Group Support System in the Information Technologies

Introduction

This paper seeks to provide a better insight into the application of information technology in supporting task-oriented group meetings. It will describe Group Support System (GSS) that was invented in an attempt to use information technologies to enhance task-oriented meetings. Group Information Systems under which GSS falls is being increasingly applied in the academic, industrial, organizational and business fields. The Group Support Systems are understood to be collaborative software tools that are utilized to structure and focus on deliberations of teams to minimize the expenses and distractions among teams or groups that operate collaboratively. Group Support Systems have been used by big organizations like Proctor and Gamble, IBM and Boeing to reduce the times and frequency of meetings by over 90 percent; it has also been used in the U.S. military. Group Support Systems have altered and revolutionized the communication landscape in an organizational setting. The main business challenge today is to reduce and control costs, enhance global competitiveness and accelerate product development. The collaboration within groups becomes effective as the knowledge is increased but the problem of geographical dispersion still reigns. Group Support Systems can therefore be defined as an information technology-based environment that uses computer-mediated communication to support the work of groups that are geographically dispersed. Group Support System provides organizations with various applications from categorizing to brainstorming to analyzing. These systems provide an opportunity for the people to share, evaluate, organize and plan for action (Burstein & Holsapple, 2008).

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A GSS, also traditionally known as a Group Decision Support System (GDSS) or Electronic Meeting System (EMS), is a combination of computer technology, communication and decision support technologies that help in the process and the solution of solving unstructured problems. It is further defined as the organized collection of people, databases, procedure software that are applied to support problem-specific decisions in an organization (AquaStress, 2011). This essay will grace the historical development of GSS and the research studies related to the topic and its application in the contemporary world.

Historical Development

The development of computerized support systems was made practical by the introduction of microcomputers, distribution and timeshare operating systems but the history of its implementation started in the mid-1960s. Different people trace the historical development of Group Support Systems from different vantage points based on the accounts of how it happened and how important it was at that particular period.

The years of 1960s and 1970s were credited for the revolution of information systems. Researchers started to systematically study the use of computerized quantitative systems to aid in decisions making and planning. The major milestone in the study of GSS was in 1967 based on Scott Morton’s dissertation at Harvard University. The pioneer data processing systems of the 1950s, though it was still important, paved the way for a more elaborate and complex Management Information System (MIS) that was intended to provide information to the right person at the right time at a cheaper cost. These systems proved to be inflexible and unstructured and hence could not meet the demands of the managers. This followed the invention of another type of information system referred to as the Decision Support System (DSS) that was based on the flexible and direct interaction of the manager and the terminals of the computer, and it was primarily aimed at supporting all the phases of decision-making by identifying the problem and generating useful information for solutions. These ancient systems were only designed for individual managers, and they were not meant for groups, and it was not until the 1980s when researchers identified potential for applying DSS concepts in making input involving various participants. It was this period of the 1980s that witnessed the dramatic innovations in technology that resulted in information systems that were more powerful but cheap. Researchers came to the realization that computer systems could be utilized to support decisions making tasks.

The evolution in the GSS software for computer systems was matched by the revolutionary developments in the field of computer software, and this was realized following the birth of personal computers. During this period systems became more powerful while becoming cheap simultaneously due to the mass production of computers that were made available to people and organizations at affordable prices. It was only after this that the communication techniques between multiple personal computers and the Local Area Networks (LAN) that was developed provided for the sharing of information between multiple computers. This made it possible to conceptualize the idea of building GSS facilities based on the cheap networks of microcomputers.

The term GSS became relatively popular in the 1990s, and it was relatively used in various academic papers and books, and to date, it has gained prominence, and it is applied to describe meetings that are aided by information technologies (Kilgour & Eden, 2010). There is changing nature of work-life in modern organizations signifying a change in how organizations manage their affairs, for instance, how they hold meetings. In recent times, there has been increased interest in the GSS function due to its importance and value to those people working in groups or those taking part in group decision-making. In the use of GSS, a decision-making group is described as a group where two or more individuals are jointly responsible for a particular program or project and who can take part in the elaboration of the problem’s nature while at the same time generating the solutions and formulating the strategies necessary for the implementation of the solutions. GSS is mainly aimed at aiding these processes (Power 2012).

