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GROUP SUPPORT SYSTEMS

A group support system (GSS) is any combination of hardware and software that enhances
group work. GSS is a generic term that includes all forms of collaborative computing. GSS
evolved after information technology researchers recognized that technology could be
developed to support the many activities normally occurring at face-to face meetings (idea
generation, consensus building, anonymous ranking, voting, etc.). A complete GSS is still
considered a specially designed information system, but since the mid-1990s many of the
special capabilities of GSS have been embedded in productivity tools. For example, Microsoft
NetMeeting Client is part of Windows.

Most GSS are easy to use because they have a Windows GUI or a Web browser interface. Most
GSS are fairly general and provide support for activities like idea generation, conflict resolution,
and voting. An electronic meeting system (EMS) is a form of groupware that supports
anytime/anyplace meetings. Group tasks include, but are not limited to, communication,
planning, idea generation, problem-solving, issue discussion, negotiation, conflict resolution,
system analysis and design, and collaborative group activities such as document preparation
and sharing (Dennis et al., 1988, p. 593). Typically EMS include desktop videoconferencing,
whereas in the past GSS did not. However, there is a blurring between these two concepts, so
today they should be considered synonomous. GSS settings range from a group meeting at a
single location for solving a specific problem (e.g., building design; see DSS in Action 7.4) to
multiple locations held via
GSS can be considered in terms of the common group activities that can benefit from
computer-based support: information retrieval, including access of data values from an existing
database and retrieval of information from other group members; information sharing, the
display of data for the whole group on a common screen or at group members' workstations for
viewing; and information use, the application of software technology (e.g., modeling packages
or specific application programs; see DSS in Focus 7.8; Andrienko et al., 2002; Dias and Climaco,
2002), procedures, and group problem-solving techniques for reaching a group decision.
Creativity in problemsolving can be enhanced via GSS (discussed later in this chapter). The goal
of GSS is to provide support to meeting participants to improve the productivity and
effectiveness of meetings by speeding up the decision-making process (efficiency) or by
improving the quality of the results (effectiveness). GSS attempts to increase process and task
gains and decrease process and task losses (see Reinig and Shin, 2002). Specific GSS process
gains are listed in DSS in Focus 7.9. Overall, GSS has been successful in practice (see Holt, 2002);
however, some process and task gains may decrease, while some process and task losses may
increase. Improvement is achieved by providing support to group members for the exchange of
ideas, opinions, and preferences. Specific features such as parallelism and anonymity produce
this improvement.

GROUP SUPPORT SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGIES


There are three options for deploying GSS technology:
(1) in a special-purpose decision room,
(2) at a multiple-use facility, and
(3) as Web-based groupware with clients running wherever the group members are.

The Decision (Electronic Meeting) Room


 12 to 30 networked personal computers
 Usually recessed into the desktop
 Server PC
 Large-screen projection system
 Breakout rooms
 Need a Trained Facilitator for Success

The earliest GSS were installed in expensive, customized, special-purpose decision rooms
(electronic meeting rooms) with PCs with sunken displays hidden under desks and a large public
screen at the front of the room. The original idea was that only executives and high-level
managers would use the facility. The software in a special-purpose electronic meeting room
usually runs over a local area network (LAN), and these rooms are fairly plush in their
furnishings. Electronic meeting rooms can be constructed in different shapes and sizes. A
common design includes a room equipped with 12-30 networked personal computers, usually
recessed into the desktop (for better participant viewing). A server PC is attached to a large-
screen projection system and connected to the network to display the work at individual
workstations and aggregated information from the facilitator's workstation. Adjacent to the
decision room there sometimes are break-out rooms equipped with PCs connected to the
server where small subgroups can consult. The output from the subgroups can also be
displayed on the large public screen. Organizations still use electronic decision rooms, and
these rooms very ably support same time/same place meetings (at many universities,
companies, and government agencies). One Ohio school district even built a portable facility in
a bus (the driver's seat turns around to become the facilitator's seat). There is still a need and a
desire for groups to meet face to face even when supported by collaborative technology. A
facility like this can conveniently provide videoconferencing

MULTIPLE-USE FACILITY
A second option is to construct a multiple-use facility, sometimes a general purpose computer
lab or computer classroom that also is a less elegant but equally useful GSS room. For example,
at the Terry College of Business of The University of Georgia, Sanford Hall has a 48-seat
lab/computer classroom with GroupSystems MeetingRoom installed. This room also "triples" as
a distance learning classroom because it contains the latest academic videoconferencing
software and hardware. Since a decision room might not be used 100 percent of the time for
groupwork, this is an effective way to lower or share costs. For the first and second options, a
trained facilitator is necessary to coordinate the meetings. The group leader works with the
facilitator to structure the meeting. The success of a GSS session depends largely on the quality,
activities, and support of the facilitator (Miranda and Bostrom. 1997). For details on facilitator
support, an important but often neglected aspect of GSS, see Ngwenyama et al. (1996).
WEB BASED
Since the late 1990s, the most common approach has been the third option: using Web-based
or LAN-based groupware that allows group members to work from any location at any time
(e.g., Lotus Notes, Groove, WebEx, Place Ware, GroupSystems, NetMeeting). This groupware
often includes audioconferencing and videoconferencing. The availability of relatively
inexpensive groupware (for purchase or for rent) combined with the power and low cost of
capable PCs makes this type of system viable. Some groupware, notably Groove, runs in a peer-
to-peer mode, where each person works on a copy of the entire conference so that only
differences among the files need be transmitted. Thus standard telephone connections work
relatively well (without video or audio modes). Also, the high cost of constructing a facility and
finding an experienced facilitator, and the need to have participants connect from other
locations

