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The use of Executive Support Systems (ESS) in organizations is increasing. International Data Corp. predicts that the Executive Iinformation System market (a key component of an Ess) is expected to climb from $339 million in 1994 to as much as $1 billion by 1997. This article addresses what Executive Support Systems are and why they are more prevalent in organizations today. It also discusses the nature of executive work, and examines the impacts of an Executive Support System on the decision making role of an executive. It is necessary to understand the nature of executive work so that companies can determine the best way to design and implement an Executive Support System which is useful and effective for the executives which it is intended to support.
Definitions of an Executive Support System are as varied as the organizations that are researching, selling or implementing them. Rockart and DeLong, two MIT researchers actively involved in this area, define an ESS as "the routine use of a computer-based system, most often through direct access to a terminal or personal computer, for any business function. The users are either the CEO or a member of the senior management team reporting directly to him or her."
"Executive Support System" is a broad term which encompasses two related information technologies: Executive Information Systems (EIS) - also known as Everybody's or Enterprise Information Systems, and Office Information Systems (OIS).
An EIS is an information system which draws from multiple applications and multiple data sources, both internal and external to an organization, to provide executives and other decision makers with the necessary information to monitor and analyze the performance of the organization.
One of the best descriptions of an EIS is found in Executive Information Systems: Definitions and Guidelines, in which Allan Paller describes EIS in terms of a modern airplane cockpit:
A modern airplane cockpit is an effective model for an EIS. Key indicators are monitored constantly. When an indicator, such as elevation, moves outside an acceptable range, a warning sounds. The pilot can take immediate action to correct the problem. Hundreds of indicators are monitored, yet most of them become visible to the pilot only when a problem is apparent. A smaller number, such as speed, altitude, elevation, and course are constantly visible, because they show just how well the flight is going. These essential indicators are the ones that the pilot must watch constantly in order to "stay on course." An EIS system has a similar hierarchy. Each executive must watch a small number of key indicators to be certain that his or her segment of the enterprise is "on course." In addition, there are hundreds, or even thousands, of additional indicators that are important, but that need to become visible only when their values go outside an acceptable range.
In simple terms, an EIS is most concerned with data and ways of interacting with the data. It is a structured reporting system which filters, extracts, and compresses a broad range of current and historical information which can either be internal or external to the organization. It is used to monitor and highlight the critical success factors of the organization, as defined by the executive.
The other component of an ESS is the Office Information System. An Office Information System (also commonly referred to as Office Automation) generally refers to the application of integrated computer, communications, and office product technologies to support white collar-type office activities.
An OIS is most concerned with communication and ways of interacting with other people. It includes related technologies such as voice mail, electronic mail and messaging, facsimile, video and audio conferencing, calendaring and scheduling, and other emerging technologies most commonly referred to as 'groupware' or 'work group computing.'
Besides the communication aspect, an OIS is also effective as a personal support tool for improving the personal efficiency of senior executives. It improves efficiency through such facilities as calendar management, provision of meeting schedules and a personal database for notes and comments, and document retrieval and storage.
An ESS must be flexible in allowing the executives to use the communication and support aspect of the OIS and the data and reporting capabilities of the EIS because decision making falls into many different roles (Mintzberg, 1973). Thomas Buckholtz says that such "information-proficient information systems facilitate gathering, evaluating, and selecting options, as well as communication between …