Reflections of Decision Support Pioneers

George P. Huber

George Huber responded by email to six questions from Dan Power, editor, about his past involvement with computerized decision support systems and his current perspective on the issues that need to be addressed.

Q1: How did you get interested in computerized decision support?

Huber's Response: My experiences in the army and at Procter and Gamble prompted me to select as my Ph.D. (Industrial Engineering, Purdue, 1965) dissertation topic the design of a multi-component computerized decision support system, specifically an elaborate manpower planning system to be used in a large organization. One component was a computer-based person-position matching system, what would later be called a DSS. A key feature of this system was the development of the utility values to enter into the cells of the person-position matching matrix, one utility from the person’s perspective and another from the employing unit’s perspective. My approach to developing these values was rather advanced relative to the state of multi-attribute utility theory at the time, and when I tried to get it published in Management Science it was rejected with the assertion that “you can’t quantify human judgment”!

However, Charley Holt and I did publish a piece on the matching algorithm in Management Science in 1969, and in 1974 I published a tutorial on the quantification of utilities and subjective probabilities in Decision Sciences and also a review and evaluation of the development and use of utility measures in actual decision systems in Management Science.

Q2: What do you consider your major contribution to helping support decision makers using computers? Why?

Huber's Response: I have to say that my direct contribution to the support of actual decision makers was very small, perhaps even non-existent. I did work for 15 months as a full time consultant at Gerry Wagner’s Execucom Corporation where I contributed to the development and evaluation of a prototype Group Decision Support System. Subsequently, with Sirkka Jarvenpaa, I consulted on the development and evaluation of a prototype GDSS at Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) (see Jarvenpaa et al, MISQ 1988). I did publish several pieces on the need for, and methods for, integrating human judgments in GDSS in the Transactions of the early DSS Conferences and in other practitioner-read proceedings as well. My 1984 MISQ article, “Issues in the Design of Group Decision Support Systems,” was my signature piece in this area and has been cited well over 150 times.

I may have made some modest indirect contributions to DSS design in different ways. For example, in multiple articles I described how DSS, and other applications of IT, could or would influence information processing, decision making, and organization design (MISQ 1981, Management Science 1982, 1984, and Academy of Management Review 1990) in the future. That these articles have, in aggregate, been cited over 500 times in the research literature, suggests that faculty have drawn on them. Through the teaching and consulting of these faculty, the articles may have influenced future IS and DSS designs.

Another way I might have indirectly influenced the DSS field was by calling for a halt in research dealing with the use of the DSS user’s cognitive style as a consideration in the design of his or her personal DSS. I was prompted to do this because one year, while recruiting IS faculty at the University of Wisconsin, I saw that more than half of the applicants indicated that this use of the cognitive style concept was one of their main interests. I doubted that this idea was deserving of the research resources and journal page space it was absorbing. By examining the literature, I arrived at six reasons why work in this area was a poor use of DSS researcher resources and published my reasoning in Management Science (1983). The thrust of this article was counter to the momentum in the field and sparked a good deal of controversy. It was subsequently the subject of sessions at three national meetings and has been cited about 150 times. A perusal of the literature indicates hardly any work in the area following publication of the article (of course this absence might be due to factors other than the article).

Years later I learned the names of the Associate Editor and one of the reviewers who were involved in Management Science’s review of the article. That both of these researchers were willing to recommend publication, even though the article criticized their published work in the area, is a nice testimonial to their professionalism and to the integrity of the review process.

A third way I may have contributed to the field was in my service capacities. In the mid-1980s, I served for three years as Management Science’s Departmental Editor for Decision Support Systems and for two years as Departmental Editor for Information Systems and Decision Support Systems. This was a time when the IS/DSS field was more than a little suspect in the eyes of academics in “more proven” fields. To counter this negative view, I attempted to approve publication of only very high quality works in this – the highest stature – journal of the era. I also served on The Institute of Management Science’s Council during the years that the Council initiated Information Systems Research and Organization Science. Finally, I served on the Review Panels of NSF’s Program in Decision, Risk, and Management Science and its Program in Information, Robotics, and Intelligent Systems during the years when these programs allocated large amounts to DSS research – especially to the important work led by Gerry DeSanctis at the University of Minnesota.

Q3: What were your motivations for working in this area?

