS (but we should try!). This information constraint is why I advocate building DSS and 
keeping decision makers in the loop rather than using decision automation in semi-structured, 
ambiguous decision situations.

This experience also reminded me that sometimes apparent "Bad News" can turn into "Good News" 
and vice versa. In this case, the "Bad News" resulted in this column. Please keep reading DSS 
News and tell your friends.  Let's continue to build a strong DSS community.


Teagarden, D., "Business Information Visualization", Communications of the Association for 
Information Systems, Volume 1, Article 4, January, 1999 at URL .

Tufte, E. "Executive Decision Support Systems", Ask E.T., at URL .


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           DSSResources.COM -- Free registration


DSS Conferences

Call for Papers

1. 2005 Crystal Ball User Conference will be held June 13-15, 2005 at the Marriott Denver 
City Center, Denver, Colorado, paper submission deadline is January 31, 2005.


2. AMCIS 2005 will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, August 11th - 14th, 2005. Deadline for 
abstract submission is February 1, 2005.


3. 2005 DSI International Meeting, Barcelona, Spain, July 3-6, 2005. Paper submission deadline 
February 1, 2005.


4. 16th International Conference on Database and Expert Systems Applications (DEXA 2005), 
August 22 - August 26, 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark, abstracts due February 19, 2005.


5. 8th International DSS Conference of AIS SIG DSS, 12-15th July 2005, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 
papers due February 27, 2005.


6. First International Workshop on Business Process Intelligence (BPI 05) in Nancy, France, 
September 5, 2005, papers due March 18, 2005.


7. International workshop on Context Modeling and Decision Support in Paris, July 5th, 2005, 
submission deadline is March 25, 2005.


8. 2005 DSI Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, November 19-22, 2005, paper deadline 
April 1, 2005.


Upcoming Conferences

1. The 2005 Semantic Technology Conference will be held March 7-10, 2005, Stanford Court Hotel, 
San Francisco, CA, Check

2. Second International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management 
(ISCRAM 2005), Brussels, April 18-20, 2005, Check 

PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Dan Power will be discussing DSS for Crisis Response and Management at 
ISCRAM 2005.

3. DAMA+Metadata -- 9TH Annual Wilshire Meta-Data Conference and the 17TH Annual DAMA International 
Symposium, May 22-26, 2005, Orlando, Florida USA

PLEASE NOTE: DSSResources.COM and DSS News are Media Sponsors of DAMA+Metadata

 Tell your DSS Friends about DSS NEWS and DSSResources.COM


What's New at DSSResources.COM

01/24/2005 Created DSS Developer Tool Briefs, see the Tools link in the For Developers channel. 
This resource will be expanded and currently includes Multicriteria Decision Analysis and 
Multidimensional Analysis briefs.


          Have Questions? Post to the Web Forum at
            DSSResources.COM -- Free registration


DSS News - January 15 to January 28, 2005
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

01/28/2005 SBS Interactive sets debut of revolutionary duo(TM) immersive video technology in film 
presentation Jan. 31 at Noon Eastern.

01/28/2005 Department of Homeland Security to begin US-VISIT biometric exit pilot at Detroit 
Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

01/28/2005 Gartner announces Business Intelligence Summit 2005 for March 7-9, 2005.

01/27/2005 City of New Orleans launches high-tech video assault on crime.

01/27/2005 Texas County and District Retirement System chooses Quantrix financial modeling 
software for pension plan decision support and planning.

01/27/2005 eCredit named as 2005 Codie Award finalist.

01/27/2005 Using predictive models to prescribe health information; Healthwise paper shows 
health plans how to help more people make better health decisions.

01/26/2005 Study by Quality Planning Corporation reveals major discrepancy between reported 
and actual mileage.

01/26/2005 Project management software company sees 100% increase in sales as it releases 
Project Administrator v. 3.3 including change management and issue tracking.

01/26/2005 Applix establishes TM1 Center of Excellence to advance best practices for BPM 
and BI applications.

01/26/2005 Midway through school year, Mayville State University's rollout of Gateway Tablet 
PCs a pen-ultimate success.

01/26/2005 Cognos to host executive seminar series on plan-to-perform blueprints.

01/25/2005 ProficientSales Server 4.0 increases web site revenues by improving online visitor 
targeting and engagement.

01/25/2005 MicroStrategy selected to integrate into two IBM Retail industry solutions.

01/25/2005 McDonald's Canada standardizes on Cognos ReportNet(TM) for enterprise-wide reporting.

01/24/2005 TeleTech and Avaya deliver new hosted services to help companies manage customer 

01/24/2005 Hyperion and De Lage Landen forge strategic partnership; Rabobank subsidiary to 
showcase risk management solution and best practices for business performance management.

01/23/2005 Intergraph demonstrates Geospatial Intelligence Solutions at DGI 2005.

01/21/2005 Call for Papers: First International Workshop on Business Process Intelligence 
(BPI 05) in Nancy, France, September 5, 2005.

01/21/2005 Intergraph awarded contract for mobile workforce management by Kansas City Power 
and Light.

01/20/2005 ProClarity recognizes excellence in business intelligence with announcement of 
award finalists.

01/20/2005 SAIC program receives NTSA 2004 Modeling and Simulation Award.

01/19/2005 Paisley Consulting enhances CARDmap for compliance of Sarbanes-Oxley and evolving 
Basel II requirements.

01/19/2005 Industry visionary, Thomas Koulopoulos, headlines Geospatial World 2005.

01/19/2005 Standard Bank adopts Fair Isaac's TRIAD System to improve credit risk management 

01/19/2005 Cypress Software Systems launches Mark IV Release 2.0; new features enhance loan 
origination processes, address new regulatory requirements..

01/18/2005 Intergraph's mobile resource management solutions deployed by Cobb County, Georgia, 
following successful pilot project.

01/18/2005 Retail Decisions launches evolutionary technology in the fight against retail fraud.

01/17/2005 Mary Kay, Inc. recognized for implementing supply chain solutions.

01/17/2005 Brookshire Grocery Company renews license for DemandTec Software.

01/17/2005 Brookstone chooses Evant Solutions to optimize planning and forecasting for its 
retail stores.


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