The increasing need for decision support tools in industrial contexts

Robin Wikström, Senior Researcher

Both practitioners and researchers are increasingly moving away from tools that make decisions for the users, towards tools that aid users in making the best decision. This movement is both logical and necessary. With a business climate that competes with decreasing margins, the need for tools that can help with avoiding unnecessary mistakes is essential.

Accepting the need for decision support

Often one stumbles upon individuals (and organizations) who believe that IT and machines will make humans obsolete. Although I believe that we will experience a lot of these “replacements”, it does not mean that everything will be affected, nor that it will happen overnight. Organizations should, in the meantime, concentrate on developing decision support tools that utilize the knowledge acquired inside the organization and support the employees with different tasks. 

Embracing new knowledge

In business settings, there will always be setbacks and losses, but by providing the decision makers with an optimal basis for making decisions it will decrease these setbacks. It is logical to assume that if one has access to all relevant data and knowledge, one’s decision will be more well-grounded and have a lower risk of failure. 
We are constantly bombarded with new innovations, discoveries and research findings which we would need to incorporate into our professional life to be able to increase our work efficiency. It has been estimated that medical doctors would need to read medical journals 24/7 to be able to keep up with everything new being published. This is, of course, not even remotely possible. This is one of the reasons why decision support tools are increasing rapidly in the medical domain, by letting a computer catch up on all relevant publications and participate in diagnosing the patient it could provide the human user with critical advice, i.e.: “A new cure for this specific diagnose was presented last year in publication X”.

Utilizing the available knowledge

The same problem also applies for traditional industries. The flow of data collected by sensors or generated by different information systems is increasing exponentially. A lot of this data is completely irrelevant as is, but, used in the right setting it could aid and decrease uncertainty for decision makers in organizations. There is therefore an imminent need for organizations to start mapping the potential decision support tools that their data and organizational knowledge could produce. A positive side-effect of developing these tools (or at least thinking about developing) is that organizations are forced into finding out in which knowledge-areas they are strong and where they lack data/experience. 

To sum it up, IT-tools should support decision making, not make decisions and definitely not replace the decision makers. At the moment, the need and possibility to create these kinds of tools is huge. I believe that organizations, and individual users, should embrace the thought that they could work “side-by-side” with computers, letting the computers handle the time consuming tasks and themself concentrate on tasks that humans handle better.

At PBI we are developing several decision support systems following these principles, e.g. Challenge Management, Sales Challenge Management and the Configurator. We will elaborate on these developments in future blog-posts. 

Wolf Virkki