Math-based software drives better choices

Arlington, Va., small business adapts Cold War inspiration to create decision-making solution

When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority learned it would receive several million dollars from the federal stimulus package, its officials had a long wish list of projects ready for funding.

Problem solving by the numbers

Customer: Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority

Challenge: How to assess proposed projects so that they met the criteria of the economic stimulus package and the strategic goals of WMATA, including quality of service and safety.

Solution: Decision Lens’ product is math-based software that identifies and organizes variables into a a hierarchy. Users compare objectives, evaluate the numerous and often competing projects or programs, and reach a value score for each. The software can perform what-if analysis to see how changing the weight of the objective changes the results.

Result: WMATA has been able to quickly create a list of priority projects and adjust that list as the amount of funding has changed.

“Knowing that the stimulus was coming down the pike, we quickly identified [pending] projects that could be implemented within the potential requirements,” said Patricia Hendren, manager of capital and strategic planning at WMATA.

What WMATA officials didn’t have was a prioritized list of those rail and surface projects that would meet stakeholders’ needs and the stimulus package’s strict fiscal requirements.

WMATA brought in its board of directors; its D.C., Maryland and Virginia funding partners; and its passenger advisory committees to establish criteria that would determine which of the projects would also meet the agency’s strategic goals to improve overall rail and surface transportation.

That’s when the agency reached out to Decision Lens Inc., a provider of 21st-century decision-making software that had its origins in 20th-century Cold War arms negotiations.

“They have the tool that facilitates a prioritization process,” Hendren said.

Using Decision Lens’ interactive tool, executives from all branches of WMATA met for several days to assess each proposed project and measure it against the strategic goals, which included delivering quality service and creating a safety culture.

For example, one WMATA program calls for replacing the system’s oldest buses every seven and a half years. That program was stalled.

During the meetings, a project manager explained how replacing the buses would improve safety and deliver quality service. Committee members then used the Decision Lens interactive tool to rate how well the project met the WMATA strategic goals.

“There was a scale from zero to five,” Hendren said. “The scale ranged from ‘no impact at all’ to ‘critical to accomplishing the goal.’”

Cold War tool

The theory is based on relative math and matrix algebra, said John Saaty, Decision Lens’ chief executive officer. The idea is to identify and organize project variables into a hierarchy, including key objectives and related factors.

Participants compare objectives, evaluate the numerous and often competing projects or programs, and reach a value score for each, he said. They then test the outcome by performing a what-if analysis; that is, how would changing the weight of the objective change the results?

WMATA is also using Decision Lens to reprioritize projects because the agency’s share of the stimulus funding has declined from the originally proposed $530 million to $350 million and finally to $200 million, Hendren said.

“The two key benefits are obviously the interactive collaborative element of the tool and our ability to do in essence what-if scenarios and really look at different funding constraints,” she said.

“We started the company based on a decision-making theory that my father invented,” said John Saaty, who founded the Arlington, Va., small business with his brother Daniel.

Their goal was to take the guesswork out of enterprise planning and financial, information technology and performance-related decisions.

Their mathematician father, Thomas Saaty, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, developed his analytic process in the 1960s while working for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union in Helsinki.

“We were approaching [arms reductions] from an economic perspective — what’s the cost of decommissioning the missiles, the cost of storage, the cost of transportation,” John Saaty said. “The Soviets looked at it as a multifaceted problem, and we were getting our clocks cleaned in these negotiations.”

When the elder Saaty returned home, he looked for an established system that would allow a group of stakeholders, such as a team of arms negotiators, to examine and make trade-offs among a series of competing elements. Then they could establish priorities and use them to establish a course of action, John Saaty said.

“There was nothing at the time,” he added. “So he invented a theory, which he called the Analytic Hierarchy Process.”

Help with complex decisions

Three years ago, the brothers adapted their father’s theory, gave it a user interface and launched Decision Lens as a private company in 2005.

John Saaty calls it group-enabled software. “It can be used for almost any kind of decision where you have multiple trade-offs,” he said.

Within months, the Defense Department’s Military Health System became the company’s first government client.

MHS had been allocating its funds by armed service. That meant each branch might have duplicate health care facilities such as dental clinics, which often were not only underutilized but occasionally were within a few miles of each other, said Daniel Saaty, Decision Lens’ president.

MHS is now using Decision Lens for its budget-allocation process. “They are one of our most successful clients,” he said.

“You can bring people together and combine their judgments,” John Saaty said.

“You’re not asking them actually for consensus, they don’t have to agree,” he said. “What you’re asking them to do is be explicit about why they are valuing certain elements over others. And through that, you actually prioritize in a very explicit way, quantitatively, what’s their most important objective down to their least important.”

DOD’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization recently used Decision Lens to prioritize its funding in three mission areas: disrupting IED networks, defeating IED devices and training soldiers in counter-IED measures.

Amtrak is another customer. “The first portfolio we did with them was their stimulus [package] portfolio,” Daniel Saaty said.

Amtrak has purchased a two-year license for enterprisewide use of Decision Lens’ software. “Now they’re starting to do their entire capital-planning process using the software,” he said.

Other government clients includes the Joint Staff, Navy, Air Force, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the intelligence community, and the Agriculture and Education departments. State government clients are the Maryland Transit Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“We’re in a cycle counter to the market,” John Saaty said. “With this downturn, our business is actually taking off.”

Decision Lens’ pricing is determined by the size of the organization and the scope of its decisions, John Saaty said. “Our platform ranges anywhere from the $8,000 range up to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the configuration. And that includes both desktop and Web versions.”

The hardware includes keypads for voting on priorities either on their PC or via the Web. Training is also included.

The company has grown from its two founders to 17 employees and revenues have doubled year over year since 2005, John Saaty said. But he added that he has no specific five-year revenue targets. “I think we want to just continue to grow at probably anywhere from 50 [percent] to 80 percent a year, and we’ll be good.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.