Science Center Objects

A Decision Support System (DSS) can be defined in many ways. The working definition the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) uses is, "A spatially based computer application or data that assists a researcher or manager in making decisions." This is quite a broad definition and it needs to be, as the possibilities for types of DSS are limited only by the user group and the developer's imagination. 


There is no one DSS; they are as diverse as the problems they help solve. This diversity requires that DSSs are built in a variety of ways using the most appropriate methods and tools for the individual application. The skills of potential DSS users vary widely as well, further necessitating multiple approaches to DSS development. Some small, highly trained user groups may want a powerful modeling tool with extensive functionality at the expense of ease of use. Other user groups less familiar with geographic information system (GIS) and spatial data may want an extremely easy to use application for a wide public or otherwise nontechnical audience. The UMESC DSS developers offer our partners a wide variety of technical skills and development options, ranging from the most simple Web page or small application to complex modeling application development.

Types of DSS Tools

The GIS tools fall into one of two categories: general purpose or specific purpose. General-purpose GIS tools are programs such as Esri's ArcGIS that have extensive functionality and can be difficult for users unfamiliar with GIS and cartographic principles to learn. Specific-purpose GIS tools are programs that are written by a GIS programmer to provide a user group with specific functions in an easy-to-use package. In the past, specific-purpose GIS tools were written primarily using a macro language such as Avenue (ArcView's macro language) or AML (ARC/INFO's macro language). This method of delivering specific-purpose GIS tools requires that each user have a copy of the host program (ARC/INFO or ArcView) to run the macro language application.

The GIS programmers now have a far richer set of tools for application development. Programming libraries with classes for interactive mapping and spatial analysis functions have made it possible to develop specific-purpose GIS tools using industry-standard programming languages that can be compiled and run without a host program (stand-alone). Internet development tools have matured as well, making it possible to develop fairly complex GIS-based programs that users can use through the World Wide Web. The UMESC programmers make extensive use of these development tools and actively search out new and emerging tools and techniques to get the right product in the hands of the decision makers at the right time.