An investigation into the impact of decision support systems on strategic marketing planning practice
Relatively few companies gain the benefits from marketing planning claimed by prescriptive literature. This results from cognitive, procedural, resource, organisational, cultural and data availability barriers to effective planning. Research in other domains suggests that decision support systems (DSS) could assist in reducing some of these barriers. The research aim was therefore to examine whether and how DSS could be used to improve strategic marketing planning practice. The research method incorporated: iterative development of a DSS named EXN4AR a formative evaluation of the prototype system using a survey and a multiple-case study; and a further multiple-case study of users of other, related systems to explore the extent to which the results from the EXMAR evaluation could be generalised. The study confirms that software can play a valuable role in reducing some of the barriers to effective planning. Systems can assist with the effective application of analytical marketing tools through automated calculations, graphical display and on-line guidance, thus reducing the technical marketing knowledge required. Support for fast iteration allows these tools to be used to facilitate group strategy debates. Endeavours to move planning out of the hands of specialists and into cross-functional teams can be further aided by cross-functional analyses and by automated assistance with managing the complexity of multiple-level plans. The electronic format can support moves towards continuous planning based on a live marketing model of the business, helping the organisation to respond to internal or external changes without the constraints of the annual planning cycle. Other barriers such as cultural problems must, however, be reduced by other means. Various factors contributing to success in system implementation are identified, including top management support, sufficiently wide planning team definition, appropriate definition of planning units, sufficiently flexible planning procedures, ease of use, and a system that is seen as empowering rather than controlling.