Picture This: Visio 2003
Even your most artistically challenged customers can use Visio to create
complex technical diagrams.
- By Lafe Low
- November 01, 2006
It's probably a conservative estimate to say that a picture is worth
1,000 words -- especially if that picture is an intricate process diagram
or a network system map. In the worlds of business and IT, technical diagrams
and flow charts are essential for conveying complex concepts and illustrating
elaborate processes. Just the thought of having to create something like
this, though, can intimidate even the most technically minded person.
Your customers don't need a degree from art school to outline their systems
and processes using a tool like Microsoft's Visio. (The current version
is Visio 2003 -- Visio 2007 will be coming out early next year.) Visio can
create technical diagrams to concisely portray complex processes and systems.
It can also automate and update these diagrams by synchronizing directly
with data sources like Office applications or SQL Server.
Customers construct diagrams by dragging predefined Microsoft SmartShapes
symbols into place. If they can't find the right icon or symbol, there's
a search function to locate shapes for specific purposes within Visio's
predefined library or elsewhere on the Web. Visio has tools to generate
technical diagrams for specific business disciplines, such as project
managers, sales managers, operations managers and engineers. If one of
your customers does have any trouble along the way, there is context-sensitive
help and there are task-specific templates updated regularly on Microsoft's
Visio has several features that facilitate sharing data and entire diagrams
with other applications and external users. Customers can share diagrams
through Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services sites, publish and share
diagrams by saving them as Web pages, and import and export diagrams in
Scalable Vector Graphics format (a new XML standard for Web graphics).
They can also import data from Visio diagrams into Office applications
like Access, Excel, Word and SQL Server, and embed Visio's drawing controls
into other .NET-connected business applications.
Using Visio's drawing templates, your customers can generate diagrams
that demonstrate hierarchical concepts, systems and processes; show subset
and superset relationships; and outline simple data flows, interactions
and various data structures. Process diagrams can include conceptual charts,
decision trees, flow diagrams, procedural charts, and time and activity
charts. They can also track Six Sigma quality improvement initiatives
and ISO 9000 documentation. Besides process diagrams for specific business
functions, there are also templates to get your customers started on many
other types of diagrams:
Brainstorming: To help guide and track sessions by showing topical
relationships and providing a graphical outline.
Charts and Graphs: There are several templates to create bar graphs,
line graphs and pie charts with normal and exponential curves and other
Marketing: Encompassing a variety of functions, these templates
include process modeling, benchmarking, simulation, path routing, time
and cost analysis, activity-based costing, product portfolios, scope and
marketing mix, product life and adoption cycles, market and resource analysis,
and pricing matrices.
Flowcharts: Include top-down diagrams, information-tracking diagrams,
process-planning diagrams and structure-prediction diagrams. There are
also audit diagrams for accounting processes, financial management, tracking
fiscal data, money management and decision processes.
Maps: Shapes for roadways, bus lines, landmarks, bridges, trees,
rivers, houses, buildings and road signs.
Organizational Charts: These represent hierarchical relationships
between people, departments and business functions. Visio includes a wizard
to generate organizational charts linked to personnel data, making it
easy to keep them updated.
Project Schedules: Customers can use calendars, Gantt charts,
and program evaluation and review technique (PERT) charts to plan and
manage projects. Gantt charts are suitable for overall project management,
task management, schedules, timetables, agendas, project life cycles and
goals. PERT charts are best for organizing lists of tasks and establishing
Timelines: Customers can illustrate the milestones and stages
of a project's lifecycle in intervals of years, quarters, months, weeks,
days, hours, minutes and seconds in horizontal or vertical timelines.
Building Engineering: Visio can use building maps as a format
to report building-wide data, identify furniture and equipment arrangements,
create and maintain seating charts, and create building plans with the
Space Planning wizard.
Electrical Engineering: Visio's Electrical Engineering (EE) shapes
have been updated to simplify creating diagrams and to better support
international EE symbol standards.
Mechanical Engineering: There are two template types for mechanical
engineering -- the Fluid Power diagram and the Part and Assembly diagram.
