Introduction

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Introduction

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Once the creators of Aldus PageMaker, had delivered Desktop Publishing to the masses, they then decided that they could make a smarter diagramming application. Eighteen months later, they emerged with the Visio product. Now they needed to get a foothold in the market, so they targeted the leading process flow diagramming package of the day, ABC Flowcharter, as the one to outdo. They soon achieved their aim to become the number one flowcharting application, and so they went after other usage scenarios, such as network diagramming, organization charts and building plans. In 1999, Microsoft bought Visio Corporation and Visio gradually became Microsoft Office Visio, meaning that all add-ons had to be written in a certain manner, and the common Microsoft Office core libraries like the Fluent UI were ever more increasingly employed.

Flowcharting still accounts for 30% of the typical uses that Visio is put to, but the core product did not substantially enhance its flowcharting abilities. There were some add-ons that provided rules, perhaps most notably for Data Flow Diagrams (which came and went); UML and Database Modelling, and many third parties have built whole flowcharting applications based on Visio. What all of these enhancements have in common is the imposition of a structure to the diagrams, which necessarily means the adoption of one rule set or another. There are a lot of competing and complimentary rule sets in use, but what is important is that the chosen rule set fits the purpose it is being used for, and that it can be understood by other related professionals.

It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the particular thousand words understood by each individual are more likely to be the same if the picture was created with commonly available rules. The structured diagramming features and Validation API in Visio 2010 enable business diagramming rules to be developed, reviewed and deployed. The first diagramming types to have these rules applied to are process flowcharts, reminiscent of the vertical markets attacked by the first versions of Visio itself, but these rules can and will be extended beyond this discipline.

Microsoft Visio has been such a success over the last 20 years because it is a data diagramming tool. Information is made far easier to understand when it is shown graphically. Each shape in Visio and the connections between them can convey a meaning, and they can store and display embedded data. However, with power comes responsibility. It can be easy to mislead by diagramming incorrectly, or by depicting information in an ambiguous manner.

This can be extremely important when businesses need to rely upon the veracity of the displayed data and flows. Therefore Microsoft introduced the ability to verify the construction of any Visio diagram in Microsoft Visio 2010 Premium edition, and now in Microsoft Visio 2013 Professional edition. The Validation API enables businesses to write custom validation rules to suit their own purposes.

Microsoft Visio 2013 Professional provides built-in rule sets for flowcharts, BPMN diagrams and SharePoint Designer Workflows. However, it does not provide a rule set developer interface for the analyzing, amending or creating rules.

 

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This Rules Tools add-in fills this gap by providing an extra group in the Process tab in Visio 2013 that allows users to analyze existing rules, display issues, and to export/import rule sets.