imageWhen it comes to Visio's high quality, yet static content, can we make that flat data more interactive and fresh?  Sure, with Data Graphics!  Some people refer to drawings like this as having data-behind.  Or if you have clicked on the Data tab and saw Data Graphics and didn’t know what those were used for, well then you’re luck as I’ll show you how to wire those up.  You might have seen the Supply Chain example from Microsoft in a number of demos, and think that it must be some overly complicated configuration.  It’s not!

Visio diagrams with live data behind can by used for all sorts of things:

  • Geographic maps for locations like data centers, bank branches, manufacturing facilities
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Business Processes and Improvement
  • Infrastructure Needs like server racks, user information
  • Floor plans (Offices, HVAC, electric)
  • Sales information
  • Project Timelines
  • Organization Charts

Pretty much think of anything that can have a status that changes, you can render in Visio!  What you do is create a new drawing, bring in your external data, create the shapes you need, and then configure the data graphics to render the shapes you want.  Once it’s done, you can upload the drawing as a web drawing to SharePoint and configure automatic data refresh.  You can get fancy and customize these even further with code and JavaScript, but the data graphics interface is actually fairly flexible for this without using code.  This of course depends on your needs.  On a side note, I am using Visio 2013 but this capability has been in Visio for a number of versions in 2007 and 2010 though the interface might look slightly different. 


This blog lists some samples from Microsoft that you can download with the Visio drawing and sample data you can play with.  Here are a few other examples to get your creative juices flowing:

Tracking a Sales Team image

Network Diagram with Health Status image

Value Stream Map image

Manufacturing image

Network Server Rack Diagram with Health image

Help Desk Stats image


What Data Can I Import with Visio?

Open Visio, create a new drawing and click the Data tab.  In Visio 2013, click the Link Data to Shapes icon in the ribbon.  These are the options you will get:


You can get data from an Excel sheet, Access database, a SharePoint list, SQL server database or other ODBC connection.  What else could you want?  Well I’m sure a lot, but that should certainly cover a wide variety of data sources.  Obviously I work with SharePoint primarily and have used this connection.  It’s quite cool and allows you to choose the general list or just a view. (Sweet!) 


While this doesn’t DIRECTLY apply to just drawings with data behind, I thought I would mention how to set backgrounds while we’re talking drawings.  Depending on your drawing, you might want to use a background that would automatically appear on all pages you create, and not interfere with your shapes.  Visio has built in support for this where you use a dedicate page and define it as a “background page”.  This makes it not show in the page dropdown when rendered in Visio web access.  To do this:

  1. In your drawing, create a new page by clicking the plus sign to the right of the pages box below the drawing.  Right click on it (it will say like Page-2), and give it a relevant name like Background map.

  2. Right-click on the new page, and click Page Setup.
  3. On the Page Properties, choose Background for the Type.  Click Apply and Ok.

  4. If you don’t already have one, create a page for the foreground where your main drawing will be.  Right-click on this page and choose Page setup.
  5. On the Page Properties, and in the Background dropdown, choose the background that you created a minute ago.  Click Apply and Ok.

Done!  Now for any page you want to have the background, just go into the page setup and choose it.  Using a trick I documented in this blog, I added a semi-transparent shape on top of the map to help the shapes stand out against it so it’s not so busy. 

What Can I Do With Data Graphics?

Data graphics are a way to show additional data for a shape in a graphical way.  Microsoft has a good article on an overview of data graphics here.  You can create the following types of data graphics:

  • Text callouts
    • Text callouts is used when you just need to show some additional textual values (names, values, etc.)
    • They can have a wide array of styles and placement

  • Data Bars
    • Use data bars when you need to show progress of a value within a range.  You can use an actual bar, or there are other types of icons to use like the speedometer, thermometer, gauge, stars, bar graphs or stacked bars

  • Icon sets
    • Icon sets are good when you have a status and want to show it with an icon.  You can choose various styles of traffic lights, check marks, flags, arrows and smiley emoticons

  • Color by value
    • You can use color by value for status type values, but don’t want another graphic, you can just either color a border around the shape or color the shape itself based on criteria.  If this field has this value, color it red, green, yellow, etc. 

Did you know you could also get pivot style data in data graphics as well?  They’re called pivot diagrams, and you can read more about them and how to make them from Microsoft here


Using Data Graphics

To see this better, let’s use the Help Desk example from above.  You can get the files directly here.  You will get the Visio drawing and the Excel data files. 

  1. Open Visio and create a basic diagram.  On the data tab, click the Link Data to Shapes icon in the ribbon. 
  2. Choose Excel, and browse to find the Help Desk Flow Data.xlsx.  We want to use the CallData$ worksheet/range.
  3. Take the defaults for the rest of the screens and click Finish. 

Now we have our Excel data in Excel.  It will show in the External data below the page drawing.


You can sort, rename columns, change column types and such by right-clicking on any part of the column, and choose Column Settings.  You can select which columns to show, in what order, change their name and their type.  Now we can add our items from Excel to the worksheet. 

  1. You can use whatever shapes you want, for our purpose under Basic Shapes, highlight Rectangle.
  2. In External Data window, highlight all rows and drag onto the drawing.  This should create shapes that are linked to every row of data from Excel, and it automatically chose a 2-line text data graphic to use.

  3. Highlight one of the shapes, and click Data –> Data Graphics.  From here you can change the graphic layout that is applied to the shape by clicking on another, or you can edit the one it’s using.  Click edit data graphic.  I’ll show you how to do one, and you use the existing Visio drawing to configure the others. 
  4. Highlight the existing Step row, and click Edit Item.  Change the Style to Heading 2, and unclick the checkbox for Position, and choose Horizontal: Center, and Vertical: Middle. 

  5. The other existing Average Time On Call row is fine as is. 
  6. Click New Item.  Click Number of Calls for the data field, displayed as Text, and choose the Text callout style. 
  7. Do the same thing for Average Wait Time
  8. Click New Item.  Click % Resolved for the data field, displayed as Data Bar, and choose the Data bar 1 style.  Since this is a percentage, choose 0 for the minimum value, and 1 for the maximum.  Click the 3 dot ellipsis for Value Format, choose Percentage with 0 decimal places.  It will place some weird <.%>0u string in the field.  It’s ok, that’s normal.
  9. Do almost the same thing for the % Total Resolved field.  Add it as a Data bar 1 style, with the min/max and percentage, but use 2 decimal places. 
  10. Now we just need to re-order the fields.  On the main list of data graphics, use the up arrow to change their position.  They should in the order:
    1. Number of calls
    2. Step
    3. Average Wait Time
    4. Average Time On Call
    5. % Resolved
    6. % Total Resolved
  11. Click Apply and Ok and view your handy work. 

Now you’re cookin!


Obviously not the prettiest around, so just play with the theme shading, etc. to make it look better.  Drag the shapes in the right order, add your arrow shapes (they have no data on them at all) and you’re ready to go!  If you need to refresh the data, just click Refresh from the ribbon.  The actual sample has multiple data graphic styles which you can see by looking at the pre-done sample from the download.  Actually there are a total of 3 different styles used (they really just show different fields, show in a different order, or don’t show the data bars). 

This should get you started, the possibilities are endless.  Go look for some data and get data graphing!  Create multiple pages for different views of your data.  Upload to SharePoint and make a dashboard by adding in a Visio web part.  If you use a lot of icon sets or colors, consider inserting a legend by clicking Insert Legend from the Data tab of the ribbon. 


I highly recommend you download a lot of the samples, look at how they work and try it out for yourself.  Here are a few other resources you might be interested in:

For more information about C5 Insight or this blog entry, please Contact Us.