Academic journal article The Public Manager

Executive's Guide to Practical Computer Models: The Nontechnical Leader Can Learn to Shape, Oversee, Any Manage Projects Wit, Computer-Based to and, in the Process, Become a More Intelligent Consumer

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Executive's Guide to Practical Computer Models: The Nontechnical Leader Can Learn to Shape, Oversee, Any Manage Projects Wit, Computer-Based to and, in the Process, Become a More Intelligent Consumer

Article excerpt

Government executives are witnessing revolutionary changes in information technologies and the geopolitical landscape. These profound changes present leaders and decision makers with unique technology demands and special opportunities as they strive to develop and implement solutions to historic problems and new challenges. To succeed, government executives must understand and appreciate how technology supports and serves them and master the implementation of improved technologies.

One response to emerging challenges is the proliferation of models embedded in computer simulations, decision support systems, and computer-based analyses. To some, the results are insightful; to others, the trend is insidious. Military command and control visionaries, for example, envision a future of Power to the Edge. This concept implies an information and decision authority that is more broadly distributed than in most current command and control constructs, with participatory leadership that involves more people throughout the organization empowered to both influence and make decisions.

Technology, including models, furnishes critical decision support to this distributed-decision-making and information-sharing-based concept. In Edge organizations, understanding a leader's intent and the key information relevant to the situation are crucial to successful empowerment. Technology, supported by computer models, encodes a leader's intent in information systems, allows it to be distributed efficiently, and empowers subordinate leaders to act decisively. Achieving this vision presupposes that the computer models running behind the scenes are ensuring that decisions are feasible (for example, logistically supportable and physically possible) and consider all relevant information.

Military command and control is an obvious high-visibility, high-cost example where computer models are becoming more prevalent, but the trend of using computer-based decision support tools also spans the public sector. This article offers thoughts and guidelines to help public-sector leaders and executives understand emerging concepts and advancing technologies in modeling. A key goal is to help nontechnical leaders better understand technology and help them make it work for them instead of them working for it. Technology needs such understanding to achieve its potential, and public managers need it to achieve their goals. Together, technology and public managers can more effectively meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Types of Models

For purposes of this discussion, a model is the representation of one system by another. It is an abstraction created to describe and better understand that which is real. Good models behave similarly to the real systems they represent, but they are not perfect and do not predict the future. Most models relevant to this discussion could be characterized as logical or mathematical models. These types of models are often embedded in computer simulations, decision support systems, analyses, and automated reporting systems.

Model is a general term, but many people believe that all models are simulation models. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although many useful models fall into the category of simulation, other categories are better used in different decision situations. Simulation models should be employed only when the results justify the effort--they tend to be complicated, difficult to populate with data, and labor intensive in output interpretation--so other classes of models are often more appropriate.

For example, optimization models help managers find the right combination of alternatives to either minimize negative outcomes or maximize positive ones. Analytical models can mathematically represent a system and the interaction of its components without simulating it. These models often take into account the uncertainty involved in the system using probability theory. …

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