DSS News
 D. J. Power, Editor
 December 31, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 27

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* Ask Dan: What was the first computerized decision
 support system (DSS)?
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Ask Dan!

What was the first computerized decision support system (DSS)?

by Dan Power

There is not a simple, indisputable answer to this question. Some
would argue Scott-Morton's Management Decision System (MDS) or the
UNIVAC application used to forecast the 1952 U.S. Presidential
election was the first DSS. Management Scientists might argue Dantzig
and Orchard-Hays's Linear programming software was the first DSS.
Others cite JOSS and NLS. My current view is that the U.S. SAGE
air-defense command and control system was probably the first "real"
computerized, data-driven decision support system (DSS). Let's review
these systems.

1952 CBS election forecasting system

On election day November 4, 1952, a computer application was used to
assist in predicting the U.S. Presidential voting results. The fifth
UNIVAC computer built was programmed by Remington-Rand (UNIVAC
division) staff to analyze the partial results in order to anticipate
the outcome. That evening "only a few minutes after the East Coast
election booths closed that the UNIVAC being used on behalf of the
CBS television program, was ready to predict a landslide victory for
Dwight D. Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson. But the CBS producers were
unprepared for such an early prognostication, and thus made it appear
that the UNIVAC was not ready to made a statement. Just after
midnight when the outcome was as predicted, a spokesman for the
network apologized on the air for not believing the analysis (Lee,
1996)." This example is not however a DSS because it was for one time
use, it was used by "experts", and it was not an interactive system
(see DSS characteristics in Power, 2002; 2003). This example is
better classified as a computerized decision support special study.

1954 Linear programming software

In the mid-1950s at the Rand Corporation, George Dantzig was working
on a linear programming computer application for optimization
problems and Dick Bellman was developing the associated Simplex
method of computation and dynamic programming (Ware, 2006). According
to Dantzig (1991), William Orchard-Hays of the Rand Corporation, wrote
the first commercial-grade software for solving linear programs in
1954. More than likely some model-driven DSS were built using
Orchard-Hayes' software, but I can't cite specific examples.

1958 SAGE system

In the mid-1950s, the first large scale data-driven DSS was designed
by Jay Forrester and George Valley, professors at MIT's Lincoln Lab.
The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air-defense command and
control system was deployed beginning in 1958 and was fully
operational in 1963. The name SAGE, a wise mentor, indicated the
decision support nature of the system. Some parts of the system
remained in operation until 1983. SAGE was designed to coordinate
radar stations and direct airplanes to intercept incoming hostile
aircraft. Everett et al. (1963) in a 14 page document that was handed
to visitors of SAGE centers, claimed "SAGE is a real-time control
system, a real-time communication system, and a real-time management
information system."

The computer used in the SAGE system was the AN/FSQ-7, the first
large-scale, real-time digital computer. It had to handle many
different tasks at the same time, sharing central processor time
among them. A web page at Williamson Labs notes Sage "gathered
information over telephone lines from as many as 100 radar and
observation stations, processing it and displaying it on some 50
cathode-ray tube screens. The 'direction centers' were also linked to
each other by telephone lines. SAGE was an enormous project, requiring
some six years of development and 7000 person-years of programming."

Operators accessed the SAGE system through cathode ray tube displays
and used a light pen to select tracks of potential incoming hostile
aircraft and manage their status. When SAGE was fully deployed, it
consisted of 24 Direction Centers and 3 Combat Centers, each linked
by long-distance telephone lines to more than 100 radar defense sites
across the U.S., this created one of the first large-scale wide-area
computer networks.

