Currently in vogue is the ability to summarize an organization's "business productivity" to senior managers using pithy representations that are expected to carry deep meaning and, at the same time, reduce the attention required to absorb that meaning. Business productivity management systems engage key performance indicators whose values are posted to executive dashboards for the CEO's periodic (be it daily or hourly) review. The intention of these applications is to provide a presentation of the current state of the environment in the context of reasonable expectations. In other words, a business manager wants to have an overview of the "value creation" of the entire system, much the same way a nuclear engineer gauges different metrics associated with the safety status of the nuclear reactors.

In most areas of a business, the metrics that back up the key performance indicators may be relatively straightforward. For example, in a shoe factory, one might gauge the number of shoes coming off the production line, the rate at which shoes are being produced, the number of flawed shoes coming off the line or the number of accidents that occur each day. Each of these metrics may be represented using various visual cues, each of which provides a warning when the performance indicator reaches some critical level.

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