Huber's Response: My early empirical studies were in the field of behavioral decision theory. Partly through this and partly through my dissertation work, I became curious about the role that computers could and would have on decision making and decision makers, particularly in organizations. I worked intensively in the IS and DSS areas throughout the 1980s. My 1990 AMR article, “A Theory of the Effects of Advanced Information Technologies on Organizational Design, Intelligence, and Decision Making,” highly cited but already outdated, was my signature piece in this field. Since then I’ve focused my research and writing in the areas of organization cognition and design and top management decision making.

Q4: Who were your important collaborators and what was their contribution?

Huber's Response: I had about two dozen collaborators while I was doing my decision making research in the late 1960s and in the 1970s and during my more recent research in organizational cognition and top management decision making. In most cases these collaborators were my students and were frequently the lead authors of the articles. But the 1980s were creative years for me, and I was so immersed in what I was thinking and writing that I didn’t feel up to the task of incorporating anyone else’s thinking. It may be that a similar phenomenon explains why many fields where creativity is an important component don’t seem to allow for much collaboration – poetry, serious literature, visual arts, small science, music, painting. “Big Science” is, of course, a major exception.

Q5: What are your major conclusions from your experiences with computerized decision support?

Huber's Response: My experiences with computerized decision support didn’t cause me to reach any major conclusions, except to concur with the common belief that DSS greatly increased decision quality and timeliness. We must keep in mind that my experience with computerized decision support did not extend beyond the late 1980s.

During the subsequent 15 years I studied, as a scholar rather than as an empiricist, the development of technologies more generally, and especially the effects of technological developments on business organizations, careers, and labor markets. This effort led me to a good many non-intuitive, but I believe quite valid, conclusions about the natures of future technologies, firms, and careers (see The Necessary Nature of Future Firms: Attributes of Survivors in a Changing World. Sage Publications, 2004).

Q6: What are the issues associated with decision support that we still need to address?

Huber's Response: Because I’ve moved on to other research areas and topics, I really don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I must defer to those who are currently active in the DSS field.

About George P. Huber

George P. Huber holds the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Regents Chair in Business Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. His current research deals with managerial and organizational cognition. Dr. Huber is a Fellow of the Academy of Management and of the Decision Sciences Institute and is a charter member of the Academy of Management Journals Hall of Fame. His pioneering article, The Nature and Design of Post-Industrial Organizations, was awarded First Prize in an International Prize Competition sponsored by The Institute of Management Sciences in 1983. His co-authored article, Fit, Equifinality, and Organizational Effectiveness was selected as the Best Article of the Year in the Academy of Management Journal for 1993. In 1993, his co-edited book, Organizational Change and Redesign: Ideas and Insights for Improving Performance, was published by Oxford University Press, and in 1995 his co-edited book, Longitudinal Field Research Methods: Studying Processes of Organizational Change, was published by Sage Publications. Sage Publications published his most recent book, The Necessary Nature of Future Firms: Attributes of Survivors in a Changing World, in 2004. Dr. Huber received his BSME and MSIE degrees from the University of Missouri and his Ph.D. from Purdue University. He has held full time positions with the Emerson Electric Manufacturing Company, the Procter and Gamble Manufacturing Company, the U.S. Department of Labor, and Execucom Systems Corporation, and has served as a consultant to many corporations and public agencies. Professor Huber has held full time faculty appointments at the Universities of Wisconsin, California, and Texas, and he has served as Associate Dean for Research in the Graduate Schools of Business at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas.

DSS References

Holt, Charles and George P. Huber. 1969. A Computer Aided Approach to Employment Service Placement and Counseling. Management Science 15, 573-594.

Huber, George P. 1982. Decision Support Systems: Their Present Nature and Future Applications, in Decision Making: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry, G.R. Ungson and D.N. Braunstein, eds. Boston, MA: Kent Publishing Co.

Huber, George P. 1983. Cognitive Style as a Basis for MIS and DSS Designs: Much Ado About Nothing? Management Science 29, 567-577.

Huber, George P. 1984. Issues in the Design of Group Decision Support Systems. Management Information Systems Quarterly 8, 195-204.

Huber, George P. 1985. Decision Support Systems: Perspectives and Research Needs, in IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, SMC-15.


George P. Huber Reflections, DSSResources.COM, 11/02/2007.

George Huber's responses were received October 22, 2007.