|Abstract. Although Decision Support Systems (DSS), based on modern information technologies, have become widespread in recent years their use in the field of Small and Medium Business has rarely been seen. This paper investigates how DSS technology can be applied to evaluation of solutions. The goal of the presentation is to show how to implement the principles of Group Decision Making in INTERNET environment. The approach is illustrated by an environment, developed on FoxPro 2.6 for Windows.|
For operational control, DSS have become widely used. They represent computer-based applications for the decision making process. Yet DSS have hardly been used in the field of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) especially on strategic level of decision making. There are obvious but predictable problems in this case. Two of the following features of this problem domain seems to be important: small highly specialized staffs, and limited finances with high turn-over. It is usually very expensive for SME managers to have home software engineers to proved information support for their activity. But in the case of conventional information systems it is often not clear to the customer whether the software developers from outside will understand the nuances of his or her requirements, nor is it clear how well they can respond to ongoing changes in this requirements. To make end-user to trust in the computer obtained results with the development of a mission critical system it must be featured with additional means, embedded in the advanced information technology. So the main features of advanced information technology to be proposed include group decision support facilities, intelligent support for system navigation, quantitative and qualitative information to process .
The next important feature of the system under consideration its cooperative nature which requires cooperative DSS techniques application. Conventional decision making general scheme consists of the following stages: requirements specification, solutions generation, alternatives evaluation, choice of efficient solutions.
At present a set of specialists from different parts of the world are involved into decision making processes. Bounds and distances do not prevent for people contacts. The most accessible and cheapest channel for information exchange is a global international net - INTERNET. Having a modem and a computer a person can connect to the international computer network INTERNET and exchange the information with colleges in different parts of the world. Using the INTERNET tools, a group of experts will be able to propose and discuss alternative solutions to some problem or issue.
INTERNET provides exchange of the files (File Transfer Protocol - FTP), on-line dialog and electronic conferences access. Due to using INTERNET it is possible to organize information exchange between computers with different operation systems and based on the different platforms, to find information about people and new programs and to make a lot of other useful things.
To our mind the best organizations of working with distributed databases via INTERNET may be following:
But this type of job have some drawbacks. Some users have access
to INTERNET via modem and phone line. In this case expert has
to have a special quality phone line. Addition, the software development
is too expensive for this scheme. On this reasons we will not
consider problems and methods of the on-line work in this paper.
Our choice is files exchange.
2. PROBLEMS OF TELESERV PROJECT USERS IN RUSSIA
2.1 Project Description
As part of the Copernicus Programme of the European Parliament, the TeleServ project offered free PCs, modems, friendly user interface software, and a 75$ usage credit to Technology based users in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a free range of INTERNET services, including Common Interest Group Forums.
The Central and Eastern European Countries were participating
in the project, which was started in 1994, and around one thousand
users were already signed up, with a project total in 1995 for
2000 signups in total. The following countries participated:
The target 2000 users, working in the field of technology and research, included members of academic institutions as well as those working in technology oriented enterprises, including small and medium enterprises. The project strategy was initially to provide connection to already available services already used widely by western peer groups and subsequently to add services specific to the region/domain. The user application domains:
I Information Technology
b) Software Systems
c) High Performance Computing
d) Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering
II Communication Technologies, Telematics and Language Engineering
a) S&T Teleworking and Information Relay Networks
b) Language Engineering
III Manufacturing, Production, Processing and Materials:
b) Design of products and processes
IV Measurement and Testing
a) Support to regulations and standards required for trade purposes
b) Common means of calibration
c) New methods of measurements
There are over 400 places available in Russia, and each group
of 4 or 5 users is eligible to receive a free PC. Every user receives
a modem and a TeleServ software pack free and a Compuserve unit
and 75$ free usage credit.
2.2 Current Situation of the Project in St.Petersburg
There are 15 TeleServ's users in St.Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation. There are following user problems:
2. Organizational problems
The positive result of TeleServ project has been made possible
by the use of RUSnet features.
2.3 The RUSnet Project
At the beginning of 1990's RELARN (Russian ELectronic Academic Research Network) association has been established as a result of an initiative of the number of universities and research institutes. The association was funded by State Committee for High Education of Russia (SCHE) and has a goal to support Russian academic community's interests in modern network services.
At the first steps RELCOM company has been chosen as INTERNET provider for the members of RELARN. So it was not purely academic network and RELARN community could not get the full advantages of cooperation with European academic networks and associations.
That is why Russian Ministry of Science and Technical policy jointly with the State Committee for High Education of Russia have started several pilot projects with the common aim to establish a basis of whole-Russian IP backbone. Simultaneously, several projects were started at a regional level independently. One of such projects is RUSnet -- Regional University and Science network in North-West part of Russia. One of the main features of this project is its close cooperation with national telecommunication operators and RELARN association and Nordic academic network (NORDUnet) as a foreign partner. The geographical position of North-West region determines RUSnet role as a gateway to INTERNET through Nordic countries for whole Russia.
