In recent years, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has gained increasing importance in our daily lives. Currently, ICTs are used in many fields, including public health, road safety, retail and cultural heritage (CH). Decision support systems (DSSs) are hailed as a possible solution to the onerous cognitive burden currently placed on experts in nearly every domain. All actions and human affairs are the results of a decision-making process. The process of deciding is related to problem-solving and is known as a problem-solving action. Decision-making processes can be varied and may depend on the subjects involved or on the field in which they occur. 

A DSS is a software system to support decision-making processes. In other words, it provides support to people who have to make strategic decisions within particularly complex contexts – in which it might be difficult to determine which is the right choice to undertake, or which decision-making strategy should be used to reach a given goal. The terms that identify DSS software applications and effectively summarise their features are: 

  • Decision – indicates that attention is placed on the decision- making processes and on problems faced in the context of management activities, rather than on transactional or reporting processes; 
  • Support – defines the role of information technologies and the quantitative methods used, deriving from operational research. A DSS, on the whole, constitutes an auxiliary tool and is not a substitute for corporate decision-makers, who must also act on the basis of subjective elements that cannot be codified, such as experience and creativity; 
  • System – underlines the existence of a coherent and integrated context of resources, information technologies tools, users and analysis methodologies. 

In the field of DSS study, the decision-making process is represented by the model proposed by H. Simon in the 1960s, which is still considered one of the cornerstones of the decision-making process. This model divides the process into three main phases: 

Intelligence: this is the phase in which information is gathered, both from the external and internal environment, to identify and circumscribe a problem to be addressed. 

Design: this phase consists of understanding the problem, generating possible solutions and analysing them. 

Choice: in this phase the evaluation is made, and therefore a choice is made amongst the alternatives formulated in the previous phase. To arrive at this choice, parameters and indicators are defined so as to allow for comparisons between action plans and forecasts of the consequences of the various options. 

More recently, many DSS experts are basing their systems on Artificial Intelligence (AI), aiming to replace experienced decision-makers by emulating their behaviours. AI consists of introducing into a computer’s memory both the elements related to a certain phenomenon, and the rules relating to what is normally meant by knowledge of a given phenomenon. As noted, AI plays an important role in DSS—especially in relation to the modelling of behaviours and decisions that allow for an increasingly realistic analysis, which aims to offer a predictive or inferential result in a given area in which it is relevant to decision-making. AI is a partial reproduction of human intellectual activity (with particular regard to the processes of learning, of recognition and of choice). It is realised through the elaboration of ideal models, or, concretely, by developing machines for this purpose—mainly electronic computers. AI can be also defined as the science that proposes to develop intelligent machines.