Overview of Process Management in Microsoft Visio 2010 (part 4)

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7/24/2011 5:17:53 PM

Visio Process Repository

There is also a new Visio Process Repository, which is a site template that is included with Microsoft SharePoint 2010. It provides a place to share and collaborate on process diagrams. The repository has built-in file access control and version control—users can view the process diagram simultaneously and edit the diagram without corrupting the original.

This repository can therefore ensure that a user is editing the most recent version of a process diagram, and enables a user to find out about updates that have been made to processes of interest to them.

In addition, administrators can monitor whether diagrams comply with a business's internal standards or not, or discover, for example, which processes apply to a specified department.

Visio services

Microsoft Visio has had, for several versions, a useful Save As Web feature that creates a mini-website, complete with widgets for pan and zoom, Shape Data, and shape reports. This has worked best using the Vector Markup Language (VML) in Microsoft Internet Explorer, or in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) using a web browser plugin in IE, although it has native support in some other browsers. This is quite powerful, but it does require that the native Visio file is republished if any changes are made to the document. Visio 2010 has introduced the increasingly adopted XAML format, which actually means that the Visio file will be rendered for viewing in Silverlight. This is a very useful addition.

In addition, Microsoft has an ActiveX Visio Viewer control that can display native Visio files that are in both binary and XML format. This control is installed as default with Microsoft Outlook 2007+, but is also available as a separate free download from Microsoft. In fact, the Visio Viewer control has a programmable API that enables Shape Data to be extracted and exposed too. While this viewer has the advantage that the native file does not have to be republished, its reach is limited by the choice of browsers available, and the willingness to make the native Visio file accessible—this is not always the best strategy.

Microsoft Visio 2010 provides Visio Services for Microsoft SharePoint. Therefore, with rendering on the server, any client that accesses the Microsoft SharePoint site will have the ability to view Visio diagrams without having to install anything locally.

The user can interact with the diagrams by clicking on shapes to view the Shape Data, navigating any embedded hyperlinks, as well as pan/zoom and print capabilities. These are capabilities of the Save As Web and Visio Viewer options too.

Microsoft Visio 2007 introduced the ability to add a data recordset to a diagram and refresh the data so that the diagram could be kept up-to-date, but the Save As Web html pages and the Visio Viewer ActiveX control are not able to automatically respond to any data changes. Therefore, the diagram can quickly become outdated, thus requiring you to refresh the diagram in Visio, and then to republish it.

Now with Visio Services, that same data recordset can be refreshed by the server, thus providing everyone who views the diagram using the new Visio web part with the latest information. This is extremely nice, but be aware that there are some limitations, such as no shapes will be added, moved, or deleted in this operation, as only linked Shape Data and Data Graphics are updated and all layers will be visible. Still, you no longer have to republish just to refresh the data set!

Visio has a complex layering system. Most CAD systems, for example, insist that all diagram elements belong to a single layer. This layer can either be made visible or not, or all elements on a layer have a specified color. Drawing elements in Visio can belong to none, one, or many layers! Visio Services, however, simply ignores layers.

What are the Visio 2010 editions?

Microsoft decided to split Visio 2010 into three editions, so you need to be aware of the relevant features that are in each of them. In the following matrix, a black dot denotes which features are present:

Although you will need Microsoft Visio 2010 Premium edition to use the Validation capabilities, the other editions will be able to review any of the diagrams created.

Planning your own solutions

By now, you should be eager to explore the out of the box structured diagram functionality, and perhaps be considering how to create validation rules for your own business. In doing so, I would advise that you always look to build upon what Visio provides—do not try to replicate it! I believe that trying to create your own Shape Data objects, or your own line routing algorithms, for example, is ultimately a waste of time as they will lead you down some dead-ends, some of which still exist within the boxed Visio product. For example, the following three legacy diagram templates in Visio have their own limitations. They are:

  • The Software and Database|UML Model Diagram solution within Visio is essentially a closed third-party add-on that was purchased, and has seen very little development since then. However, all sets of rules need to be updated from time to time, and so the UML version in Visio will always lag behind those of the leading developers of the UML standard. In addition, there are some elements of the UML solution in Visio that leaves the users constantly frustrated—such as the inability to get at the model composition programmatically.

  • The Software and Database|Database Model Diagram solution has a few annoyances, such as the inability to print any table or field notes, and the disappearance of any forward engineering capabilities.

  • The Software and Database|Data Flow Model Diagram solution is one that has been reassessed. We still have the template and stencil for this, but the add-on has not made it through the Microsoft rationalization of Visio add-ons. Therefore, you can now construct DFD models badly without realizing it.

One of the frequently asked questions by a newbie to Visio when confronted by the multiple diagram categories and types is how a particular template is supposed to be used? Often, they are directed to the Visio online help for examples of how to create certain types of diagrams, but this is not always sufficient because they are really asking for automatic assistance as they create the diagram. What they usually want is in fact a guided diagramming system; they require a system that provides them with some feedback on the way that they are composing a diagram. It is easy to drag-and-drop shapes in Visio, to connect them together, to make a diagram pretty with embellishments, or to add text in a variety of ways. However, this loosely-created drawing cannot consistently convey any semantic meaning unless it follows generally accepted rules. It is the imposition of rules that turns a pretty picture into a meaningful mesh of semantic symbology. This is where Microsoft Visio 2010 has made a great advance because it has provided us with the ability to create validation rules for different types of behaviors. In fact, these new features are worthy of a brand new tab, the Process tab, which although automatically applied to several drawing templates, is also available for use on any type of diagram.

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