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MindDecider is lucky to find its own niche among similar decision making tools. The competitors are either too simple to face complex life issues or too math-packed and time-consuming to be intuitive. We hope that MindDecider will make your everyday and business life much easier!
S.Roodchenko, software designer and project director

Decision making software

By Alex Rostozky, Nick Kumarr and Michael Shumovich

 

The article reviews modern decision-making tools and proposes the most effective criteria to choose the right package. It also covers a brief comparison of top 5 decision-making tools – Expert Choice, Decision Manager, MindDecider Pro, TreeAge Pro and DPL Syncopation.

Decision-making software: tools and tips

 

Nowadays more and more mind-mapping and decision making tools find their way to our life. A common mind just fails to process vast amount of variants, objectives and parameters that accompany our daily choices. Of course, there are Excel-like tables known to almost every user in the world but sometimes they provide insufficient tools to draw a clear picture of a decision model and help to make a right choice. That’s where the special software comes in. So how to choose the most effective decision making tool to tackle all these business and common life uncertainties?

 

1. Scope of application. Modern decision making tools provide a user with:

- mind mapping and decision tree drawing tools;

- complex algorithm to make a choice on the base of user’s estimates;

- project management tools (in part);

- analytic reports and tools.

 

2. Set of parameters to compare between different decision-making tools. In our review we will not dive deep into programming algorithms. We’ll just select the most popular and illustrative criteria dividing them into general and program-related ones.

General parameters:

  1. Price. Usually, the less the better. However, bear in mind the fact that a high-quality and multifunctional program cannot be sold for nothing. A price can be set per one copy or a multi-seat package. Some developers issue annual and perpetual licenses for their products.
  2. Most popular OS compatibility. It is enough for the software to be compatible with MS Windows, but many users today prefer Unix and MacOS platforms which is the fact to be wisely considered.
  3. Templates and examples for the most popular projects or problems. It should be clear for software developers that a program is best evaluated and further used by pre-developed tutorial projects or templates grouped into categories.
  4. Time on the market – the more the better, of course. With time a program gets rid of bugs and faults and is enhanced with new features and options.
  5. Support and updates. Ideally, purchase of a program shall mean a free tech support and regular updates during the whole period of use.
  6. Free viewer. Sometimes users (for example workers of a partner company) find it desirable to view the projects created in this or that decision-making program shell without exporting them to other formats.
  7. Try-before-buy opportunity. Most common ways to evaluate a program are trials limited by time and demos limited by number of options or functions.

 

Program-related parameters:

  1. Interface. This parameter is especially crucial for the decision-making tool defining its quality and usability. If it takes more than a minute for a user to find a necessary option or button he/she will most definitely refuse from further testing and using the software. This imposes certain requirements on the program interface in terms of its intuitiveness, comfort and user-friendliness both in mind mapping and decision analysis.
  2. Math and graph coverage. Here we check the possibility to include special formulas, states and variables into decision analysis model, the set and completeness of math functions and graph drawing tools. Do not be carried away by this parameter too much, however, since the prevailing amount of models require basic number of such tools and functions (of course, this is not the case of complex researches with multirelated objects). 
  3. Estimation of non-measurable parameters. Often users when faced with decision-making tool choice ask an expected question: Ok, how about subjective things like beauty, comfort, design, etc? A good question and a good answer indeed should be given by a software tool.
  4. Estimation of time parameters. This means drawing time curves and distribution of events on a timeline. The parameter is often used for such time-dependent realities as exchange rates, price indices, air temperature, etc. The importance of time analysis cannot be underestimated in project management and event planning models. Most common tool to present such a distribution is a Gantt diagram which is a chart showing project structure and activities divided into time intervals.
  5. Fuzzy / uncertainty calculation. Sometimes it is not possible to give a precise value of a variant. A user, however, may set a variability interval for the variant which allows to perform sensitivity analysis and explore model’s scenarios.
  6. Collaborative tools to make a group elicitation, correcting or updating information within one framework. This approach is most applicable to business environment where a team works on a project and needs a flexibility of a joined discussion.
  7. Linking objects to external files or web-resources. Users find it comfortable to get necessary information on the analysed object by clicking on it and referring to a related document or a web page. Another important function of the parameter is that it allows to update regularly changing data like prices for example.
  8. Export to other formats. Minimal set includes Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and BMP/JPEG images. It is great if a program can export data to MS Project, MS Access, SQL or Oracle databases, XML/HTML formats.
  9. Reports: possibility to view program’s comments, recommendations and analytics on a decision or choice made as well as to analyse the model in form of graphs and diagrams.

 

3. Decision-making software market. Presently the market for decision-making tools is rather saturated. Top 5 most interesting representatives can be identified: Expert Choice, MindDecider, Decision Manager, DPL Syncopation, TreeAge Pro. We have made a brief review of these programs. Some criteria were estimated by a group of independent experts and common users. Best results were marked by green. All the accumulated statistics was presented in a table form:

 

Table 1. Comparing 5 most effective decision-making tools.

 

Criteria

Expert Choice

MindDecider [Pro]

Decision Manager

DPL Syncopation

TreeAge Pro

General

Price (1 copy, unlimited time), $

No data

275 / 775

395

995

1145

OS compatibility

Windows

Windows (MS Framework-based)

Windows

Windows

Windows, Unix, MacOS

Examples and templates, points 0-10

5

5

7

6

6

Free viewer

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Time on market, years

Over 20

2

2

5

Over 20

Support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Evaluation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Program-related

Interface (project structuring), points 0-10

7

8

7

5

6

Interface (functions), points 0-10

6

7

7

4

4

Math&graph tools, points 0-10

7

7

7

8

8

Non-measurable parameters, points 0-10

10

10

3

3

3

Time estimation, points 0-10

3

8

3

3

5

Fuzzy calc

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Collaborative tools

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Hyperlinks

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Export, points 0-10

5

7

5

8

7

Reports, points 0-10

5

6

5

3

4

 

4. Conclusion. Currently we cannot find any versatile decision-making tool to satisfy the variety of business and home users’ needs. Some companies may demand more math packs and additional business suites for a complex modeling and specific planning tasks. Some are interested in presentation tools to facilitate or enhance their regular reports. The higher demand, however, is noted for software’s usability and customization. Users do not want to or have enough time to bury into complicated analysis of program’s functions. They are usually happy to find the most necessary options and are ready to use them in future only if it’s comfortable and understandable for them. From that point of view we would note 3 tools with the highest performance – Expert Choice, Decision Manager and MindDecider Pro.

Besides abovementioned packages the market features at least 20 less popular but still strong products with similar functionality. This makes the decision-making software market quite competitive and developers should be more flexible and apt to continuously improve the functionality and what’s more important – usability of their products.

 

P.S. The article is not intended to cover all aspects of decision-making software market. Authors’ opinions may not coincide with opinion of a reader.

 

References:

“Decision Analysis: Find a Tool that Fits” by Dan Maxwell, OR/MS Today, 2008, Vol. 35. No 5.

 

Web-sites:

Expert Choice: http://www.expertchoice.com

Decision Manager: http://www.deciware.com

MindDecider: http://www.minddecider.com

DPL Syncopation: http://www.syncopation.com

TreeAge Pro: http://www.treeage.com

 

 


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