Call me foolish; call me a sucker; call me unreliable; call me anything but collect -- What can I tell you? I have an obsessive interest in decision-support/decision-modeling software.
Maybe I like analyzing things too much; maybe I believe intellectual serendipity and intuition can be pinned to a piece of software like a butterfly; maybe I just like flogging a dead horse. It doesn't matter. So here I am writing about yet another intriguing program that offers new ways of exploring how people make decisions.
Regular readers of this column have suffered through my infatuation with Lightyear -- a decision-modeling program for the IBM-PC -- and a subsequent mea culpa column after the company failed abysmally in selling its product and had to be rescued by Thoughtware (yet another software maker).
That second column performed an autopsy on Lightyear's failure (priced too high, unfocused marketing plan, etc.) while bravely suggesting that there was still a future for decision-support software.
What is decision-support/modeling software? To recap, it's software that lets one list, rank and analyze the criteria one uses to make a decision.
Why is that important? Because it gives people a chance to come to grips with how and why they make the decisions that they do. It offers a computer-aided lens for introspection. It lets you dissect your priorities. It enables you to twiddle and manipulate your decision assumptions to see how decision outcomes might change if you modified your criteria just a little bit.
Why is that important? Too often, people lay out spreadsheets, model problems and generate scenarios without really appreciating to what extent their internal biases and priorities taint what should be an objective analysis and decision. Applications of this type of software range from hiring employes to assessing investment criteria to computer dating.
In essence, we're talking about nonquantitative ways of examining vital information. Lightyear's approach wasn't bad but I think that Softstyle's new DecisionMap (for the Macintosh) really could be something special.
"DecisionMap will do for decision modeling what Visicalc did for financial modeling," boasts Softstyle's president, Craig Slayter.
Well, don't hold your breath . . . but it does have some very good things going for it.
First and foremost, the price borders on reasonable. At $145, it's less than one-third the price of Lightyear. I personally would like to see a price closer to $99.
Secondly -- and this is vital -- it intelligently exploits everything that is decent and easy to use about the Macintosh interface. In other words, this is a very visually oriented program. It lets you "see" how you rate your decision priorities.
For example, let's say you're seeking "decision support" in hiring an employe. With DecisionMap, you would establish the relative importance of five key factors: say, references, intelligence, ability to grow, skill with people, and energy.
Unlike other decision programs that make you assign numerical values to those choices in order of priority, DecisionMap has you use the Mac's mouse to create little bar graphs to chart how important those differing criteria are.
Of course, you can go back and change the height of the bars -- and DecisionMap automatically calculates how the move changes your overall choice.
You can compare candidates on the individual criteria or clusters of criteria or in toto. You can create sublevels for each of your main criteria (for example, "street smarts," grades and verbal skills could be subfactors in the intelligence category).
DecisionMap makes it easy to skip back and forth between factors and candidates to twiddle with your rankings. This isn't a sterile decision tree with branches of choices to make. This is very free-form, and the mouse and menus makes assembling the DecisionMaps a breeze.
Is this useful? I suppose that's up to the individual, but I wouldn't be surprised to see marketing groups and sales people use DecisionMap as a sales tool to guide prospects through a buying decision -- ranking the buyer's priorities, for example.
Will it sell? Don't ask me that, but this program is worth a look.
Softstyle, based in Honolulu, has a toll-free number: (800) 367-5600.
Another decision-support program I've seen is Expert Choice, for IBM-PCs. The price is stiff at $495 and it's a little too decision-treeish for my taste, but some users swear by it. It's from Decision Support Software at 1300 Vincent Place McLean, 22101.