What is a decision support system?

An interview with Chris O’Neill from Hydronumerics discussed decision support systems (DSS) and why they can be valuable tools for water management. Many, if not most consultancies, use modelling systems to help inform recommendations and decision-making for water management. This article explores why these tools can be valuable, looking more closely at their successful application.

These systems are used in many industries and applications, including water management. They allow stakeholders to remove uncertainty in their decision-making processes when it comes to determining appropriate management measures for assets.

As a computer-based system, a DSS can work autonomously, through manual intervention, or as a hybrid of both. Using a DSS, stakeholders look at things like historical information, and current data, which helps guide future forecasts.

How can a DSS aid water management?

Human knowledge, skill, and error all come into play with water management. However, by using a DSS, the result of various intervention scenarios can be explored without actually impacting assets in real life. Because of this, the use of a DSS can ultimately save time and money and lead to the best results for water management goals or objectives. These systems can be particularly valuable for modelling outcomes to best manage uncertain climatic conditions, such as droughts or flood events.

‘DSSs can be used to support both strategic and operational decision-making in water management’, according to Chris O’Neill of Hydronumerics. ‘Using a DSS allows stakeholders to explore how environmental assets can be operated presently and in the near future’, he explains. They can also be used to formulate long-term strategic plans for assets.

In either case, a DSS employs as many factors as are available to assist in decision-making and modelling each potential scenario. Users can input different water management scenarios, defined by water use, climate, or various management options into a DSS model to see what happens. For example, the effect of a temperature increases on water availability or an increase in water levels within a dam on downstream water quality.

For stakeholders involved in water management, a DSS is a very valuable process. There are so many things that can impact water quality, water scarcity and the long-term health of environmental assets. A DSS process allows users to explore any and every potential scenario before making decisions that will ultimately impact real assets and real people. This is one of the safest, most cautious ways to handle water management while ensuring all decisions are based on carefully explored knowledge, history, and potential risks and rewards.

Knowledge Transfer and DSS

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Fully understanding the impact of water as a vital resource is essential in managing it properly. The thoroughness of a DSS allows stakeholders to explore various aspects of each asset. Combined with local knowledge, individual values associated with each water asset, and any other personalised information stakeholders and water users have, a DSS can create a well-rounded picture of what is needed for proper water management.

Importantly, a DSS helps water managers to avoid unintended negative consequences from focussing on just one aspect of the system.

This type of tool is also ideal for knowledge transfer between partners, enabling cooperation and ease of use. A DSS puts all stakeholders on the same page, allowing for knowledge to be exchanged so that everyone involved can think about and manage assets strategically. Instead of guessing at what the best practices for managing certain resources could be, those involved in water management can make inclusive, informed decisions.

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