The Fluid Power diagram helps design and prototype hydraulic and pneumatic
actuated systems. The Part and Assembly diagram supports custom geometry
for technical drawing.
Process Engineering: Templates for Piping and Instrumentation
and one for Process Flow diagrams. These types of diagrams are used by
manufacturing, control, mechanical and electrical engineers to document
manufacturing processes, controls and instrumentation.
Network Design: Visio provides updated network templates and shapes,
including rack and cabinet shapes. Directory services templates can be
used to design new directories, create alternative designs for existing
directories, or outline plans for updating or migrating to a current network's
Database: There are database diagrams that support IDEF1X modeling,
relational notations, object-relationship models, entity-level and schema-level
diagrams, and product data models with EXPRESS-G notation. Compatible
databases include Microsoft SQL Server and Access, Oracle and IBM's DB2.
Software: Visio supports a number of diagrams for software development,
like Unified Modeling Language (UML). UML tracks concepts, automated processes,
human interactions and associations.
Web: The Web diagramming templates help your customers choose
from a variety of display options for site map links. They can also substitute
custom shapes and have a link auto-discovery capability.
Tools of the Trade
There are a variety of tools within Visio that will help your customers
fine tune and customize their diagrams. Visio has new annotation features
that support pen input on the Tablet PC, which facilitates natural markup
and creating freehand sketches.
Release Date: August 2003
Price: $499 Professional Edition
The Track Markup feature lets numerous people collaborate on the same
Visio diagram. Each reviewer's contributions are made clear to the other
reviewers and the person who ultimately has to incorporate all revisions
back into the original file. When completed, customers can import and
export Visio diagrams in a variety of formats, such as Scalable Vector
Graphics and CAD files.
The Save as Web Page function lets your customers save their Visio diagrams
in any of several Web formats. Visio also has a browser-based user interface
to dig into the data that supports the drawing. Visio creates Web pages
with a modern, accessible interface, making it easy to share information
internally and externally.
That's not the only way they can collaborate and share diagrams. Visio's
shared workspace supports Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services, so customers
can open Visio diagrams saved on a SharePoint workspace directly from
within the Visio shared workspace. Visio opens a Shared Workspace task
pane with all necessary workplace data, including other files, members,
tasks and links.
Data-driven diagrams can automatically link to SQL Server or Access,
UML diagrams from Visual Studio .NET projects, Web maps, timelines from
Excel or Project, calendars from Outlook, and organizational charts from
Excel or Exchange Server. This is particularly helpful for diagrams with
frequently changing data, like personnel lists or organizational charts.
Visio can also use XML data from Web services, which can then be used
to drive diagram data. Your customers can extract that data as XML or
other formats, or export it to Excel, Microsoft Word, SQL Server and other
types of files to integrate with business processes and systems.
Marketing and Sales
As always, there is plentiful assistance, training and templates
to support Visio on the Office online Web site. There are also other components
with which your customers can tie Visio directly into their business applications,
or customize it to suit their specific needs. These also represent opportunities
for you to develop customized solutions for your customers.
With the Visio software development kit (SDK), developers can build programs
using Visio as a platform. The SDK includes samples, tools and documentation
to simplify custom application development. It also has a set of reusable
functions, classes and procedures that cover the most common development
tasks. The Visio SDK supports a range of languages, including Microsoft
Visual Basic (including Visual Basic .NET), Microsoft Visual C# .NET and
Microsoft Visual C++.
There are several sample applications bundled within the SDK that show
how you can use Visio to automate certain tasks and easily integrate with
other Microsoft technologies. This version of the SDK also has the new
ShapeStudio tool with which either you or your customers can create your
own high-quality shapes.
There's a set of ActiveX drawing controls that let you tie Visio directly
into other applications to create customized solutions for your customers.
You can embed and program the Visio drawing surface into custom applications
or existing Office applications. The drawing controls make it easy to
include Visio's functions in any smart client or server-based application
because you can integrate them within the host application's interface.
