A Brief History of DSS
It was a retired telephone executive, Chester Barnard, who brought the term “decision making” from the public administration world to the business world. This phrase soon replaced others like “resource allocation” and “policy making”, and changed how managers operated.
Unlike policy making and resource allocation, which don’t necessarily result in a firm conclusion, “decision making” does involve ending deliberations and taking action.
And so, it was Barnard and other theorists that followed him that spurred the study of managerial decision making. The mission to make the most rational decisions continues, but it was recognized early on that psychological and contextual restraints interfere with the ability of humans to make perfectly rational decisions.
Other constraints, like time limitations, complex circumstances, emotions, and human computational power, affect our ability to make decisions. It was clear that humans – whether individually or in groups – required some kind of support in decision making. That support would come in the form of electronic computing.
Decision support, as a concept, was developed mainly from the studies of organizational decision making at the Carnegie Institute of Technology during the 1950s-1960s. Stemming from a deep interest in organizational behavior and the human brain, scientists laid the groundwork for computerized tools to assist with decision making. By the 1970s, DSS became a research area of its own.
Over the next two decades, EIS – Executive Information Systems -, and GDSS – Group Decision Support Systems -, and ODSS – Organizational Decision Support Systems -, emerged, having evolved from the single user and model-oriented DSS.
The scope and definition of DSS also progressed over the years. It started as a computer-based aid to decision-making, but it came to involve users accessing databases and models to solve unstructured problems. Now, it’s seen as a critical tool for managerial tasks.
In the late 80s, a DSS was designed for United Airlines. It directly resulted in the reduction of travel delays as it assisted ground operations management. The realm of DSS expanded in the 1990s with data warehousing and on-line analytical processing (OLAP). Toward the turn of the millennium, new web-based applications were discovered.