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Contemporary Best Practice

There is a changing nature of work in modern organizations; the management structures are being flattened with great autonomy for workers in lower cadres with few levels in the organization. Consequently, problems are becoming increasingly complex and there is limited time to solve them hence a lot of people need to be involved in solving the problems since there is no one person who has a monopoly of information. A lot of people are demanding that they should be involved in the process of decision making yet the management is unwilling to cede its authority. This has necessitated the fact that several organizations have resorted to depending on teams and workgroups to make decisions, to carry out their activities and to solve problems to enable them to realize organizational goals (Griffin, Watson & Harrison, n.d.).

Group decision-making is a very important and frequent process in both public and private-sector companies. When GSS is utilized for decision making, they are described as Group Decision Making Support Systems (GDSS) and it includes the features that support groups in the formulation of business decisions as well as conducting the group process in the evaluation and the selection of alternatives. GDSS is designed to aid the decision-making process through the analysis of the alternatives, voting and negotiation (Stair & Reynolds, 2011).

GSS can be used to make and attach several numbers of network configurations only based on: the decision to be supported, demands of the group and the location of negotiation. Among the alternatives of GSS include a combination of decision groups, local area networks, wide area networks and teleconferencing (Stair & Reynolds, 2010). GSS has the intervention aspect of reducing communication barriers and as well as order and efficiency in inherently systematic and inefficient situations like brainstorming and group meetings. With the help of human facilitators, GSS enhances the decision-making process by helping provide a clear focus from group discussions, reduce politicking and to place a lot of attention on critical issues. GSS can be applied in circumstances like committees, review panels, task forces and board meetings.

GSS was designed particularly for the sole purpose of alleviating problems that result from group meetings.GSS enables every individual to participate and contribute to the subject matter of the meetings. Instead of speaking, the group members type their comments on a computer. GSS is established in a manner that all the members or participants in a meeting can be in a position to see what the other members are typing.GSS reduces some possibilities of domination because everyone is involved in typing his comments and not talking and every individual has an equal chance of participating. Comments that are typed on a GSS are anonymous, this is important for those who fear criticism (Dixit & Kumar, 2007).

Anonymity is considered a fundamental factor in the GSS since it can offer a low-threat communicative environment that has the tendency of reducing the evaluation apprehension and encourage open and honest contributions without any fear of being directly reprised. Anonymity also facilitates the depersonalization of members’ contributions. It is this feature of anonymity that makes meetings supported by GSS more productive (Kelly & Air Force Institute of Technology, 2009).

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GSS is becoming popular because of its ability to increase group interaction and productivity. It provides an alternative to traditional face-to-face communication hence managers have found them attractive and feasible since meetings can be wasteful, unproductive and costly. Some experts have the belief that in modern organizations, workgroups are very instrumental and as groups grow in significance then the frequency of meetings increases hence the need for GSS due to the realization that much of the time that is spent in meetings turn out to be unproductive. Various firms around the world are increasingly using teams and groups to make decisions and to solve problems. It is possible to apply computerized group systems to enhance various group processes. It includes the use of sophisticated tools for the evaluation of ideas, support generations and organizations. Those who have participated in GSS meetings have reported having improved their channels of communications and benefiting from insightful information. With the assistance of new technology, it has become possible to offer a process with a lot of shared understandings among groups. GSS incorporates the chance to be anonymous hence making the issues to be divorced from the person (Forgionne, Gupta, & Mora, 2008).

The most popular form of group support system is the Group Decision Room (GDR); this is the meeting environment that utilizes electronic meeting support in addressing problems comprehensively. The GDR has a normal room that is well equipped with computers that can enable the participants of the meeting to make use of the electronic meeting system. GSS can enable people or members to generate new information, organize ideas, evaluate ideas and define concepts (Hayen, Swaby, & Huang, 2007).

The group support era has been characterized by the growth of studies of collaboration technology for supporting face-to-face teams. A very serious aspect of this time is decision-making and, it was followed by a greater shift to broad support for different tasks. This era signified a shift from GDSS to GSS, which is the combination of communication, information-processing technologies and process structuring in order to support decision-making and other group functions. This group era was characterized by the expansion of technological functionality, but the main challenge was to fit the group support systems and to make them consistent with the characterization of the technology (Galletta & Zhang, 2006).

GSS acknowledges the fact that special procedures, design, devices and approach principles are needed in any group decision-making environment. These GSS procedures must have the capability to foster creative thinking and effective communication. The following are the strengths of GSS.

Ease of Use: just like the DSS, GSS is simple to use and to learn. It is evident that systems, which are complex and difficult to operate, are hardly applied or used. Several groups have minimal tolerance when compared with individual decision-makers, particularly for systems that are poorly developed.

