Visio 2013 is no longer just an application to design workflows but is now a powerful Business intelligence platform. Robust updates to the themes, deep integration with SharePoint 2013 and online, support for Business Connectivity services and introduction to new file formats are just a few of its new features.
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In this article I am going to focus on building a simple diagram and making external connections with SharePoint online lists to keep track of the employee onboarding process. The Visio drawing is going to be built using the Work Flow Diagram - 3D template. In this example I am using Visio 2013 Professional with 
SharePoint Online Plan2.

Building the Visio diagram

Open your Visio 2013 and select the Work Flow Diagram - 3D template as shown below.

You will be presented with the below option. Click Create

Building the 1st page

You should now see a blank page. You should also see the Depart - 3D stencil option available on the left. Below is a screenshot

Following are the 5 shapes I am going to use to build my workflow. All of these shapes are available in the Department - 3D category

Human Resources,

Information services (2 of these),



And Accounting.

Below is a screenshot of the shapes and their order.

Below is a screenshot of what the diagram looks like after adding the connectors and text.

On the bottom left of the page, you should see the default page name there, in this case the page name is 'Page-1' double-click on that and re-name it to something that makes sense. In this case I have re-named it to 'Onboarding'

Building the 2nd page

Click on the '+' icon next to the 'Onboarding' page. 

You should now see a new blank page whose default name is 'Page-2'. Double-click on Page-2 and give it a name that makes sense. In this case I have re-named as 'Asset'

In this page I am going to add a few IT assets. To find the stencils, below Shapes, select SEARCH, type in Asset and click the 'Enter' button.

Under the 'Office Furniture' option click on the 'More results…' option. Now you should see more shapes.

Tower PC, Monitor, Keyboard, Printer, Telephone and Projector are the shapes I am using. I have not setup any workflow for them. Below are screenshots of the shapes and they page.

External Data

In the Data ribbon, you should see the External Data category, in this category click on the Link Data to Shapes option as shown below.

You will now be presented with the Data Selector option, choose the 'Microsoft SharePoint Foundation List' button and click Next

Type the URL of the site. This needs to be a friendly URL i.e. should not end with .aspx or something like that. Below is a screenshot of my URL

While the connection is being made you will see a 'Getting Web site URL from server' message. 

From time to time I have received the below message as well while making the connection. This usually occurs when you have either made prior connections or are currently logged into the site from your browser. Re-starting your local machine (not the server) is the best way to overcome this issue. Save your Visio file before closing!!

Once the connection to your site is made you will see the lists available. You have two options for each list. Link to the list or Link to a view of a list. In my case I have used the default which is Link to a list and selected the list. Select the list that you need and click Next, below is a screenshot.

Click finish

You should now see your list as an External Data. Below is a screenshot of my external data which the list from SharePoint online.

For this example I imported two more lists hence I went through the above process twice. Below is a screenshot of the three lists.

Link Data to Shape

Link Data to Shape is as simple as drag-and-drop.  Prior to linking any data to shapes, below is what my Onboarding tasks data looks like

Click on the 'Background Check' row, drag and drop it on the Background Check shape. This shape is part of the 'Onboarding' page.
Once this is done, you will see a link is created as shown below.

You can drag and drop the remaining rows to the shapes manually or you can use the Automatically Link option.

Automatically Link

After clicking on the Automatically Link option, you will be presented with the below wizard

Keep the radio button as it is and click Next. Visio is smart enough to give you the best option of which Data column (which is part of the external data) matches the shape field. This is also why I purposefully added the title of each shape the same as the tile in the external data. Click Next.

Click Finish

You should now see all the rows in the external data linked to the image. If you do not then you can manually drag and drop those that haven't.

Follow the exact same steps to connect the Employee-Onboarding data to the images. Use the 'Current Onboarding status' to match the shapes.

Follow the exact same steps to connect the Assets data to the images. Use the 'Asset Name' to match the shapes.

Shape Data Window

The shape data window option is by default not checked. 

By checking the box, you will see a side window which shows the same data from the external data.

Linked Shapes and Linked Rows

Linked shapes and rows are two options to view the connections of the external data.

Linked Shapes

Linked Shapes is used to view the shapes that are linked to the rows of the External Data.
Consider the Onboarding tasks external data. Right-click on the Background check row and go to Linked Shapes. You will see which shape is linked to this row. In this case the Human Resources shape ( which is titled as Background Check) is the shape linked. If you click on the link here, the image on the diagram is automatically highlighted.

Linked Rows

Linked Row is used to view the external data that is connected to the shape.
Consider the Background check shape in the Onboarding page. Right-click on the shape, select Data, select Show Linked Row. Here you will see the two external data connections that are made to this shape.

Data Graphics

Using Data Graphics we are going to visually enhance the shapes by applying the external data. 

In the Onboarding page, I have selected the Background check shape. On the Data ribbon, click on Data Graphics and choose 'Create New Data Graphic…'

You will be presented with the below dialogue box, click on New item…

Below is the option to create a new item.

This is where you need to have a fully developed plan regarding what your data graphics is going to look like. In my case, I want to setup the data graphics such that if the actual time taken is less than the estimated time then mark the shape as red else keep it green. Keeping this in mind, I made the following settings
I selected Actual time taken as the data field, Icon Set as the Display and added rules for the green arrow pointing upwards and the red arrow pointing downwards.
Below is a screenshot

When I click Ok, I get the below question. Select Yes.

I now see the data graphic has already been applied to the Background check shape. As you can see in the below screenshot, a red color down arrow has been added. 
Lets' think through this logic. The data graphic condition we added above was such that if the actual time taken is greater than the estimated time then choose the red color which is exactly what has happened. In the screenshot below I have highlighted the estimated time taken and actual time taken columns. For Background check, the actual time taken is 3 days which greater than the estimated time taken which is 2 days. 

Now when you go back to Data Graphics, you will see the graphic we created as an available option. 

You can now go ahead and select the remaining shapes and apply the same data graphics

Once the data graphics is applied below is what the shapes look like

Below is the data graphics logic for the Asset page

Once the data graphics is applied below is what all the shapes look like

Publish to SharePoint Online

There are two ways to save the VSDX file to the SharePoint Online document library.

Save directly from Visio

Click on File  and then choose Save As. If you have already saved files to SharePoint before then you should already see the SharePoint option as shown below.

If you haven’t the click on Computer and then click on the Browser button as shown above. In the Save As window, type in the URL of your site as shown below. You will be asked for authentication.

Select the document library of your choice and save it.

Save from SharePoint Online

Once you are done building your Visio file save it in a location you can recall.
Log into your SharePoint online site and access your document library. 
Click on the Upload option

Click on Browse and find your Visio file. Click Ok

Click on the Visio file that you just uploaded, you should now see the same file on SharePoint online via the Visio services.


I have also provided two videos which walk you through the  steps described above.

The first video is regarding building the pages, connecting the external data and creating the links. 

(Click Here for high resolution video)

The second video is regarding the data graphics and publishing to SharePoint online

(Click Here for high resolution video)