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Decision Support Systems


The concept of decision support systems [DSS] is rather broad in that it includes any system that supports decision-making. This includes:

  • Decision planning models - such as critical paths, fish tail diagrams
  • Decision support systems that use a computer program to assist making decisions

For our purposes, we will focus on those software programs that provide decision making support, using a variety of methods. These are also known as 'expert systems'.

Expert Systems

Expert systems are described as 'knowledge based systems'. They consist of a computer program that contains subject-specific knowledge and the analytical logic of one or more human experts. An expert system is the first stage down the toward of artificial intelligence.

Expert systems focused on decision making use logic [sets of rules and dependencies] that analyzes information related to a specific class of problems. The DSS applies mathematical analysis of the problem, and, depending upon their design, recommends a course of user action to implement. The intelligence and reasoning capabilities used to reach conclusions are constrained by the logical relationships entered by the programmer.

A simple form of expert system is what we know as a 'wizard'. A wizard walks you step by step through a scenario, and based upon your answers at each step, presents you with the next set of questions, until it reaches a point where a logical conclusion can be made as to how best to action the task or remedy the issue. Software installation "Wizards" are not expert systems.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Significant cost savings can result from the use of expert systems. They are also highly valued in preserving corporate intelligence assets.

Advantages

  • Speed up decision making
  • Quality improvement by providing consistent answers for repetitive decisions, processes and tasks
  • Preserve scarce expertise
  • Hold and maintain significant levels of information
  • Reduces creating entry barriers to competitors
  • Review transactions that human experts may overlook

Disadvantages

  • Lack human common sense needed in some decision making
  • Creative responses human experts can respond to in unusual circumstances
  • Domain experts not always able to explain their logic and reasoning
  • Challenges of automating complex processes
  • Lack of flexibility and ability to adapt to changing environments as questions are standard and cannot be changed
  • Not able to recognize when no answer is available

Expert systems are now commonly integrated with conventional information technology and databases.

NEXT: How to Make A Decision Using DSS

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