Group Decision Support and Groupware Technologies
Globalization has not only expanded the product markets. It has also made organizations geographically more dispersed. Therefore, the way the business is done and decisions are made has also changed significantly. Collaborative decision-making has become more valuable than ever.
This is why there is an increased emphasis on developing and implementing communications-driven group decision support systems. Decision making, in the current business environment, is a collaborative process with participation from in-house and remotely located teams or temporary work groups or task forces. In such a scenario, communications-driven group DSS makes it easier for every participant to send and receive communication and interact with others in real time, from their respective locations, without meeting physically.
A communications-driven group DSS
- Fosters collaboration between cross functional business teams at same or different locations
- Allows geographically separated decision makers connect face-to-face in real time
- Allows data sharing with rest of the team members, work groups or task forces
What is Communications-Driven Group Decision Support System ?
Now that we know how a communications-driven group DSS can support decision-making among geographically dispersed teams using web-based tools, it’s time to understand what exactly it is.
A communications-driven group decision support system:
- Is a type of hybrid computer-based interactive decision support system
- That uses communications and network technologies
- To facilitate communication, resource/information sharing, face-to-face meetings and collaboration
- Among a group of decision makers that are separated by a distance
Group Support Tools
There are a number of tools and technologies that can be incorporated in a GDSS (Group Decision Support System), in order to promote better decision making. These include:
- Groupware: A software system to enhance collaboration among participants/ decision makers and support group/s in completing tasks.
- Multimedia Decision Support: An integration of computer, video and decision-support technologies, facilitating information sharing, group decision tasks, collaboration and coordination. It offers a smart decision support in which decisions are directly affected by the way decision makers interact, review information, make choices and take actions.
- Electronic Meeting System: A software system to facilitate creative problem solving and decision making using electronic technologies.
- Collaborative Workgroup Software: A web-based team collaboration and project management software facilitating group tasks and live discussions for better decision making.
Group Decision Support Situations
A group decision support system fosters collaboration and team decision-making in four different situations:
- Same time, same place
- Same time, different place
- Different time, same place
- Different time, different place
Same Time, Same Place
In this situation, all decision makers are available at same time at same place. The information is displayed on either computer projection system or on individual computers of participants.
Same Time, Different Place
In this situation, individuals participate in decision-making from geographically different locations at the same time. A GDSS
- Allows people to see what others at different locations are doing
- Offers video conferencing facilities where participants can see and hear each other in real time
- Offers support for meeting or interactions via two-way video
- Offers additional facilities, such as screen sharing, chat, audio, white boards
Different Time, Same Place
In this situation, GDSS fosters communication for those who work at same place but have different shift timings. It offers numerous facilities, including:
- Document sharing
- Workstation software for shift work
Different Time, Different Place
It’s important to understand how GDSS work in different time and different place situations. It is a situation where participants are geographically distant and also operate in a different time zone. It fosters communication, collaboration and team decision making through:
- Bulletin board
- Voice mail
A GDSS supports communication and collaboration in all the above situations.
A Managerial Perspective on Group Decision Support
A communications-driven group decision support system is implemented, so that it can support all activities of a work team or task force, irrespective of the locations and time zones of participants.
The major concern of investors/users at the time of deciding whether to develop a decision support system or not must be:
- The type of support a proposed technology can offer
- The extent of support a GDSS will offer
- The technologies it must support to ensure smooth functioning
- The selection of the best technology or system in a given decision-making situation
Therefore, the managers must ask themselves following questions, in order to attain more clarity:
- Should there be an audio conferencing facility? If yes, how many people should be able to participate in a conference at a given time?
- Will participants be using the technology, like bulletin boards?
- What will be the alternative for web conferencing when participants are at different locations and in different time zones?
- How frequent will be resource sharing and how participants will access information and to what extent?
- Do you wish to integrate emailing with the GDSS?
- How can video conferencing be made comfortable for participants?
A lot of thought and planning go into designing and development of a communications-driven group decision support system.
A communications-driven GDSS addresses problems associated with group collaboration, communication and decision making, when participants are geographically dispersed and operate in different time zones.
This means the effectiveness of a GDSS directly depends upon its design, user-interface, DSS architecture, integrated support tools and technical skills possessed by participants who use DSS.
Although managers know that the set of tools that they have chosen for a GDSS are good, but they may not perform equally good in all circumstances. There is no one best way of making decisions or supporting group collaboration. A tool or process may work well in some situations and may terribly fail in others.
In such a scenario, the managers must resort to a contingency approach that focuses on three main points:
- Task Type: The deciding factors include idea generation, creativity, planning, choosing alternatives and action. For example, computer mediated communication is a good fit for idea generation activities, and video and audio conferencing is a good choice when decision-making is a function of human intellect.