Flexibility: two or many decision-makers might have varied decision-making styles and preferences. Every manager makes decisions in a hard or unique way due to a difference in decision-making experience and cognitive styles; an effective GSS, therefore, supports the various approaches that are used by managers in decision-making and, it also integrates the various perspectives into the common view of the task involved.

Decision Making Support: GSS supports various approaches of decision making, for example, the Delphi approach where group decision-makers are dispersed geographically. This approach encourages diversity among members. GSS also supports the group consensus approach.

Anonymous Input: several GSS software supports anonymous input whereby a person in the group can give information without being known by the other parties. Various studies have indicated that anonymous input has the capability to make better decisions as well as produce superior results when a comparison is drawn with those groups that do not apply anonymous input (Wagner, 2009).

Reduction of Negative Group Behavior: this is a key feature of GSS where it has the ability to minimize negative group behavior that may be deemed counterproductive or harmful to the process of decision making. One of these behaviors is the dominant group taking over the process of decision-making, which might have the effect of baring other groups from contributing to the decision-making process.

The various weaknesses of GSS are:

  • Lack of Human Touch: GSS is weak due to the fact that gestures, eye contact, nonverbal clues and handshakes are completely lost; this, therefore, hinders the effectiveness of group meetings. Innovations in technology like virtual reality can solve this problem.
  • Unnecessary Meetings: due to the fact that arranging meetings by use of GSS can be easy, there might be a lot of tendencies to schedule several meetings and this might amount to a waste of time and energy.
  • Security Problems: GSS sessions also have a lot of security concerns just like other communication systems hence there is a risk of information falling into the hands of unauthorized individuals. There is, therefore, a need to fix tight security measures so as to deter the transfer of data into the wrong hands (Bidgoli, 2011).

The implementation, as well as the evaluation of Group Support Systems, starts from the identification and the selection of desired features and the evaluation and the implementation of the GSS software (Chahal, 2012).

Conclusion

GSS has proven to be advantageous and beneficial to individuals, organizations and academic institutions. They have gained prominence and acceptance as effective tools for computer-based communication. In every organization, the decisions that are made by groups are also applicable and encouraged in an academic milieu. Through GSS, groups that are geographically apart can have the capability to communicate just like they are in one location. Organizations that have embraced GSS have managed to reduce travel costs, and they have increased their productivity. The emergence of new technologies has attracted the attention of managers and intensified global competition among companies. The use of GSS has flourished. GSS has evolved and developed particularly in the past 20 years. GSS has the capacity to support a lot of group tasks irrespective of the circumstance.

The future of the GSS will be different from the incremental innovations that were witnessed in the past due to the dynamism of technology.

References

AquaStress. (2011). Factsheet: Group Support Systems. Web.

Bidgoli, H. (2011). MIS2. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Burstein, F & Holsapple, C. (2008). Handbook on decision support systems. New York, NY: Springer.

Chahal, R. (2012). Management support systems. Web.

Dixit, J. B., & Kumar, R. (2007). Structured system analysis and design. New Delhi, India: Laxmi Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Forgionne, G. A., Gupta, J. N. D., & Mora, M. (2008). Decision-making support systems: Achievements, trends, and challenges for the new decade. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Pub.

Galletta, D. F., & Zhang, P. (2006). Human-computer interaction and management information systems: applications. New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Griffin, C., Watson, D., & Harrison, T. (n.d.). Integrated Information System for Group Collaboration, Journal of Information Technology in Agriculture. 3, 22-31.

Hayen, R., Swaby, S., & Huang, Z. (2007). Use of group support systems in today’s society. Issues in Information Systems, 8(2), 120-126.

Kelly, D., & Air Force Institute of Technology (2009). A taxonomy for and analysis of anonymous communications networks, New York, NY: ProQuest, 2009.

Kilgour, D. M., & Eden, C. (2010). Handbook of group decision and negotiation. New York, NY: Springer.

Power, D.J. (2012). A Brief History of Decision Support Systems. DSSResources.COM.

Stair, R. M., & Reynolds, G. W. (2010). Principles of information systems: a managerial approach (9th ed.). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Stair, R. M., & Reynolds, G. W. (2011). Principles of information systems: a managerial approach (10th ed.). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Wagner, I. (2009). ECSCW 2009 proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work,  2009, Vienna, Austria. New York, NY: Springer.

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