Preface to
Decision Support Systems:
Concepts and Resources

     Today, at the turn of the 21st century, many managers are using computers, business databases and models to help make decisions. This is a positive change in behavior and some evidence indicates the use of computers to support management decision-making is entering a new and more sophisticated stage. The novelty of managers using computers is "wearing off" and more importantly the capabilities of our support systems are beginning to match the expectations of managers. Decision Support Systems are now both a business necessity and an opportunity to gain competitive advantage. This book tries to build on these positive changes and provide an updated exploration of computerized decision support systems.
     Since the mid-1970s, I have studied and investigated computerized systems to support decision-making. The major objectives of my research program have been: first, to develop a Decision Support System (DSS) for use in actual strategic decision situations; second, to develop an experiential instructional system that would help people improve their decision-making and inference behavior; and third, to conduct research that might explain how individuals and groups make decisions and how decisions should be made. I have made some progress in addressing all three of these objectives. Since July of 1995, I have pursued a fourth objective of creating a DSS knowledge repository. My efforts have focused on organizing the vast amounts of information on Decision Support Systems that is accumulating on Web sites. When possible I have also contributed my own original content to my Web site. We now have an enormous wealth of DSS content at Web sites and in printed resources. This book is the product of my research and of my teaching in the field of Decision Support Systems.
     Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources is only one part of an innovative educational and knowledge resource for people interested in learning more about Information Systems and Decision Support Systems. It is an extension and integration of materials at www.DSSResources.COM. The idea was to develop a book that was strong on concepts and theory with timely and up-to-date application examples, integrated with Web-Based materials, and easy-to-read in either an on-line or a linear, printed version. I have tried to write the book at a college reading level, anticipating that it might be read by technical and non-technical readers, and by practicing managers and undergraduate and graduate students. My presumption was that readers would have only an introductory-level background in Computing or Business Information Systems.
     The mission of both the book and DSSResources.COM is helping people increase their knowledge of how to use information technologies and software to improve decision-making. The target audience is Information Systems professionals, students majoring in Information Systems and business, managers interested in MIS and academics in the field of MIS and DSS.
      The book is intended for a wide audience. It is targeted to people who want more expertise in developing, managing and using information systems and especially Decision Support Systems. Also, the book is targeted to senior MIS students who want to begin gaining technical expertise in building Decision Support Systems. Based on my experiences, I think the book can be used as a textbook for a follow-on or second course in Information Systems and Information Technology for undergraduate and graduate business and management students.
      My perspective at DSSResources.COM and in this book is both managerial and technical. In writing the chapters and collecting resources, my overriding concern has been to help readers gain capabilities, knowledge and skills that they can apply as they use and manage information systems and technologies. I hope some readers can apply the knowledge in the book to help in designing, developing or implementing Decision Support Systems. Some readers may want to read additional, specialized books and work as DSS Analysts; some readers may be assigned to DSS project teams; and some readers may help in managing a DSS or in training DSS users. I hope the book contains ideas that help readers improve their own productivity using DSS, the productivity of their subordinates and co-workers and the productivity of their organization as a whole.
      The primary focus of this book is helping people develop intellectual capabilities related to the design and development of Decision Support Systems. The book also explores how Decision Support Systems can support organization goals and how Decision Support Systems impact organizations and managers. In general, readers need to recognize that there are many people who are skilled in their jobs but who need the help of Decision Support Systems. Throughout the book, Decision Support Systems are defined broadly as interactive computer-based systems that help people use computer communications, data, documents, knowledge and models to solve problems and make decisions. DSS are ancillary or auxiliary systems; they are not intended to replace skilled decision-makers.
      The book examines the design, development and implementation of systems that support managerial and professional work. The focus is on technology-based systems including Communications-Driven and Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS), Data-Driven DSS, Document-Driven DSS, Knowledge-Driven DSS, Model-Driven DSS, Inter-Organizational and Web-Based DSS. Data-Driven DSS emphasize using large databases to support decision-making and include Executive Information Systems (EIS); Model-Driven DSS emphasize using models to support decision-making. A Communications-Driven or Group Decision Support System is an interactive computer-based system intended to facilitate the solution of problems by decision makers working together as a group and includes groupware. Knowledge-Driven DSS attempt to capture the knowledge of a human expert in a computer system. These computer systems can then be used by less expert users. A Document-Driven DSS accesses and displays text and multimedia information to support decision-making. Web-Based DSS use Web technologies to deliver Decision Support Systems to users. Inter-Organizational DSS support customers and suppliers.
