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Decision Support System Outputs

Originally published November 11, 2009

What outputs and results are expected from computerized decision support systems (DSSs)? What outputs do we expect from a business intelligence (BI) system?

Traditionally, one would answer the intended output is "relevant information." In a vague, idealistic way that is correct. But DSS designers and builders need to understand exactly what information a manager needs and wants in a specific decision situation. So more exactly, the output of a computerized decision support system may be quantitative results from models, analyses and displays of historical operating data, displays of facts in various formats, recommendations and relevant documents. Outputs are the direct result of the interaction of user inputs, stored or accessed data and documents and analytical and retrieval processes in the computerized system. One hopes DSS/BI outputs decrease uncertainty in a decision situation and positively impact decisions.

Outputs describe the information that comes from the programmed process in the DSS. An output may be a map, a chart, a tabular data summary, a printed report or a data file. DSS outputs include forms, objects and other representations for inputs and manipulation by a user, and representations that display results from queries, analyses and rules for users. Decision support information may be data points on a chart, text, stored or computer-generated images and even sounds. Decision support system output may be descriptive or prescriptive. Any output must be "suitable for human interpretation" and meaningful to users. Decision support outputs should inform the user of the system about the supported decision situation. According to Wikipedia, the English word inform "comes (via French) from the Latin verb informare, to give form to, to form an idea of." Outputs should inform and give form to data and situations. The outputs provide analysis and context to what we know and think about a situation.

The evidence is substantial that the amount of information that is received impacts strategies for processing information and making choices, the time spent in decision making and decision accuracy/quality. The relation between increasing information and improved decision making is not, however, linear. Rather the relation is an inverted U; that is, decision making improves as more information is received until an inflection point is reached where no improvement occurs, and then more information creates an overload and decision-making performance declines. Decision support systems for providing business intelligence should help manage the enormous information load that confronts managers.

Decision-relevant information is the result of processing, manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds to the knowledge of the person receiving it. Decision relevant outputs must possess utility, value or some meaning for the system user and the consumers of the information. Decision support outputs must be related to truth about a situation, to communicating relevant information and to representing complex relationships.

Managers and their support staffs need to consider what information and analyses are actually needed to support management and business decisions. Some managers need both detailed transaction data and summarized data. Most managers only want summarized data. Managers usually want lots of charts and graphs; a few only want tables of numbers. Many managers want information provided routinely or periodically, and some want information available online and on demand. Certain managers want financial analyses, and some managers want primarily "soft," non-financial or qualitative information.

In general, a computerized data-driven decision support system can provide summarized transaction information, trend analyses and performance monitoring. A model-driven DSS can provide projections and forecasts, sensitivity and "what if" results. Document-driven DSS outputs include relevant documents; knowledge-driven DSSs provide recommendations. Outputs of communications-driven DSSs are interactive messages and information sharing.

A computerized DSS can help managers understand the status of operations, monitor business results, review customer preference data or even investigate and analyze competitor actions. In all of these situations, management information and analyses should have a number of characteristics. Information must be both timely and current. These characteristics mean the information is up to date and available when managers want it. Also, information must be accurate, relevant and complete. Finally, managers want information presented in a format that assists them in making decisions. In general, management information should be summarized and concise; and any decision support system should have an option for managers to obtain more detailed information about underlying data, models or rules.

Decision support and business intelligence systems need to provide current, timely information that is accurate, relevant and complete. A specific DSS must present appropriate information outputs in an appropriate format that is easy to understand and manipulate. The information presented may result from analysis of transaction data or it may be the result of a decision model or it may have been gathered from external sources. Computerized support systems can present internal and external facts, informed opinions and forecasts to managers.

Managers want the right information, at the right time, in the right format, and at the right cost to support their decision making.


Dan Power Blog, "Managing Information Load," November 29, 2007.

Power, D. J., "What is the output of a decision support system?” DSS News, Vol. 9, No. 3, February 10, 2008.

Power, D. J., Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for Managers, Westport, CT: Greenwood/Quorum Books, 2002.

  • Dan PowerDan Power

    Daniel J. "Dan" Power is a Professor of Information Systems and Management at the College of Business Administration at the University of Northern Iowa and the editor of DSSResources.com, the Web-based knowledge repository about computerized systems that support decision making; the editor of PlanningSkills.com; and the editor of DSS News, a bi-weekly e-newsletter. Dr. Power's research interests include the design and development of decision support systems and how these systems impact individual and organizational decision behavior.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Dan's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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