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SPATIAL DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS INTRODUCTION Spatial decision support systems (SDSS) provide computerized support for decision-making

where there is a geographic or spatial component to the decision. Computer support for spatial applications is provided by systems based around a Geographic (or Geographical) Information System (GIS) (Keenan, 2002). A GIS has a sophisticated data manager that allows queries based on spatial location. The GIS interface facilitates interaction with this database. A GIS can be distinguished from a simple map display program that lacks these query features. The distinct contribution of GIS to decision-making lies in the ability of these systems to store and manipulate data based on its spatial location. Spatial data is of interest in a wide range of government and business activities. Early areas of GIS application included primary industries such as forestry and mining. An important area of GIS application is the transportation field; both in the design of transport infrastructure and in the routing of vehicles that use this infrastructure. More recent developments have included the use of GIS for location analysis and related problems. These include a variety of business and government applications, such as the siting of public facilities (Maniezzo, Mendes, & Paruccini, 1998) or large retail outlets (Clarke & Rowley, 1995). GIS continues to grow in importance, playing a central role in the provision of new services such as mobile telephony. Mobile commerce is an emerging field, largely distinguished from electronic commerce by the presence of a locational element (MacKintosh, Keen, & Heikkonen, 2001). In this environment the importance of GIS and spatial decision-making systems can only increase. ORIGINS OF SDSS GIS was first used in the 1950s in North America, largely for the automated production of maps. The 1960s saw the introduction of many of the basic concepts in GIS, although their widespread implementation awaited further developments in computer technology. In the 1970s the concept of decision support systems (DSS) began to develop in the Information Systems (IS) community, notably with the work undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Gorry & Scott-Morton, 1971; Little, 1971). By the early 1980s there were many books and papers published in the DSS field (Sprague, 1980) (Alter, 1980) (Bonczek, Holsapple, & Whinston, 1981) and DSS had become a recognized part of IS. As computer systems became more powerful, some DSS type applications evolved that used map display or employed spatial information. A good example is the Geodata Analysis and Display System (GADS) (Grace, 1977) which was used for routing applications. Nevertheless, the technology it used had limited graphics and inadequate processing power to exploit the full potential of spatial applications. While these developments in DSS were taking place in the IS community in the 1970s, a largely separate trend of development took place in GIS, with developments largely concentrated on geographic data processing applications (Nagy & Wagle, 1979). Spatial applications had placed heavy demands on the technology, and this slowed the progression from data processing to decision support applications. However, over time improving computer performance led to increasing interest in spatial what-if analysis and modeling applications. The idea of a spatial decision support system (SDSS) evolved in the mid 1980s (Armstrong, Densham, & Rushton, 1986), and by the end of the decade SDSS was included in an authoritative review of the GIS field (Densham, 1991). This trend was evident in the launch of research initiative on SDSS in 1990 by the US National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (Goodchild & Densham, 1993). Consequently, by the early 1990s SDSS had achieved a recognized place in the GIS community and was identified by Muller (1993) as a growth area in the application of GIS technology. The delay in the recognition of SDSS, compared to other DSS in other domains reflects the greater demands of spatial processing on IT. Nevertheless, despite these developments SDSS does not occupy a central place in the GIS field; and many introductory GIS textbooks do not mention SDSS at all (Bernhardsen, 1999; Clarke, 1997). This may reflect a feeling among many in the geographic disciplines that SDSS applications involve a diversity of techniques from different fields largely outside the geography domain. Less attention was paid to SDSS within the DSS research community, until the mid 1990s when some work in this area began to appear (Wilson, 1994). One of the first papers in an IS related publication illustrated the effectiveness of SDSS technology (Crossland, Wynne, & Perkins, 1995). Recently the benefits of SDSS for both inexperienced and experienced decision-makers (Mennecke, Crossland, & Killingsworth, 2000) were discussed in MIS Quarterly. DEFINITION OF SDSS ALTERNATIVE PERSEPECTIVES ON SDSS

A DSS is a specific system designed for a user familiar with the information and modeling aspects of the specific problem. A DSS is not a black box, it should provide the user with control over the models and interface representations used (Barbosa & Hirko, 1980). SDSS users come from different backgrounds and this has implications for the type of system that they use. This diversity of user requirement places important demands on the design of the components of the SDSS, not only the interface but also the database and modeling components (Grimshaw, Mott, & Roberts, 1997). Flexibility is a key requirement of the GIS software used to build a specific system of this type, as interaction with other software is needed to extend the GIS for the specific problem. A successful SDSS must provide system builders with the flexibility to accommodate user preferences and allow users employ the form of interaction that they are most comfortable with. FUTURE PROSPECTS FOR SDSS A number of potential directions can be identified when looking at the future prospects for SDSS development. Improvements in standard GIS software might increase the range of people who could easily use it directly for decision-making. Superior customization features in GIS software might allow easier modification of GIS for specific decisions. Enhanced features for interaction with other software might allow GIS be readily extended to form a large variety of SDSS applications. A number of different categories of GIS software exist. At the top end large powerful packages exist capable of dealing with large amounts of data, for example the ESRI ArcInfo software. This powerful software is not always easy to use for decision-making purposes, but has the capacity to model large geographic areas. Below this level there are a number of user-friendly desktop software applications, for instance ESRI Arcview (ESRI) or Mapinfo (Mapinfo), which are more often associated with decisionmaking applications. Each new version of these products has additional features and improved interface design, allowing these applications to assist in the decision-making needs of an increasing set of users. Those users who find GIS directly useable will typically use only a few of the many additional features offered, reflecting the viewpoint of SDSS as a subset of GIS. GIS vendors have recognized the importance of making their software flexible and customizable. Many of the off-theshelf products are simply one of many possible configurations of the underlying tools with which the software is built. Those wishing to build SDSS, either third parties or users themselves, can provide alternative configurations directed at supporting specific decisions. In a similar way, interfaces are provided for other programs and a variety of third party add-ons exist for specialized purposes. The GIS vendors are moving their products towards commonly recognized standards, for example ESRI, the largest GIS vendor, have moved its products to a Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) based scripting language. All vendors provide products that support popular software interchange standards such as Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). Another technical development of interest is the extension of GIS techniques to the Internet. Internet standards have some limitations for use in spatial applications, but new software and plugins continue to be developed. Current applications offer map display, but frequently fall short of providing comprehensive GIS functionality. Future developments offer the possibility of a distributed SDSS that could connect with datasets held at distant locations on the Internet. In this scenario multiple specific SDSS applications might use the Internet to share the geographic data that they have in common.

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