DSS News
                D. J. Power, Editor
        August 27, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 18

    A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 
         approximately 1,800 Subscribers 


   "Decision Support for Global Enterprises" Conference



* Ask Dan! - Is email a good decision support tool?
* DSS Conferences
* DSS News Releases 


       Check the interview with Rob Armstrong 
 "Driving usage versus gaining value from a data warehouse" 


Ask Dan!

Is email a good decision support tool?

by Dan Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

NO! Although many of us have grown attached to email over the years
and our email tools have gotten more sophisticated, the truth is that
email was not intended as a decision support tool. Managers need to
avoid using it for such support. The first email system was developed
in 1961, but commercial email was not widely available until 1988
when MCI Mail and Compuserve connected to the NSFNET (the Internet).
Email was the "killer app" of the ARPANET, NSFNET, and the pre-1995

During the past 2 weeks, I was teaching an MBA course about
Management Information and Decision Support Systems in Hong Kong.
During the humid afternoons, I had some time to read two current
novels that use email exchanges in the story line. In "The Teeth of
the Tiger", Tom Clancy (2003) writes a predictable story about how
terrorists use email to hatch a plot and how the NSA and CIA use
technology to decipher their encrypted messages and track the
seemingly anonymous email messages. A secret group at "The Campus"
then intercepts the U. S. Government computer traffic and tracks down
and assassinates some of the terrorists. Both the "good guys" and the
"bad guys" are using email. Lapses in email security by the "bad
guys", leads to their down fall. Tim Green (2000) begins his novel
"While he knew that Internet opened a doorway to the world, Walt
Tanner had no idea that it would also allow evil to slip in through
the back ..." In a subplot in "The Letter of the Law", Walt Tanner, a
traveling salesman who seeks romance on the Internet in chat rooms,
hooks up instead with a serial killer who arranges to meet him in the
guise of a sexual encounter. The male killer deceives Tanner and he
becomes another victim. The policeman hero, Detective Sergeant Bob
Bolinger, is unfamiliar with the Internet and instead relies on other
officers to get important evidence that is encrypted on the killer's
portable computer. Neither novel is great literature, but they show
how email has become entrenched in our popular psyche. The novels
also demonstrate some of the reasons why email is a poor decision
support tool.

Email can support task coordination and decision making, but the
messages are not secure. Also, people can deceive others using the
Internet and email. Although internal company mail systems are more
secure and the identities of recipients are more reliably known than
when using commercial email, an internal email system still has
problems when used to support decision making and to communicate
sensitive decision related information. I categorize electronic mail
as a very simple communications-driven decision support tool. It is
an asynchronous method of composing, sending, storing, and receiving
messages. Even with multiple recipients, email is a one-to-many
broadcast of information. 

Personally, I use both desktop email clients, like Microsoft Outlook
Express, and web-based mail clients. The web-based clients let me
check my email no matter where I happen to be working. I receive many
emails every day and I coordinate my activities with colleagues,
clients and students using email. I feel out of touch when I don't
have access to email for more than a few days and after a day without
email access my in-basket is overflowing with work messages and spam.
I never liked spam as a kid and I hate spam in my email. Despite
filters and a spam appliance at work, I still get too much junk mail
that wastes my time. The usefulness of email is threatened by
security issues, spamming (junk mail), phishing (impersonation), and
email worms and viruses. Email is not a private or privileged means
of communication, but in some situations it is the best tool
available. In general, it can be used to convey simple task
directions, request or share decision relevant information and
communicate choices. Email is not a tool for collaboration, give and
take, bargaining and negotiating. Email privacy, without some
security precautions, can be easily compromised; email is often
cryptic and such a limited communications environment can lead to
misunderstandings; email can create a troublesome paper trail in
legal situations; email can be anonymous to a certain extent; email
can be habit forming; and email can create information overload.

