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Stafford Beer’s “Attenuation” concept – how to implement it in BI reporting July 28, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in BI Requirements Definition, General, Stafford Beer.

My July 7 post on Stafford Beer’s legacy for BI professionals gave an overview as to how I implement his concepts in my BI designs. Here is some more detail on one of these principles – Attenuation.

Attenuation in BI is the art and science of presenting information to executives in such a way that they are:

Aware of the current status of the business

Satisfied that situations requiring their attention are highlighted, and

Alerted to unusual situations that may presage problems or opportunities

This obviously requires specification of pre-formatted, on-demand or ad-hoc reporting. Executives will know, or can be helped determine, what they need to know to meet these three objectives.

Theory indicates that there are 3 possible ways to implement Attenuation in BI reporting for the above objectives:

Where Are We? – Summarize the situation, tell the executive the status

What’s Good and Bad about where we are? – Compare, compute exceptions, find the executive’s problems

What’s unusual, and what’s forecast? – Find out what is obscured by noise in the data and alert the executive

A creative BI design will present information using these three approaches.

Attenuated information, derived from a mass of transactions data, and augmented by tacit (soft) data where appropriate, can give huge benefits to the executive – it just needs some mental effort applied in a structured manner.

Of course, we also need to ensure balance of reporting scope, in the Balanced Scorecard manner. I believe this is a different concept, and is best handled via the template of potential KPIs that forms part of a comprensive methodology.

If you’re interested, check my technique for doing this at www.bipathfinder.com where I explain this in more detail, including the template design aspect.

I’ll cover Stafford’s Amplification next time round.



1. Specifying Boardroom BI: Helping Directors Find Problems for Executives to Solve? « Cyril on Business Intelligence - November 19, 2006

[…] Instead, their summary reports (Stafford Beer’s “Attenuation”) should emphasize relativities, e.g. Sales were above plan by 10% at $450,000; Inventory fell below plan by 15% to 568,000 units. Further, numbers like these mean little without the accompanying commentary soft information that qualifies them, and places them in context, for example:    “Sales were above plan by 10%, due mainly to there being 5 Fridays in the month, and several customers place orders on a Friday”; or  […]

2. DIY BI Design Best Practice « Cyril on Business Intelligence - April 23, 2007

[…] This is where it is all at. Do this right and it will be fine, ignore it and a mess will result. Make sure you have a specification for each iteration. A whole treatise can be written here, but see for example, Dear Reader, if you want detail look here. […]

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