Group Decision Support Systems

Article excerpt

Committee meetings and group projects are a part of everyday life in the business world. Policies, budget plans, and many other organizational tasks frequently involve some sort of group discussions or meetings. Consequently, managers find themselves spending a great deal of time in meetings and often view them as unproductive or a "waste of time." A Group Decision Support System (GDSS) offers a viable and attractive alternative over the traditional, oral meeting environment and in many situations, has revolutionized the concept of meetings.

Interest and research in the area of GDSS is growing due to the systems' ability to enhance group productivity and interaction. They can decrease the amount of time necessary for meetings by over 50 percent, and can foster collaboration, communication, and negotiation among group participants (Dennis, et al., 1988). For many organizations, this alone is a sufficient incentive for investing in GDSS.

What is a GDSS?

DeSanctis and Gallupe (1987) originally defined a Group Decision Support System as a system that combines communication, computing, and decision support technologies to facilitate formulation and solution of unstructured problems by a group of people. There has been a general lack of consensus about what exactly constitutes a Group Decision Support System, however. GDSSs have evolved beyond their original emphasis on decision making, and new terms such as Electronic Meeting System (EMS), Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW), and Groupware are also used to describe the technology. Whatever tenn is used, a GDSS today can be defined as a computer-based system that supports groups of people engaged in a common task and that provides an interface to a shared environment. Most GDSSs are designed to help groups become more productive by supporting the exchange of ideas, opinions, and preferences within the group.

Group participants using a typical GDSS may be seated at microcomputer terminals arranged in a semi-circle or U-shape and connected via a Local Area Network (although alternative meeting styles are also available as discussed in the following section). A group leader or facilitator stands in front of the group and controls the meeting by starting and stopping the software, preparing questionnaires, and performing other administrative tasks. Meeting participants communicate with each other and the facilitator via a computer network and participate in brainstorming (see figure 1), voting, ranking, and other procedures to accomplish group tasks. In addition, the software may provide access to databases, models, statistical analysis packages, and a host of other tools.

GDSS Environmental Settings

A GDSS contributes to problem solving by providing an environmental setting that facilitates group communication. Four types of GDSS settings are used and are based on the size of the group and where the members are located. In each setting, group members can meet synchronously. That is, they can meet at the same time or at different times when all group members cannot be present simultaneously. A brief discussion of these four types of GDSS settings follows:

* Decision Room: A small group in a face-to-face meeting. A decision room supports a small group ranging in size from three to approximately 24 people who need to meet face-to-face. Some decision rooms (such as the SAMM system at the University of Minnesota) can support a group no larger than 10 people while others (such as the facilities at the University of Arizona or IBM) can support larger groups.

* Local Area Decision Network: A small group whose members are dispersed. When a few group members are unable to meet face-to-face and are dispersed in a limited geographical area, a Local Area Decision Network can be used. For example, group members may meet in different offices asynchronously using a computerized bulletin board, or they may meet synchronously using a real-time document editor. …