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The approach of developing decision support models for design and costing using a spreadsheet was compared to the alternative approach of using open standards taxonomies and a web interface for this purpose. The conclusion is that although the use of spreadsheets for this purpose allows for the creation of models relatively quickly they are beset by problems. These relate to Maintenance, Extensibility, Ease of Use, and Sharing of Information. The alternative approach involves the development of a system, where a model builder, via visual editing of library taxonomies can undertake maintenance and extension of information. As yet a prototype only has been created for this and a great deal more work is required to finalise the structure for the holding of this information and agree standards for terminology. However dealing with this proof of concept has indicated that it is far easier to maintain, search and share information using this approach than it was using spreadsheets. Creating the infrastructure has taken much more time than it did for the spreadsheet system, but having done so it is much quicker and easier to create further models. This indicates that the extra research and development time taken though far exceeding what is required for a spreadsheet model is well worth it in the long term. Also the use of a centralised information source makes these models more reliable than the standalone spreadsheet, standalone decision support models created individually may contain out of date information. In addition, since a well constructed ontology implies that a piece of information can only belong to a unique location, the problems arising from duplicate pieces of information are eliminated. It is also much easier to create models once the infrastructure is in place. The ability to visualise, search and share the information using structured languages and web-pages, is a huge advantage for creation of dynamic image views and decision support models over the web.
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