DSS News
                  D. J. Power, Editor
           February 12, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 4

     A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 
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  Integration for Decision Support" at DSSResources.COM



* Ask Dan! - How does the use of a Communications-Driven DSS 
 impact a decision-making meeting?
* DSS Conferences 
* What's New at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Releases 


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Ask Dan!

How does the use of a Communications-Driven DSS impact a
decision-making meeting?

by Dan Power

Communications and computing technologies have made it possible to
have distributed decision-making meetings. Initially such meetings
employed a narrow channel like a telephone connection and a fax
machine for a synchronous meeting or a computer-based bulletin board
for an asynchronous meeting. As communications bandwidth has expanded
and software has improved, the possibilities for Communications-Driven
DSS have also broadened. 

As Communications-Driven DSS have evolved, companies/organizations
have become more geographically dispersed and more work is now often
performed by distributed teams. During the past 4 months, I have been
working with a distributed team of people to establish the Midwest
United States Chapter of the Association for Information Systems
( Traditionally we would have used
extensive email and one-to-one phone calls to make decisions. We
wanted more interactive group participation in decision making so we
began having multi-party conference calls on November 7, 2005. We had
our share of problems finding times to meet, dealing with differences
in time zones, and technology gliches in making the actual
connections. BUT we were able to meet and make shared decisions. Our
meeting minutes document the decisions we made. The major problem we
had was that the teleconferencing system was limited to 5 distributed
participants. On January 23, 2006 we agreed to evaluate an online
video conferencing system from Marratech as a replacement for the
voice teleconferencing. We have had two subsequent meetings on
January 30 and February 6, 2006 with 5 and 8 participants
respectively. This Ask Dan! is primarily based upon my participant

The expanded DSS framework (Power, 2002) defines
Communications-Driven DSS as systems that use network and
communications technologies to facilitate decision-making
collaboration and communication. Communications technologies are
central to supporting decision-making. Technologies include: LANs,
WANs, Internet, ISDN, and Virtual Private Networks. Tools used
include groupware, Videoconferencing, and Bulletin Boards.

The current Treasurer of MWAIS, Chelley Vician, Associate Professor
of Management Information Systems at Michigan Technological
University ( in Houghton, Michigan, arranged for
us to use the Michigan Tech Marratech® server
( The Marratech website
( describes the technology scenario. "Imagine
holding meetings and video conferencing on the web, face-to-face,
whenever you want. To talk, see each other and share applications and
documents without being in the same room, the same building, or even
the same country - that's exactly what Marratech® will do for

To participate in the video conferences I purchased a Logitech
QuickCam IM with a headset for approximately USD$35 at Wal-Mart. The
camera has a flexible clip so I could mount it easily on the top of
my flat panel display. Installation was easy. I also downloaded and
installed the free Marratech client software. Chelley sent me some
directions and a web link. I signed on about a half hour prior to the
first meeting on January 30 and Chelley helped familiarize me with the
operation of the talk button and the whiteboard. I had trouble
remembering to push the talk button so I changed the setting so that
my microphone was always "on". With the headset that change didn't
seem to create a problem.

Spradley in his book on Participant Observation (1980) prescribes
methods for conducting ethnographic research. This Ask Dan! is a
preliminary set of observations and notes. My inquiry about the
impact of a specific Communications-Driven DSS on decision behavior
and decision-making meetings is just beginning. I'm also a newcomer
to ethnographic research.

It seems that key research issues for Communications-Driven DSS
include impacts on group processes, performance, awareness and
affect, design issues associated with multi-user interfaces, control
and direction of such meetings, communication and coordination
problems and benefits within the group, and the role and impact of a
shared information space. Communications-Driven Decision Support
Systems are often categorized according to a time/location matrix
using the distinction between same time (synchronous) and different
times (asynchronous), and between same place (face-to-face) and
different places (distributed). My current focus is on
technology-supported, synchronous, on-going, interacting, distributed
decision-making groups. I sent my colleagues on the Board of Directors
of MWAIS, Ilze Zigurs, Vance Wilson, and Chelley Vician, an initial
set of 10 questions on January 31, 2006 following our first video
conference. We are all interested in this topic and I have received
their responses, but I'm waiting to read and analyze their responses
until after I write this column. So I'll use my notes and answer the
same questions I sent them in the following paragraphs.

1. What did you like and dislike about the audio conferencing? What
worked well and what needs to be improved?

The audio conferencing we used generally worked well. The sound
quality was good, but my phone had some static on a few occasions.
Also, on a few occasions we had problems getting everyone in the same
conference and my guess is that the user interface for setting up the
voice conference calls was primitive. The meetings seemed impersonal,
but we stayed focus on the tasks and seemed to reach agreement

2. What did you like and dislike about the video conferencing? What
worked well and what needs to be improved?

The conference on January 30, 2006 was my first attempt at a video
conference over the Internet with multiple participants. I had tried
using Microsoft Netmeeting on a few occasions in approximately 2001
and I have been in a number of group video conferences, but this was
a new experience for me. I liked seeing the people in our group. I
have met Ilze, Vance and Chelley at conferences, but it became more
personal to see their moving images on my computer. Only Vance and
Chelley had cameras during the first meeting and I had to "remember"
what Ilze looked like. We gained a team member during our first video
conference, Matt Germonprez, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who is
the new Membership Chair, and it would have been great to "see' him,
but he didn't have a camera. The meeting was new and novel for me, I
could see people. The technology novelty led to some experimentation.
We finally used the whiteboard for an agenda and that helped create a
task orientation. We were doing online work like sending emails and
processing documents during the meeting. Some people also used the
Chat feature for side conversations. The first video conference had a
"social" component as well as the "task" component.