A recent Korn/Ferry survey of 2,300 global executive found that 81%
are connect to work through mobile devices. Almost 40% of those
surveyed strongly agreed that "they spend too much time connected to
communications devices". Email is here to stay and mobile devices
like the Blackberry are proliferating. We have made improvements in
email with the capability to request that recipients acknowledge
receiving an email, polling tools like Zap mail, encryption software,
and threaded mail systems. These improvements don't resolve the basic
problems mentioned above and I like Internet based voice and video
better as decision support tools. With web-based video conferencing
systems, two or more participants communicate using live video images
over the Internet. Video conferencing with voice, chat and whiteboards
is a much better tool than email for decision support. While I was in
Hong Kong this trip, I made extensive use of Skype (, a
free Internet Voice over IP and video conferencing tool and my email
usage was reduced from prior years. The length of messages to my wife
was especially reduced because we chatted in the morning and evening
each day for about 10 minutes. I also used Microsoft Messenger. The
video wasn't great, but it worked and most of my communication was
voice only. I'm sure the video will get better and we'll have it on
our mobile devices.

In the quest for more and better communications-driven decision
support, organizations will need to define realistic business needs
and email will certainly continue as part of the mix, but video
conferencing is becoming a realistic tool as well. Email is an
effective tool for providing quick yes or no answers, for finding an
information source, for making appointments for a voice, video or
face-to-face meeting, and for distributing large amounts of
information quickly. BUT ...

Email can become a time "trap" and it is inherently an impersonal
means of communication. Email requires active ongoing participation
to create a conversation, if it is to be used at all for decision
support. You need to check you email very often when you are using
email to support decision making.

Well that about summarizes the pros and cons of email as a decision
support tool. Company policy should be to avoid using email for
sensitive discussions and decision support. Bill Gates, Bill Clinton
and George Bush learned that email leaves a paper trail that lawyers
will use to their advantage. It seems that people are careless in
what they write in email messages and the messages are powerful
evidence in Civil and Criminal proceeding. Lawyer Jeffrey Elkin
suggests two questions that managers should always ask when they use

"1) Would you mind having your e-mail message shown on a giant poster
board to a jury? and 2) Would you mind having your e-mail appear on
the front page of the newspaper? If the answer is 'yes' to one or
both of these questions, that e-mail should not be sent." That's good
advice that we all need to remember!

As always, I appreciate you comments and feedback to my columns in
the email newsletter DSS News. Email has been an inexpensive way for
me to share my ideas about computerized decision support systems with
readers in more than 50 countries for the past 6 years. Thanks and
keep those Ask Dan! emails coming.


Clancy, T., The Teeth of the Tiger, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons,

Elkin, J. R., "E-mail, e-mail discovery offer plentiful grist for the
legal mill," Houston Business Journal, July 20, 2001,

Green, T., The Letter of the Law, New York: Warner Books, 2000.

Korn/Ferry International press release, "38% of executives surveyed
believe they spend too much time connected to communications
devices,", URL

Passion Computing, "Using Email Effectively," .

Pombo, A., "Taking Mobility Beyond E-Mail: Build or Buy? What you
need to consider when deciding whether to develop mobile systems
yourself or purchase solutions from a provider." CIO magazine
(, August 21, 2006, .

URLs on the history of email systems:


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


DSS Conferences 

1. Pre-ICIS 2006: SIG DSS Research workshop, Sunday, 
December 10, 2006, Milwaukee, WI. 
Check .

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


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DSS News Releases - August 13, 2006 to August 26, 2006
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

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08/16/2006 SAS introduces retail and manufacturing intelligence
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08/16/2006 Wearable computing: a good fit? It depends upon the

08/15/2006 Adaptive Planning unveils first open source business
performance management solution.

08/15/2006 Nationwide deploys virtualization computing solution on

08/14/2006 Air Force and Raytheon successfully demonstrate
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08/14/2006 Tackling information overload head on, IxReveal releases
its latest version of text analytics software.

08/14/2006 Informatica sets world record in data integration

08/14/2006 Autoweb on globalization: competing, surviving in a flat

08/14/2006 Business Finance magazine, SAS Inc. announce winners of
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08/14/2006 Cognos defines business intelligence security for
enterprise-wide deployments.

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