The AN/FSQ-7 computer was designed by researchers at MIT and
constructed by IBM. The computer was a general purpose, binary,
parallel, single-address machine with 32-bit word length, it was a
dual-processor nonstop timesharing system that used large magnetic
drums used both for secondary storage and as communications buffers,
it had magnetic core memories (256K bytes with 6 microsecond cycle
time), it used approximately 55,000 vacuum tubes, it used about
½ acre (2,000 m²) of floor space, weighed 275 tons and
used up to three megawatts of power and it required a large air
conditioning system to avoid overheating. Each SAGE site included two
computers to increase reliability, with one processor on "hot standby"
at all times. Each SAGE site "cube" had four floors, with air
conditioning and wiring on the ground floor, the computers on the
second floor, offices on the third and the combat center on the
fourth floor. The "big screen" tracking display extended two stories
from the third to the fourth floor. The total project cost is
estimated at between 8 and 12 billion 1964 dollars. Please check the
photos and additional information about SAGE at Wikipedia, the free

According to, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE)
system, was "the first major real-time, computer-based command and
control system. Designed as a new air defense system to protect the
United States from long-range bombers and other weapons, the SAGE
system sent information from geographically dispersed radars over
telephone lines and gathered it at a central location for processing
by a newly designed, large-scale digital computer. As the system
evolved, SAGE broke new ground in radar, communications, computer,
information display, and computer programming technologies. ... The
largest real-time computer program of that time, it automated
information flow, processed and presented data to 100 operator
stations, and provided control information to the weapons systems.
... SAGE demonstrated pioneering solutions to the problem of the user
interface. The System displayed extremely large amounts of information
to its operators using the then-new cathode ray tube; operators could
then obtain additional information on aircraft tracks by selecting
them with a light gun."

According to Les Earnest (1990), a designer of SAGE, "The upper floor
of each SAGE command center had a large room with subdued lighting and
dozens of large display terminals, each operated by two people. Each
terminal had a small storage-tube display for tabular reference data,
a large CRT display of geographical and aircraft information (with a
flicker period of just over one second!), and a light gun for
pointing at particular features. Each terminal also had built-in
reading lights, telephone/intercoms, and electric cigar lighters.
This dramatic environment with flickering phosphorescent displays
clearly looked to the military folks like the right kind of place to
run a war. Or just to 'hang out.'"Earnest recalled that "Both the
prototype and operational SAGE centers were frequently visited by
military brass, higher level bureaucrats, and members of Congress.
They generally seemed to be impressed by the image of powerful,
central control that this leading-edge technological marvel had."

In 1994 Patent hearings Earnest testified "It is fortunate that the
Soviet Union never attacked the U.S. in that era, because the
marvelous technology in SAGE had several 'Achilles heels' that would
have caused it to fail catastrophically under attack. However, those
shortcomings were kept well hidden from Congress and the public and,
as a result, so-called 'command-control-communications' technology
became a major growth industry for the military-industrial complex."
Check Wikipedia for more information on Les Earnest and SAGE.

1963 JOSS, JOHNNIAC Open Shop System

JOSS may have been the first model-driven DSS generator software.
JOHNNIAC Open Shop System (JOSS) was an on-line, interactive
programming system for the JOHNNIAC computer. At the Rand
Corporation, Cliff Shaw envisioned the possibilities for an
english-like interactive programming environment for non-programmers.
Shaw claims November 7, 1960 is the birthdate of JOSS. According to
Mills, the application was first used in May 1963 with an initial
five terminals and a minimal system. One terminal was installed at
the JOHNNIAC, and four were located in the offices of Rand staff
selected to evaluate JOSS. The system used an IBM model 868
typewriter terminal with a small box that indicated the status of the
terminal's communication electronics and controlled their functions.
By the time Shaw was installing JOSS I on the JOHNNIAC, the machine
had 4096 words (40 bits each) of core storage with a cycle time of 15
microseconds, drum storage of 12,288 words, punched card input/output,
and a high speed printer. It had no magnetic tapes, no indexing, and
no built-in floating point. According to, "Shaw was a
pioneer in the field of computer programming languages, artificial
intelligence, and the development of on-line, interactive,
time-sharing computers." In the late 1950s, Shaw collaborated with
Herbert Simon and Allen Newell to develop computer programs that
attempted to simulate human decision-making (cf., Newell et al.
1960). This was a pioneering application development system, but I am
not aware of any DSS actually built with the system.