3. How would you compare the meeting with video conferencing to our
last audio conferencing meeting?

The video conference was less organized and we engaged in more
socializing. In retrospect the videoconference was fun. That
observation may be biased by my technology orientation. The length of
the meeting was similar to prior meetings about 1 hour, but it was
probably not as productive given our unfamiliarity with the

4. Is one type of conferencing always superior or inferior to the
other? If not, explain based upon your experience?

Based upon my experiences, I think that a video conference will
always be superior, but the audio conferencing is adequate for many
tasks. Sitting here typing I can not imagine returning to audio
conferencing if video conferencing is available. The "richness" of
the experience has stayed with me for almost 2 weeks and the second
experience on February 6 reinforced my impressions. I had the wrong
time for the meeting on February 6 so I signed on 20 minutes late and
that was disruptive and disconcerting for me and probably for the
other members of the group as well. We have all arrived late for a
meeting and the feeling is about the same if not worse for a virtual.
In general, the audio conferencing seemed more focused and might work
best for a quick meeting or consultation. 

5. How did you feel about "seeing some of the participants" and not

As I mentioned, I liked "seeing" the participants in the meeting. I
wasn't looking at the pictures much, especially my own. My focus was
more on what was being said and the whiteboard. Everyone in a
distributed video conference should have a camera, voice and a
high-speed internet connection. Those with less capability seemed
like "second class" participants.

6. Who and how was the meeting conducted in the audio only vs. audio
and video mode?

In the audio only conferences, I planned an agenda and used a "round
robin" approach to insure everyone had input on each issue. I worked
hard to ensure participation. It was much harder for me to facilitate
the meeting in the video conferencing mode due to my lack of
familiarity with the technology. I deferred to Chelley Vician who was
our technology expert. I didn't realize this problem would occur so I
hadn't asked Chelley in advance to prepare to assume the leadership
role. It worked out, but the meeting leader needs to understand the
features of the technology and prepare for a technology supported
meeting like one would for a face-to-face meeting. My guess is that
even more preparation is needed for a technology-supported meeting.
In our second meeting, I arrived late but Chelley had assumed a
coordinating role and notes/agenda were on the whiteboard. The group
functioned without me for about 20 minutes. My guess is that one or
more of the participants finally took charge after a few minutes of

7. Did you notice any decision process issues in either conferencing
mode that was especially interesting or unusual?

The audio conferences were very linear in terms of the decision
process. As I noted, more was happening using secondary channels like
Chat in the video conferencing and hence the decision process seemed
more non-linear and even disjointed. The altered process may have
been due more to my process skills in the video conference than the
presence of the side channels. I'll try to track our process in
future meetings.

8. Do you think the dynamics of our decision meeting will change as
our group becomes more familiar with video conferencing? If so, how?
What is the impact of repeated use of video conferencing on group
decision making?

YES. As we become more familiar with the technology, the novelty will
wear off and we will learn new behaviors for participating in meetings
conducted using a Communications-Driven DSS. I'm optimistic that we
can make this technology solution work to enhance and facilitate
shared decision making in our group.

9. How do you think a newcomer feels joining an established group
using a video conference? 

I think it might have been a bit intimidating for a newcomer. The
person probably feels like any newcomer joining an established group.
The use of technology may have made the situation harder for a

10. What problems will we encounter with a larger group (8-9 people)
in a video conference versus having a smaller 5 person group?

As noted the plan for the February 6, 2006 meeting was to expand the
size of the group. We are planning the first inaugural conference of
MWAIS in Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 5-6, 2006, so we wanted to
meet with the Conference Co-chairs Simha Magal and Paul Leidig of
Grand Valley State University, and Program Co-Chairs Barbara Klein
and Cheri Speier. My late arrival makes it hard for me to describe
and document what happened. One group member had bandwidth problems
and had trouble joining. I'm sure the newcomers needed to learn about
the technology and that also disrupted the meeting. We will try a
larger group meeting again at 1 PM Central on Monday, February 20,
2006. I'm planning to arrive early with an agenda. For more
information on the conference visit The
deadline for submitting papers, work-in-progress summaries, and
panel/Workshop proposals is February 17, 2006. If you can, join us in
Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 5-6 and We will share our experiences
and hypotheses about using technology to support on-going,
interacting decision-making groups.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.


Power, D. J., Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for
Managers, Westport, CT: Greenwood/Quorum, 2002. 

Spradley, J. Participant Observation, New York: Harcourt, Brace,
Jovanovich, 1980.


 Purchase Dan Power's DSS FAQ book 
 83 frequently asked questions about computerized DSS 


 DSS Conferences 

 1. ISCRAM2006, the Third International Conference on Information 
Systems for Crisis Response and Management, Newark, New Jersey, USA, 
at the New Jersey Institute of Technology from May 14-17, 2006.
Check .

 2. ICKEDS 2006, the Second International Conference on Knowledge
Engineering and Decision Support, Lisbon, Portugal, May 9-12, 2006.
Check .

 3. CIDMDS 2006, International Conference on Creativity and
Innovation in Decision Making and Decision Support 
sponsored by IFIP WG 8.3, June 28th - July 1st 2006, London,
UK. Check .

 4. DEXA 2006, 17th International Conference on Database 
and Expert Systems Applications, September 4-8, 
2006, Krakow, Poland. Check .

 5. ICDSS 2007, 9th International Conference on DSS, Jan. 2-4, 2007, 
Calcutta, India. Theme: Decision Support for Global Enterprises.
Check . Papers due May 10, 2006.

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What's New at DSSResources.COM

02/03/2006 Posted interview with Jill Dyche "Customer Data
Integration for Decision Support". Check the interviews page.
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01/30/2006 Polycom opens Collaborative Communications Training Center
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