DSS News 
                    D. J. Power, Editor 
              March 30, 2003 -- Vol. 4, No. 7 
       A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 


Call for Papers: Special issue of DSS Journal on Web-based
Decision Support. Contact,



* Ask Dan! - What are the characteristics of a Decision Support 
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What are the characteristics of a Decision Support System?
by Daniel J. Power

Many faculty who teach DSS courses intend that their students will 
master the skill of determining if a specific information system is a 
"DSS".  Gaining this skill is complicated because the concept "Decision 
Support System" is used in various ways by authors, researchers and 
practitioners. On March 7, 2003, Chan Chun Kit emailed asking "what are 
the characteristics of a Decision Support System?" Also, on March 13, 
Juliet Stephen emailed asking about the characteristics of DSS. She 
noted "I'm really interested in DSS". This Ask Dan! tackles this 
difficult and potentially controversial question.

DSSResources.COM, my book (Power, 2002) and this column advocates the 
"big tent" or umbrella approach to defining DSS. Following the lead of 
Alter (1980) and Sprague and Carlson (1982), I have concluded that 
"Decision Support Systems (DSS) are a specific class of computerized 
information system that support decision-making activities. DSS are 
interactive computer-based systems and subsystems intended to help 
decision makers use communications technologies, data, documents, 
knowledge and/or models to identify and solve problems and make 
decisions. Five more specific DSS types include: Communications-driven 
DSS, Data-driven DSS, Document-driven DSS, Knowledge-driven DSS, and 
Model-driven DSS."

Turban and Aronson (1995) and others try to narrow the "population of 
systems" called DSS. Turban and Aronson define DSS as "an interactive, 
flexible, and adaptable CBIS specially developed for supporting the 
solution of a nonstructured management problem for improved decision 
making (p. 77)". A few paragraphs later, they broaden the definition and 
define 13 characteristics and capabilities of DSS. Their first 
characteristic is "DSS provide support for decision makers mainly in 
semistructured and unstructured situations by bringing together human 
judgment and computerized information. Such problems cannot be solved 
(or cannot be solved conveniently) by other computerized systems or by 
standard quantitative methods or tools". Their list is a useful starting 

Alter (1980) identified three major characteristics of DSS:

1. DSS are designed specifically to facilitate decision processes,
2. DSS should support rather than automate decision making, and
3. DSS should be able to respond quickly to the changing needs of 
decision makers. 

Clyde Holsapple and Andrew Whinston (1996) identified four 
characteristics one should expect to observe in a DSS (see pages 
144-145). Their list is very general and provides an even broader 
perspective on the DSS concept. Holsapple and Whinston specify that a 
DSS must have a body of knowledge, a record-keeping capability that can 
present knowledge on an ad hoc basis in various customized ways as well 
as in standardized reports, a capability for selecting a desired subset 
of stored knowledge for either presentation or for deriving new 
knowledge, and must be designed to interact directly with a decision 
maker in such a way that the user has a flexible choice and sequence of 
knowledge-management activities.

Turban and Aronson note their list is an ideal set. They state "Because 
there is no consensus on exactly what a DSS is, there is obviously no 
agreement on standard characteristics and capabilities of DSS". This 
conceptual confusion and lack of consensus on a well defined DSS concept 
originally prompted me in 1995 to try to more systematically define and 
categorize DSS.  It seems impossible to conduct meaningful scientific 
research about systems that can't be consistently identified and 
categorized. A more consistent definition of DSS and set of 
"characteristics" should also improve communications about these 
important computerized systems with students and DSS practioners.

So what is a characteristic of a DSS? In this context, it is an 
observable feature, peculiarity, property, or attribute of ANY type of 
Decision Support System that differentiates a DSS from another type of 
computerized system.  Why do we develop lists of characteristics and 
attribute lists?  In general, such lists can identify an object as part 
of a class or group of similar objects; it helps us in recognition and 

The following is my list of the characteristics of a DSS, please 


1. DSS facilitate and support specific decision-making activities and/or 
decision processes.

2. DSS are computer-based systems designed for interactive use by 
decision makers or staff users who control the sequence of interaction 
and the operations performed.

3. DSS can support decision makers at any level in an organization. They 
are NOT intended to replace decision makers.

4. DSS are intended for repeated use. A specific DSS may be used 
routinely or used as needed for ad hoc decision support tasks.

5. DSS provide specific capabilities that support one or more tasks 
related to decision-making, including: intelligence and data analysis; 
identification and design of alternatives; choice among alternatives; 
and decision implementation.

6. DSS may be independent systems that collect or replicate data from 
other information systems OR subsystems of a larger, more integrated 
information system.

7. DSS are intended to improve the accuracy, timeliness, quality and 
overall effectiveness of a specific decision or a set of related 



Alter, S. Decision Support Systems: Current Practice and Continuing 
Challenges. Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, Inc., 1980. 

Holsapple, C. W. and A. B. Whinston. Decision Support Systems: A 
Knowledge Based Approach. Minneapolis, MN.: West Publishing, Inc., 1996. 

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

Sprague, R. H. and E. D. Carlson. Building Effective Decision Support 
Systems Englewood Clifts, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.: 1982

Turban, E. and J. E. Aronson Decision Support and Intelligent Systems. 
(5th edition) Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.: 1995.


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DSS News Releases - March 17 to March 28, 2003
03/28/2003 Call for Papers: Special issue of DSS Journal on Web-based
Decision Support.

03/27/2003 FreeBalance eGrants goes live in Ireland - web-based grants
management system deployed by Irish Government Research Council.

03/27/2003 Fair, Isaac partners with EDS to detect fraud and abuse in 
eastern states medicare claims. 

03/27/2003 HumanConcepts announces the release of OrgPlus Automation 
module and OrgPlus Directory.

03/26/2003 Toshiba America Business Solutions deploys Cognos(R) Series 7 
across North American business portal. 

03/26/2003 Frost & Sullivan: Technology convergence forces strategic 
change in web content management market.

03/26/2003 Outbreak detection software, `RedBat,' alerts health 
officials of mystery infection called SARS.

03/25/2003 Production Modeling Corporation and Optiant team to deliver 
strategic inventory management.

03/24/2003 Belk enhances business performance with MicroStrategy 

03/24/2003 Hy-Vee selects FineGround Networks to enable real-time web 

03/24/2003 Sybase teams with Distributor Resource Management to boost 
analytical capabilities for foodservice supply chain.

03/24/2003 SupportSoft enhances speed and accuracy of knowledge 
management with new Knowledge Center software release. 

03/20/2003 Gartner says stand-alone portal products will begin to 
disappear from the market as the suite approach arrives in 2003.

03/20/2003 Strategic Management Group, Inc. releases Version 4.0 of its 
SimShop simulation platform.

03/19/2003 Leading computer science professional organizations organize 
MobiSys '03: first international conference on mobile systems, 
applications and services.

03/18/2003 Guardian Life Insurance maximizes value of its Lotus Notes 
content using Stellent Lotus Notes Integrator. 

03/18/2003 Landstar deploys Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite to 
connect affiliated independent small business customers. 

03/17/2003 Cognos accelerates ability to implement corporate performance 
management solutions.

03/17/2003 DKSystems integrates KPS knowledge management technology into 
the DKHelpDesk product suite. 

03/17/2003 Lightbridge announces FraudBuster(R) release 7.0 with new 
predictive intelligence.

03/17/2003 Intergraph showcases Geospatial Resource Management solutions 
at GIS-T. 


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