DSS News 
                   D. J. Power, Editor 
             February 15, 2004 -- Vol. 5, No. 4
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 

          Check the article by Langseth "Real-Time
           Data Warehousing"  at DSSResources.COM

* Ask Dan! - What kind of DSS does Mr. X need?
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Ask Dan!
by Dan Power

What kind of DSS does Mr. X need?

This is a generic question from my email. Recently "Jimmy" posted the 
following scenario on the Free DSS Forum at DSSResources.COM: "Emmy’s 
husband, Buddy, is retiring from his position as a district manager for 
a chain of hardware stores. For several years, he has been doing market 
research for the stores. He is systematic in the way he approaches 
problems and has long used mathematical formulas to project sales and so 
on. Although her business has been doing well in the last year and a 
half, Emmy is getting too bogged down in backlogged orders to use the 
decision support system you built for her. Buddy has agreed to take over 
the management aspects of her shop so that she can concentrate on 
artistic aspects.

(i) How would you characterize Buddy as a decision maker? Explain in a 

(ii) What features could you include in a DSS to support Buddy’s 
decision-making style? List five of them and explain in detail."

Jimmy asked "Please help me solve the problems above."

This scenario sounds like it is part of a "take home" exam question so I 
can't respond to Jimmy on the specific issues raised.  The generic 
question is however interesting and seems appropriate for an Ask Dan! 
column. Also, some readers may want to reflect upon how they would 
answer such an exam question.

First, we want to ask if Mr. X has a need for a DSS? And what factors 
impact the need for a DSS? The business in the scenario is doing well 
and the company appears to be a small, family business. The current 
decision support system is not being used.  We have no information about 
what type of computerized support was built and implemented but more 
than likely in a small business computerized decision support focused 
upon applications built in Microsoft Access and Excel.  Perhaps a DSS 
was built for sales tracking and forecasting or for budgeting and cash 
flow analysis.

A number of situational factors can impact the need for a specific 
computerized decision support system including the size of an 
organization and its financial health, the type of organization (health 
care, state tax agency, or private manufacturing firm), and the 
organization design and structure of tasks and jobs. In general, whether 
a given individual needs a specific DSS should be a function of 
organizational factors and of the person's role in the organization and 
position in the organization hierarchy. Also, a given individual may 
need to use more than one specific DSS. Do we have evidence about the 
impact of these factors on DSS adoption and use? Some. It seems that 
large, financially successful organizations are more likely to adopt and 
use a wide range of DSS. Government mandated reporting encourages use of 
specific DSS. Organizations with bureaucratic structures and clearly 
defined job descriptions are more likely to have specific computerized 
decision support systems. Decision makers at the operational performance 
level (Anthony, 1965) are more likely to benefit from real-time, 
data-driven DSS than managers at the strategic planning level. Senior 
managers at the strategic planning level are more likely to benefit from 
visual interactive model-driven DSS than any other managers. In general, 
increased complexity, uncertainty, information load and rapid change in 
information increases the need for computerized decision support.

Second, why is it important to "characterize" the targeted user as a 
decision maker? Is there something about a decision maker's personality, 
decision-making style, past experiences, etc. that predisposes that 
person to request or want a specific kind of DSS or encourages them to 
use a computerized decision support system. 

We should understand our targeted user(s).  When only one person is 
targeted for a proposed DSS it becomes more important to "charaterize" 
the user so that any DSS that is built will be accepted and used. When 
we focus on the infamous Mr. X or Ms. Y in our analysis of a DSS request 
we are "personalizing" the evaluation of the situation. Often this 
approach is unwise and inappropriate. Should we ever consider 
personality and preferences when we assess the need for a specific DSS?  

Charles Stabell (in Bennett, 1983) proposed a decision-oriented design 
approach for evaluating the need for a DSS. I agree with him and many 
others that it is preferable to assess needs and requirements linked to 
job and situational factors rather than focusing on the job incumbent. 
We should try to depersonalize the adoption and development of a 
specific DSS, but when possible we should let a decision maker customize 
the user interface to suit his or her information processing 
preferences. In some situations, the decision maker who requests a 
specific DSS is "powerful and influential" (like a CEO or CFO), in that 
situation Information Systems staff should comply even when they 
perceive the DSS is not needed. The "perception of need" by a powerful 
decision maker creates a "need".  When the person holding the 
influential position changes however the need for the specific DSS may 
cease. Then the specific DSS won't be used. It is not uncommon for a 
particular CEO to prescribe specific analysis and reporting requirements 
to meet his/her decision making needs.  That will be reflected in DSS 
design. So for example, a data-driven DSS for performance management and 
executive information should accomodate a user's requests in terms of 
specifying key performance indicators (KPIs), charts, drill down and 
tables. The user interface of a specific model-driven DSS should be 
flexible to accomodate "What if?" and sensitivity analysis. 

Third, what is decision-making style and how does this "personality" 
factor impact the design of a specific DSS? Does "Buddy’s 
decision-making style" matter? What are common features of a DSS that 
could or should be impacted by an individual's preferences or personal 

We sometimes stereotype decision makers as analytical and systematic or 
as intuitive. Many years ago some researchers argued about "cognitive 
style" as a factor that should influence Information System design. 
Today we generally consider individual differences as important but 
associated more with the user interface than the functionality of the 
DSS.  If a situation can be better supported by a "real time" 
data-driven DSS than by a document-driven DSS, then we try to provide an 
acceptable user interface for an "intuitive" decision maker.

In general, a DSS user interface should be customizable. We may want to 
adjust information displays as various chart types, tables and/or text. 
We may change how input values are elicited. We may want to change how 
drill down, analysis and help are provided. Also, we may change the 
amount of direction and guidance provided users.

So we can develop and discuss some broad generalizations about 
situations where decision-makers need specific kinds of computerized 
decision support, but pre-design diagnosis remains the key to building 
appropriate and successful DSS.



Anthony, R.N. Planning and Control Systems: A Framework for Analysis. 
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1965. 

Bennett, J.L. (Editor).  Building Decision Support Systems. Reading, MA: 
Addison Wesley, 1983.


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What's New? at DSSResources.COM

02/08/2004 Posted article by Justin Langseth, "Real-Time Data 
Warehousing: Challenges and Solutions". Check the articles page.


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DSS News - February 1 to February 14, 2004
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02/02/2004 Microsoft Business Solutions announces new release of 
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