The concept of RUSnet, based on intelligent information infrastructure (III), has been offered by Analytic Research Group of the State Technical University of St.Petersburg (STUSP) and approved at a number of international conferences . According to this concept, RUSnet had to become INTERNET provider for regional academic community instead of commercial networks. Advanced telecommunication basis of RUSnet has to make RUSnet a sophisticated testbed for experiments on multimedia communications and information technologies.
That is a base of MULTIEXPERT pilot project developed in the field
of INTERNET-based group decision support system for solution evaluation.
3 MULTIEXPERT: A GROUP DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEM
3.1 General Principals of the Environment
To sample and order internal requirements (particular attributes of solutions) in dependence upon the external requirements (general attributes of solutions), and to order and choice obtained alternative solutions quality evaluation tool (MULTIEXPERT) has been developed. For this goal external experts estimate alternative sets of requirements or solutions from different viewpoints reflecting aspects of design. The initial DSS is interfaced by appropriate techniques to an intelligent front-end for group expert decision support for functional and quality attributes sampling, weighing and evaluation with subsequent acceptance of conformed decisions. Figure 1 represents MULTIEXPERT external environment.
MULTIEXPERT implementation is based on the type algorithm for creating the requirements specification and alternatives evaluation: create attribute structure, conform the attribute structure, evaluate attribute values, conform the attribute value evaluation, determine the attribute significance, rank the projects.
MULTIEXPERT tool is realized with using FoxPro 2.6. MULTIEXPERT consist of two parts - client and server parts (see Figure 2). The server part situated at the main computer and includes software for receiving information from the experts and the leader, creation, modifying and integrity control of databases, sending information to users. The client part contains the tools for browsing and adding incoming information. Using e-mail system the experts can posting results of their work to the leader and sending messages to each other.
Different experts work with different operation systems and under different computer platforms. And it is difficult to provide the same interface for them. We solve this problem using FoxPro 2.6. The basic version is elaborated for MS Windows, and now it is possible to modify existing version for DOS, SCO UNIX and for Macintosh. Next stage is to move our project to Visual FoxPro for Windows.
With the information about name, science degree, list of the papers and occupations, information about experts' locations stores in the leader's databases. In addition to it e-mail address (it is possible, a set of addresses) of experts is also stored there. Creating working group a leader can define where experts are situated and what kind of communication resources they have. Under "location" we mean if the expert have a direct access to the leader's local network or he is far from leader.
Allocate three types of information exchange between leader and
the experts (Figure 3):
Expert's computer N 1 and N 2 are located in the same network with the leader's computer. Expert's computer N 3 is located not far from expert. Expert's computer N 4 and N 5 are located far from expert and they exchange information with leader using INTERNET or e-mail.
For every type we have to elaborate the own protocols of the information exchange. In the first case it is enough to provide for experts a direct access to working bases. This type is not difficult to develop using existing DBMS. If expert's computer is not connected to leader's network, but located not far from the leader it is possible to exchange data using external storage medium - floppy disks and others. Exchange protocols of this type is similar with protocols of the third type.
There are three types of working with distributed system:
Internal work Sending information Receiving information
Sending and receiving information are realized by forming a post packets. A packet consists of two files - a file with information and a label-file. A file with information may be skipped. A label-file includes information about context of the packet, short comment and some other internal information. Every packet has an unique name. It includes a number of the task, a special prefix and a number of expert.
If experts work with secret project it is possible to use for
exchange (plainkey - open key) encoding information. In this case
the leader generates for every project a secret key and it's public
part is sent to the other experts. And every expert has its own
secret keys and sends their public parts to the leader. And when
the packet is created it must be encoded. After receiving the
packet must be decoded and analyzed.
3.2 Main Functions for Support of the Users Job in the Environment
Leader sends following types of packets: message about new project; message about project locking; message about changes in the project; message about changes making by other experts; message about project terminating; trying to cancel an old packet (correcting message); check message; new public part of the key.
For post receiving the leader runs an intelligent agent. It works according to the following algorithm:
Expert sends following types of packets: results of his work; message about project locking; check message; new public part of his own key.
For post receiving the expert runs an intelligent agent. It works according to following algorithm:
We have considered an approach, which covers the main stages of decision making process and well do for problem solving. The INTERNET-based environment designed comprises means for group decision support for external requirements specification, project consistency control, multi-aspect parallel configuration design of objects from template components, and project quality evaluation.
We elaborate a working scheme and protocols for information exchange
in distributed system. For sending and receiving information we
use INTERNET. At present WWW widespread and our next stage is
in presentation of results using WWW-pages using hypertext references.
This is provides a quick access of one experts to results of work
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