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What are decision support systems and services?

What are decision support systems and services?

Decision support systems and services (DSSS) turns data into decisions.  They help a person to understand how the world around them and the potential impact of their decisions.

Decision support refers to the provision of information that is relevant and insightful to an important decision. These types of systems and services have been around of as long as computer technology. They are invaluable because of their capacity to help figure out the many complex issues involved in modern day management. Today, most people in business will use some form of DSSS to make important decisions.

People will benefit from decision support when they require:

  1. support in managing complexity;
  2. consideration of the unknown or uncertain;
  3. assistance in managing risk;
  4. help in understanding the context of a decision.

Components of decision support systems and services

Decision support has two parts.

SYSTEMS: The computer information systems that turn data into useful information. A system can be any combination of technologies that collect, store, analyse and presents information in a useful way. Examples include: client management, finance management and remote sensing technology.

SERVICES: The people who empower the use of the system. A decision support service encompasses the people who develop and support the system. Decision support services include developers, salespeople or advisers. It also includes the documents and guides that empower a person use the system. Decision support services ensure the system is useful, usable and available to a decision maker.

Characteristics of decision support

Decision support is a specialised subset in the world of information technology. Over the years, the defining characteristics of these systems has grown and evolved.

In general terms, a DSSS has three defining characteristics:

  1. Creates information about, and relevant to, the context in which a decision maker operates.
  2. Provides insight that cannot otherwise be generated or accessed from other sources of information.
  3. Integrates technology, process and purpose into a streamlined and efficient flow for data and information.

Context is important

Decision support systems and services help people to understand and respond to an increasingly complex world. To be effective, both the system and service must be attuned and responsive to changes in that operational context. A decision support service that is highly useful and relevant today may be entirely irrelevant tomorrow. The changing nature of business decision making means that the systems and services must also be kept up to date.

Decision support systems and services will fail to meet the needs of decision makers when they are:

  1. not aligned with the objectives of the decision maker.
  2. focused on generic rather than personalised solutions.
  3. complex and hard to use.
  4. offered without the support required to learn about them and use them effectively.

What does success look like?

Decision support information can be assessed against five critical success factors:

  1. Usefulness: It enables you to do tasks in ways that are otherwise impossible or less effective.
  2. Usability: It is user friendly, enjoyable to use and generally requires minimal effort.
  3. Availability: The system is documented and supported, for example by help desk, training or on-line groups.
  4. Alignment: The policies, procedures and processes of your business align with the functions of the service.
  5. Authority: Those responsible for using the service have the necessary authority to do so effectively.

You can recognize if your system of service is providing decision support by asking:

  1. Do you provide your clients with information?
  2. Is your information relevant to a decision your client needs to make?
  3. Does your data come from a source that is direct and relevant to the decision maker?

If you honestly answer NO to any of these three questions then you are not likely to be providing decision support. Decision support requires someone to be making a choice with the information you provide. In the end, decision support systems and services are entirely about turning data into decisions.

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Carl Sudholz is the founder at AGContext and specialist in the integration of information technology within organisations. He holds two degrees, is a certified Business Analyst and a Director of the Australia Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Carl’s expertise and experience spans 15 years serving public, private and non-for-profit organisations to take control over technology.