- Group Size: bigger the size, higher the difference between technical abilities, likes and interests, preferences and judgments. Small groups may not require extensive support or communication tools while large groups require more sophisticated and automated tools.
- Group Proximity: More sophisticated communications-driven GDSS is required when the group of decision makers is dispersed and operates in different time zones, while a simpler system is sufficient for a group operating from the same place and at same time.
A contingency approach depends on task structure, location of team members and difference in organizational attributes.
A virtual organization is an association of physically and/or professionally detached individuals working together on a project or to achieve a mission. It doesn’t have any physical existence but the technology (internet technology, more precisely) makes it look real.
Communications-driven group decision support systems are best suited for virtual organizations that require a lot of technological support to foster communication and collaboration and get the work done.
A GDSS makes a virtual organization:
- Look real
- Work in real time
- Establish innovative relationships among task forces
- Establish professional alliances among participants
A communications-driven GDSS for a virtual organization makes use of various knowledge management technologies, including:
- Personal computers
- Intranet and extranet
- Wireless technologies
- Collaborative technologies
- Web conferencing
- Worldwide Web
Benefits of Communications-Driven GDSS
- Allows group members contribute significantly in decision making irrespective of their locations and time zones
- Extracts greater participation from team members, given the availability of support technologies
- Makes document sharing easier, faster and more secured
- Fosters more concentrated and focused decision-making
- Saves a lot of money and time by allowing participants to contribute from their own locations (users don’t need to spend time and money in traveling)
- Helps completing tasks fasters
- Reduces the chances of forgetfulness by offering facilities like bulletin boards and whiteboards
- Encourages input of ideas because of its simplicity of use
- Increases information sharing, which ultimately speeds knowledge capturing and enhances productivity
- Makes results available easily and immediately
- Makes it easier to understand by displaying information in the form of graphics
- Gives more structure to virtual operations and decision-making
Evaluating Communication and Group Support Tools
Not all group communication and support tools may suit your requirements. In order to choose the right group support tools for your communication-driven decision support system, it’s essential to consider these factors:
- Scalability: A tool’s ability to support the needs of all anticipated users is known as scalability. Plus, it should be easily integrated with existing hardware and software applications.
- Reliability: A group support tool must be able to perform necessary tasks without failing. Though decision makers use different technologies at different times in different situations, but the reliability of a support tool should be evaluated before integrating it with the system.
- Ease of Installation and Use: A support tool must be easy to install and use. An ideal tool is the one that requires minimal or no formal training for its users. The decision makers may consult DSS experts to integrate group support tools that are easy to use.
- Versatility: Versatility of a support tool plays a crucial role. As different DSS users prefer different platforms, it must be compatible across all platforms. In addition, it must allow easy customization of features and capabilities.
- Security: As a GDSS fosters resource sharing, a support tool must ensure security of data transfer by executing it across firewalls.
- Cost: Given the significant expenditure on a GDSS, a support tool must be affordable enough, so that it doesn’t add much to the basic cost of developing and implementing a DSS.
It’s important to select the right communication and support tools to promote good decision making by a team that is physically dispersed. Moreover, a GDSS must be carefully aligned to the structure of an organization, in order to get the best results.
Groupware is a class of computer programs that enables individuals to collaborate on projects with a common goal from geographically dispersed locations through shared Internet interfaces as a means to communicate within the group.
Groupware may also include remote access storage systems to archive frequently used data files. These can be altered, accessed and retrieved by workgroup members.
Groupware is also known as collaborative software.
The first commercial groupware products emerged in early 1990s when international giants such as IBM and Boeing began using electronic meeting systems for their internal projects. Further, Lotus Notes appeared as a major product of this category, further enhancing remote group collaborations.
Groupware systems are classified based on functions, specifically:
- Computer mediated communication supporting direct participant communication
- Meeting and decision support systems capturing the common understanding of participants
- Shared applications
- Artifacts supporting the interaction of participants through shared work objects
Groupware is either synchronous or asynchronous in nature. Synchronous groupware is a class of applications that allows a group of individuals who are physically separated to interact with each other using shared computational objects in real time. The fundamental requirement of synchronous groupware is real-time coordination among clients. The user interfaces advocate a feeling of togetherness. They require shared audio channels for communication.
Asynchronous groupware uses email, structured messages, agents, workflow, computer conferencing agents, file sharing systems and collaborative writing systems, among others. Asynchronous collaborations between users are well maintained only if they are allowed to perform their contributions without any restrictions. This can be accomplished through replicated data management systems with read any or write any data access. Users can execute concurrent updates.
The extensive use of groupware on the Internet helped contribute to the development of Web 2.0, which uses instant messaging, Web conferencing, group calendars, document sharing, etc.