SUPPORTED TOOLS AND ACTIVITIES


Group Systems standard tools support group processes, including brainstorming, list building,
information gathering, voting, organizing, prioritizing, and consensus building:
• Electronic Brainstorming gathers ideas and comments in an unstructured manner. Groups
work rapidly in generating a free flow of ideas. Participants contribute simultaneously
(parallelism) and anonymously.
• Group Outliner allows the group to create and comment on a multilevel list of topics in a tree
or outline structure. Participants can attach comments at every level of the outline. Comments
are integrated and collaborative.
• Topic Commenter allows participants to comment on a list of topics. This idea generation is
more structured than that of Electronic Brainstorming but less structured than that of Group
Outliner.
GSS MEETING PROCESS

Iterate until
the solution is
reached…

EXECUTIVE INFORMATON SYSTEMS

Executive information system (EiS). An EIS is a computer-based system that serves the
information needs of top executives. It provides rapid access to timely information and direct
access to management reports. EIS is very user-friendly, is supported by graphics, and provides
exceptions reporting and drill-down capabilities. It is also connected to the Internet, intranets,
and extranets.

Executive information system (EiS). An EIS is a computer-based system that serves the
information needs of top executives. It provides rapid access to timely information and direct
access to management reports. EIS is very user-friendly, is supported by graphics, and provides
exceptions reporting and drill-down capabilities. It is also connected to the Internet, intranets,
and extranets.

• Executive support system (ESS). An ESS is a comprehensive support system that goes beyond
EIS to include communication, office automation, analysis support, and business intelligence.

• Enterprise information system (EIS). It is a corporate-wide system that provides holistic


information from a corporate point of view. Different users across the enterprise can use the
system for different purposes. These systems serve the needs of top executives as well.

CHARACTERISTICS AND CAPABILITIES OF EXECUTIVE SUPPORT SYSTEMS

The desired characteristics of an EIS and some of its capabilities are presented in Table 8.2.
Most vendors provide these capabilities in their business intelligence enterprise systems. The
important ones are described next in some detail.

 DRILL DOWN :
One of the most useful capabilities of an EIS is to provide details of any summarized
information. For example, an executive may notice a decline in corporate sales from a
daily (or weekly) report. To discover the reason, he or she may want to see the sales for
each region. If a problematic region is identified, the executive may want to see further
details (e.g., by product or by salesperson). In certain cases, this drill-down process may
continue into several levels of detail

 STATUS ACCESS
In this mode , the latest data or reports on the status of key indicator s can be accessed
at any time via networks. The relevance of information is important, and emphasis is
placed on current data. This may require daily (or even hourly operational tracking and
reporting.
 ANALYSIS Analytic capabilities are available in executive information systems. Instead of
merely having access to the data, executives can use the EI S to do analyze s o n their
own . Most recent software package s include an integrated analysis capability as part of
their online analytical processing (OLAP) engine . These include Pilot Software's Decision
Support Suite, Informix's MetaCube Product Suite, Cognos's PowerPlay
 EXCEPTION REPORTING Exception reporting is based on the concept of management by
exception. Accordingly, the executive should give attention to exceptions to standards.
Thus, exception reporting calls the executive's attention only to cases with a very bad
(or very good) performance. Typically, critical items are reported not only numerically
but also in traffic light colors: green for OK, yellow for a warning, and red for
performance e outside the preset boundaries of the plan (danger
 NAVIGATION OF INFORMATION Navigation of information is a capability that allows
large amounts of data to be explored easily and quickly. This capability can be enhanced
with hypermedia tools
 COMMUNICATION Executives need to communicate with one another. Communication
can be verbal, by e-mail, a transfer of a report addressed to someone's attention, a call
for a meeting, a comment made to a news group on the Internet, or the interface of a
voice mail to a PDA . Additional communication can be provided through collaborative
computing technologies such as those provided by GSS (e.g., Lotus Notes/Domino,
Groove.net, Microsoft's NetMeeting; see Chapter 7). Executive chat rooms, bulletin
boards, and other Web-support tools are popular, as are integrated personal electronic
communication devices, such as cell phone s that support Web browsing and PDA's.

EIS delivers information that managers need in their day-to-day jobs. The information is
typically presented in a structured, easy-to-access manner with only limited capability for direct
ad hoc analysis. If there are analytic capabilities in EIS, they tend to be of a repetitive nature
(e.g., trend analysis), as opposed to the unique ad hoc analysis of DSS, which can be provided
through OLA P systems. Although this is the usual case, both DS S and EIS may center on the
investigation and understanding of problems that are not necessarily predictable, structured, or
repetitive.

ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNING/ENTERPRIS E RESOURCE MANAGEMEN T (ERP/ERM )

With the advance of enterprise-wide client/server computing come s a new challenge: how to
control all major business processes with a single software architecture in real-time. The
integration solution, known as enterprise resource planning (ERP) (some - times called
enterprise resource management, ERM) , promise s benefits from increased efficiency to
improved quality, productivity, and profitability

The name ERP is somewhat misleading because the software does not concentrate on either
planning or resources. A major objective of ERP is to integrate all departments and functions
across a company into a single compute r system that can serve the entire enterprise's needs.
For example, improved order entry allows immediate access to inventory, product data,
customer credit history, and prior order information. This raises productivity and increases
customer satisfaction. On e

Knowledge management (KM)

is a process that helps organizations identify, select, organize, disseminate, and transfer
important information and expertise that are part of the organization's memory and that
typically reside within the organization in an unstructured manner.

KNOWLEDGE is very distinct from data and information in the information technology context
Whereas data are a collection of facts, measurements, and statistics, information is organized
or processed data that are timely (i.e., inferences from the data are drawn within the time
frame of applicability) and accurate
Knowledge is information that is contextual, relevant, and actionable. For example, a map
giving detailed driving directions from one location to another could be considered data. An up-
to-the-minute traffic bulletin along the freeway that indicates a traffic slowdown due to
construction several miles ahead could be considered information. Awareness of an alternative,
back-rOads route could be considered knowledge. In this case, the map is considered data
because it does not contain current relevant information that affects the driving time and
conditions from one location to the other. However, having the current conditions as
information is only useful if you have knowledge that will enable you to avert the construction
zone. The implication is that knowledge has strong experiential and reflective elements that
distinguish it from information in a given context. Having knowledge implies that it can be
exercised to solve a problem, whereas having information does not carry the same
connotation. An ability to act is an integral part of being knowledgeable. For example, two
people in the same context with the same information may not have the same ability to use the
information to the same degree of success. Hence there is a difference in the human capability
to add value. The differences in ability may be due to different experiences, different training,
different perspectives, and other factors. While data, information, and knowledge may all be
viewed as assets of an organization, knowledge provides a higher level of meaning about data
and information. It conveys meaning, and hence tends to be much more valuable, yet more
ephemeral.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM CYCLE

A functioning knowledge management system follows six steps in a cycle (Figure 9.2). The
reason for the cycle is that knowledge is dynamically refined over time. The knowledge in a
good KM system is never finished because the environment changes over time, and the
knowledge must be updated to reflect the changes.
The cycle works as follows:

1. Create knowledge. Knowledge is created as people determine new ways of doing things
or develop know-how. Sometimes external knowledge is brought in. Some of these new
ways may become best practices.
2. Capture knowledge. New knowledge must be identified as valuable and be represented
in a reasonable way.
3. Refine knowledge. New knowledge must be placed in context so that it is actionable.
This is where human insights (tacit qualities) must be captured along with explicit facts.
4. 4. Store knowledge. Useful knowledge must then be stored in a reasonable format in a
knowledge repository so that others in the organization can access it.
5. 5. Manage knowledge. Like a library, the knowledge must be kept current. It must be
reviewed to verify that it is relevant and accurate.
6. 6. Disseminate knowledge. Knowledge must be made available in a useful format to
anyone in the organization who needs it, anywhere and anytime. As knowledge is
disseminated, individuals develop, create, and identify new knowledge or update old
knowledge which they replenish into the system
COMPONENTS OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Knowledge management is more a methodology applied to business practices than a


technology or a product. Nevertheless, information technology is crucial to the success of every
knowledge management system. Information technology enables KM by providing the
enterprise architecture upon which it is built. Knowledge management systems are developed
using three sets of technologies:

communication, collaboration, and storage and retrieval.

 Communication technologies allow users to access needed knowledge, and to


communicate with each other—especially with experts. E-mail, the Internet, corporate
intranets, and other Web-based tools provide communication capabilities. Even fax
machines and the telephone are used for communication, especially when the practice
approach to knowledge management is adopted.
 Collaboration technologies provide the means to perform group work. Groups can work
together on common documents at the same time (synchronous) or at different times
(asynchronous); in the same place, or in different places. This is especially important for
members of a community of practice working on knowledge contributions. Other
collaborative computing capabilities, such as electronic brainstorming, enhance group
work, especially for knowledge contribution. Additional forms of group work involve
experts working with individuals trying to apply their knowledge. This requires
collaboration at a fairly high level. Other collaborative computing systems allow an
organization to create a virtual space so that individuals can work online anywhere and
at any time.
 Storage and retrieval technologies originally meant using a database management
system to store and manage knowledge. This worked reasonably well in the early days
for storing and managing most explicit knowledge, and even explicit knowledge about
tacit knowledge. However, capturing, storing, and managing tacit knowledge usually
requires a different set of tools. Electronic document-management systems and
specialized storage systems that are part of collaborative computing systems fill this
void. These storage systems have come to be known as knowledge repositories.