      After completing Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources, readers should:
  1. Understand fundamental concepts associated with DSS, MIS and IS/IT,
  2. Have a more sophisticated understanding of how DSS can help a company meet its objectives, including gaining a competitive advantage, increasing revenues and profits, decreasing expenses, providing better customer service, and improving decision-making,
  3. Be familiar with examples and case studies documenting computer support for organizational decision-making, and various planning, analysis and control tasks,
  4. Be better informed consumers of Decision Support Systems and information technology resources, especially for end-user development of DSS applications,
  5. Know more about the Internet, the World-Wide Web and its potential business uses to support decision-making and its impacts on decision-making,
  6. Have more capabilities related to DSS design and development,
  7. Be more aware of the impact of Information and Decision Support Systems on organizations, and
  8. Understand that Decision Support Systems are intended to support rather than replace decision-makers.
      There are a number of other books that provide an overview of the fundamentals of Decision Support Systems. This book covers much of the same material, but in a more integrated framework. Also, I think the materials are current and understandable. Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources is the product of more than three years of effort. Versions of the chapters have been used in a specialized course in Decision Support Systems for undergraduate MIS majors and in more managerial MIS courses for MBA students and senior undergraduate business majors.
      Currently, Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources has 12 chapters. Chapter 1 titled "Supporting Business Decision-Making" provides a rationale for studying about and understanding Decision Support Systems and it explains a framework for categorizing DSS. Also, the chapter explains the differences between transaction processing systems and Decision Support Systems.
      "Gaining Competitive Advantage with Decision Support Systems" is the focus of Chapter 2. After reviewing some technology trends that provide new opportunities for building DSS, the chapter discusses how Decision Support Systems can create a competitive advantage. Four classic examples of DSS that provided companies with competitive advantages are then summarized in the chapter.
      The key to building Decision Support Systems is understanding business decision-making and business decision processes. Chapter 3, titled "Analyzing Business Decision Processes", explains fundamental concepts related to business decision-making.
      Chapter 4, "Designing and Developing Decision Support Systems", is a pivotal chapter that changes the focus of the book to more technical Information Systems issues. Once the topic of building and buying DSS is raised and discussed, the next chapter addresses the topic of greatest important to DSS success, the user interface. In Chapter 5, "Designing and Evaluating DSS User Interfaces", various types of user interfaces are briefly reviewed. The goal is to examine guidelines for DSS user interfaces. MIS practitioners build interfaces and managers use them. Both groups need to work cooperatively to evaluate DSS user interfaces.
      The hidden part of a Decision Support System is the hardware, networks and technical infrastructure that make the DSS practical to use and maintain. Chapter 6 is titled "Understanding DSS Architecture, Networking, and Security Issues", and it attempts to present a simplified introduction to extremely complex technical topics. The topics in this chapter are important for management-oriented and more technically savvy readers.
      Chapters 7 through 11 provide more details and examples on the various categories of Decision Support Systems. Each chapter provides a survey of what is possible and an introduction to technical issues for making a new DSS a reality. Chapter 7 is titled "Building Data-Driven Decision Support Systems"; Chapter 8 focuses on "Implementing Communications-Driven and Group Decision Support Systems"; Chapter 9 discusses "Building Model-Driven Decision Support Systems". Chapter 10, "Building Knowledge-Driven DSS and Mining Data" examines two related technologies, expert systems and data mining. Chapter 11, titled "Building Web-Based and Inter-Organizational Decision Support Systems", examines the latest developments in Decision Support.
      The concluding chapter of Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources is titled "Evaluating Decision Support Systems Projects". After reading the prior chapters, managers may have some novel or interesting ideas for Decision Support Systems. So, this chapter reviews and discusses tools and issues associated with evaluating projects.
      This book also includes a glossary and a listing of supplemental materials on Decision Support Systems found at DSSResources.COM. The content of Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources is linked whenever possible to the DSSResources.COM Website and that synergy creates a timely and contemporary knowledge resource.
     No book is possible without the help, assistance and encouragement of many people. That is especially the case for Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources. My family, especially my wife Carol and my sons Alex, Ben and Greg have been an extraordinary help. Alex has been especially involved in the production of the various versions of the book chapters that have appeared in PDF format at DSSResources.COM.
      Many students have helped with comments, research on content issues and proofreading. I want to particularly acknowledge Nikole Hackett, Lucian Strong and Saksatit Svetarundra. Lucien worked on PowerPoint slides, some graphics and editing. He brought his enthusiasm and curiosity to the project. Nikole helped with researching some case study examples and contributed some important ideas that influenced my thinking on DSS and Competitive Advantage. Saksatit Svetarundra read chapters and worked with me on a project on "DSS in the Airline Industry" that influenced my thinking on Model-Driven DSS.
      My DSS colleagues at UNI and in more than 100 countries also deserve my thanks. I want to especially thank my colleagues in Management Information Systems at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. Their encouragement and support for this project has made the effort much easier. I also want to thank the many DSSResources.COM visitors who have read my "hyperbook" and encouraged me in this project.
      Many thanks to all of my friends who have helped with this book, Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources, and with my Web site, DSSResources.COM.
Daniel J. Power
September 4, 2000