- Preconfigured templates and shapes
- SDK and ActiveX controls for custom development
- Supports new Scalable Vector Graphics format
- Diagram Studio
- Develop custom solutions for specific purposes
- Integrate Visio controls into other Office application
Microsoft recently opened its Visio 2003 XML Reference Schema and is
providing a royalty-free documentation and license program. Microsoft
is releasing the complete description of the Visio Extensible Markup Language
file format to help partners and customers alike access data within their
Visio diagrams and integrate with other XML-enabled applications.
Finally, the product guide, descriptions and frequently asked questions
for the forthcoming Visio 2007 are online. You can read up on the new
version to help your new and existing Visio customers prepare, and to
help them decide if they'll want to upgrade right away, sometime down
the road, or put that decision on hold.
If you're still looking for ideas on how to customize and package Visio
for your customer base, there's a short list of Microsoft Visio Solution
Providers that focus on process management, automation and several vertical
industries on the Microsoft Web site. Here you can also look for a specific
type of partner or register yourself to promote your own services.
While other Microsoft Office programs like Word and PowerPoint
provide some basic diagramming and charting features, Visio is a dedicated
diagramming tool focused specifically on creating technical diagrams.
It does have a couple of significant competitors in the marketplace that
compete on a functional level.
Probably Visio's closest competitor is Diagram Studio, from Gadwin Systems.
Diagram Studio can create a wide variety of flow charts, organizational
charts, data flow drawings and diagrams. Like Visio, there are templates
for business diagrams, presentations and illustrations; organization and
workflow charts; software and process flowcharts; database structures;
engineering schematics and technical drawings; Web site designs and network
diagrams; research layouts and maps; plus floor plans and street maps.
Also like Visio, artistic ability is not a prerequisite to using Diagram
Studio, as it's vastly object-driven. Users can assemble simple graphic
components to create basic diagram objects. Simply grab an object and
place it in a diagram file. For complex diagram types, there are graphic
libraries that come with
the package. The libraries are designed for specific tasks and diagram
categories. Diagram Studio users can then customize their charts by applying
line colors, fill patterns, shadow colors and text labels. Users can also
import graphics and clip art to use in their diagrams.
SmartDraw is another close competitor to Visio. The SmartDraw Suite Edition
can create flowcharts, organizational charts, Gantt charts, mechanical
and software diagrams, floor plans and calendars. It comes with more than
63,000 ready-made graphic elements, 1,300 templates, wizards to help guide
users through the process, and automatic chart builders. It can also import
photos and images to use within charts and diagrams. As with Visio and
Diagram Studio, users can copy and paste data and complete diagrams into
Office applications like Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Graphviz is an open source graph visualization package. It includes several
primary graph layout programs; web and interactive graphical interfaces;
and auxiliary tools, libraries and language bindings. The Graphviz layout
programs take simple text descriptions of graphs and generate diagrams
in several useful formats, such as images and SVG for Web pages, Postscript
for inclusion in PDF or other documents or display in an interactive graph
browser. (Graphviz also supports GXL, an XML dialect.)
Graphviz has many helpful features for creating diagram files, such as
options for colors, fonts, tabular node layouts, line styles, hyperlinks
and custom shapes. Graphviz users can also manually create and edit Graphviz
files, either as raw text files or within a graphical editor. The creators
of Graphviz acknowledge that it is not intended to be a replacement for
Visio. It is more of an alternate tool for graphs and charts.
You could also consider Microsoft's own PowerPoint as a potential competitor
to Visio, but only at the most basic level. Any of your customers who
truly need advanced graphing and diagram capabilities will quickly outstrip
those functions within PowerPoint. When putting Visio up against something
like Diagram Studio, your sales pitch can focus on the tight integration
with the rest of the Microsoft Office Suite and the customizable aspects
The Final Word
Visio is more than a simple utility for creating organizational
charts or network maps. It can generate a broad variety of business diagrams.
The extent to which you can customize Visio using the dozens of pre-fab
templates, the Visio SDK and the ActiveX controls presents a unique opportunity
for partners. You could, quite literally, develop applications to suit
just about any client.