DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS (DSS) - DISCUSSION

ABSTRACT:
From Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers "Computer" Journal - March 1999 - pages 31 through 39.

The complexity and long development time inherent in building decision support systems has thus far prevented their wide use. A new class of tools, DSS generators, seeks to cut the lead time between development and deployment.

Decision support systems (DSSs) are software products that help users apply analytical and scientific methods to decision making. They work by using models and algorithms from disciplines such as decision analysis, mathematical programming and optimization, stochastic modeling, simulation and logic modeling. DSS products can execute, interpret, visualize, and interactively analyze those models over multiple scenarios.

DECISION ANALYSIS:
Decision analysis consists of theories, processes, and analytical methods for decision making that account for the uncertain, dynamic, and multicriteria aspects of decisions. Well-known decision analysis methods include decision trees, influence diagrams, multi-attribute utility models, and the analytic hierarchy process.

A typical decision analysis problem that involves uncertainty is the harvesting problem. In the example illustrated below, a farmer must decide when to harvest a crop of, say, tomatoes, to maximize his earnings. An early harvest would realize the current crop but fetch a lower unit price. A late harvest of vine-ripened tomatoes is risky. It might fetch a higher unit price and even a higher yield, but some or all of the crop could be lost to frost.

NOTE:
Long term weather forecasting today is about on the same scale of reliability as witchcraft. Nevertheless, IF the WAIT period was only 2 weeks from the first of September in Chautauqua County, New York......I would gamble on WAIT even athough about one out of twenty years' history had a heavy frost by August 31.

"To each his own," the old man said as he kissed Bessie his cow.

What follows below are some of the early DSS generators that this interesting article considered for evaluation.

DSS GENERATOR:VENDOR URL

Aliah Thinkhttp://www.aliah.com
Analyticahttp://www.lumina.com
Criterium Decision Plus http://www.infoharvest.com
Decision Analysis by TreeAge http://www.treeage.com
Decision Pro http://www.vanguardsw.com
Decision Programming Language http://www.adainc.com
Precision Tree http://www.palisade.com
Which & Why http://www.arlingsoft.com

FUTURE DIRECTIONS:

Future decision support systems will probably support group decision making and will handle system components that are distributed over a client-server network. Only a few commercial products now support group decision making. Which & Why and Expert Choice Professional (via an extension called Team Expert Choice) let multiple users rank their preferences and combine the preferences into a group decision. These products also let groups assign weights to different decision makers. Group features can be desirable, especially in higher level decision making, where decisions are frequently made by group consensus.

New client-server and distributed computing technologies on the Web can aid the remote access of DSS generators, providing decision support on demand. Here, the user's interface is a Web browser (the client), and separate components on a remote Web server provide data and model management features. Web-enabling a DSS allows a company to share complex and expensive DSS technologies at negligable extra cost, without customization for specific operating platforms. A few DSS generators offer some form of Web-based interface and most vendors are paying more attention to this area.

Maturing DSS technologies and decision analysis methods have led to the the development of DSS generators that are both usable and powerful. Yet the ultimate development of DSSs will depend on the ability of users to use them to their advantage. Clearly the needs of these users are important, so we, (the authors), are investigating this issue and have published preliminary results. Overall, we hope this article will spur the interest of IS managers, DSS vendors, researchers, and users in the use and development of DSSs and DSS generators.

AUTHORS:
Dr. H. K. Bhargava - Carnegie Mellon University
Dr. S. Sridhar - Vanderbilt University
Lt. Commander C. Herrick - U.S. Naval Postgraduate School

Comment:
Are DSSs a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
No way could they pass the "Turing AI test" like the IBM Chess computer has done. Yet they are a fascinating relatively new form of programming.

Good luck.

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