1967 Management Decision System (MDS)

In the business DSS literature, Michael S. Scott Morton's work on a
Management Decision System (MDS) for his Harvard Ph.D. is generally
considered the first model-driven DSS. In 1966-67 Scott Morton
studied how computers and analytical models could help managers make
a key decision. He conducted an experiment in which managers actually
used a computerized system. Marketing and production managers used MDS
to coordinate production planning for laundry equipment. MDS ran on an
IDI 21 inch CRT with a light pen connected using a 2400 bps modem to a
pair of Univac 494 systems. Scott Morton's (1967) dissertation
research was a pioneering implementation and investigation of a
model-driven decision support system. In 1971, Scott Morton�s book
Management Decision Systems: Computer-Based Support for Decision
Making describing his research was published by the Division of
Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard
University. Decision support systems as a field of academic inquiry
developed following the 1971 article by Gorry and Scott Morton
coining the term decision support system.

1968 NLS (oN-Line System)

On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and a group of 17
researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at
Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute
live public demonstration of an innovative decision support system
called NLS, (oN-Line System). The team had been working on it since
1962 when Engelbart wrote a pioneering paper on augmentation systems.
The Stanford Mousesite notes "This was the public debut of the
computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations
demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and
dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration
involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network
with audio and video interface." Streaming video clips from the
demonstration are available at URL .

Quoting Allen Newell "Everything must wait until its time; science is
the art of the possible." This maxim has certainly been true for
decision support systems research and development.

As always your comments and suggestions are welcomed. Happy holidays
from all of us at


Dantzig, G. B., "Linear Programming," History of Mathematical
Programming: A Collection of Personal Reminiscences, J.K.Lenstra,
A.H.G.Rinnooy Kan, and A.Schrijver (eds.),Elsevier Science Publishers
B.V.,Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1991, at URL

Earnest, L., "Testimony on Software Patents," Patent Commission
hearings in San Jose, 1994, at URL .

Earnest, L., "The C3 legacy, Part 3: Command-control catches on,"
Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems, ACM
Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann,
moderator, Feb. 5, 1990, URL .

Engelbart, D., "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,"
Summary Report AFOSR-3223 under Contract AF 49(638)-1024, SRI Project
3578 for Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Stanford Research
Institute, Menlo Park, Ca., October 1962, URL

Everett, R.R., C. A. Zraket, and H. D. Bennington, "Sage: A Data
Processing System for Air Defense," 1963?, at URL .

Gorry, A., and Scott Morton, M. S. (1971) "A Framework for Management
Information Systems," Sloan Management Review (13:1).

JOSS, Wikipedia, URL

Lee, C.F., Computer Looking Back November 1996, URL

Lexikon Services "History of Computing," URL .

Mills, R., "Description of JOSS," .

Mitre, "Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Beginnings," URL .

Newell, A., J. C. Shaw, and H. A. Simon. 1960. Report on a general
problem solving program. In Proceedings of the International
Conference on Information Processing. UNESCO, Paris, pp. 256-64.

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

Power, D., What are the characteristics of a Decision Support System?
DSS News, Vol. 4, No. 7, March 30, 2003.

Scott Morton, M. S., "Computer-Driven Visual Display Devices -- Their
Impact on the Management Decision-Making Process," Doctoral
Dissertaion, Harvard Business School, 1967.

Scott Morton, M. S. Management Decision Systems; Computer-based
support for decision making. Boston, Division of Research, Graduate
School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1971.

Shaw Papers, 1933-1991, URL

Simon, H.A., "Biographical Memoir: Allen Newell, March 19, 1927 �
July 19, 1992," .

U.S. Army Air Defense Digest, 1966, URL .

Ware, W. H., "RAND Contributions to the Development of Computing,"

Wikipedia, "Semi Automatic Ground Environment," URL

Williamson Labs,


DSS Conferences

1. AMCIS 2007, Americas Conference on Information Systems,
Keystone, CO USA, August 9-12, 2007. SIG DSS mini-tracks.
Check .

2. DaWaK 2007, 9th International Conference on Data
Warehousing and Knowledge Discovery, Regensburg, Germany,
September 3-7, 2007. Full papers due: April 13, 2007.
Check .


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