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An Interview with Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec

In this interview, Mai-lan discusses Visio, graphics and PowerPoint.


Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec is a Lead Program Manager with Visio at Microsoft. Mai-lan has been with Microsoft for five years, working on Microsoft Commerce Server, Microsoft Transaction Server, and Visio. Outside of Microsoft, Mai-lan has been Director of E-commerce at digeo and one of the first product managers at Qpass. She is the author of two technology books for business managers and multiple articles in MSDN Magazine. Mai-lan is currently working on the next version of Visio.

Geetesh: Tell us more about Visio and how Microsoft positions the product.

Microsoft Mai-lan: Visio is all about communication of ideas and analysis of information, whether it is complex or simple, business or technical. As a diagramming program, Visio can be used to create flowcharts for business processes or document IT networks. Visio also has a rich automation model that lets our partners create line-of-business applications that take advantage of the drawing functionality to automatically create, display, or modify diagrams to meet their business solution needs. For example, Visio can be used as a manufacturing Bill-of-Materials (BOMs) designer or a “digital dashboard” displaying status of requests in an ecommerce customer service queue.

I’ve always found Visio to be a fascinating product to work on because it can be used in so many different contexts

Geetesh: How well does Visio complement the built-in diagram capabilities in Microsoft Office applications like PowerPoint, Word and Excel?

Mai-lan: Visio has built-in support for integration with Microsoft Exchange (automatically creating organization charts) and Project (automatically generating timelines and calendars). Visio lets users create simple and more complex diagrams that drive business decisions, or are driven by external data. Users can copy these diagrams into any other Office document, such as Word document or a PowerPoint slide, to display the drawing in context to other information. Visio also has a number of other features that let diagrams be used as an interface for other documents and processes. For example, the hyper linking functionality for shapes is a simple, yet effective way to use a business flowchart diagram to navigate to a marketing presentation or an HR process document.

Geetesh: Visio is an amazing program yet so complex for typical PowerPoint users - how can PowerPoint users derive maximum benefits from using both programs together?

Mai-lan: Visio’s core competency is to make it easy to create and modify diagrams. You can use Visio ’s rich set of tools to create the diagram and then cut-and-paste the finished diagram into PowerPoint to display the drawing in the context of your communication.

Geetesh: What type of user responses do you receive from people who use both Visio and PowerPoint and what do you do with these responses?

Mai-lan: PowerPoint users who employ Visio diagrams in presentations typically want a rich, graphical diagram. The diagram itself must be visually compelling to blend in with the overall PowerPoint presentation. We’ve taken that feedback and are working hard to improve the visual appearance of a diagram in the next release.

Geetesh: Visio 2003 removed the AI/EPS export option that was always a part of Visio. What prompted that?

Mai-lan: It was primarily driven by our move in Visio 2003 towards Unicode support for better international support. In our tradeoff between support for the AI/EPS converters and international support, we opted to better support our growing international customer base.6

Geetesh: What is the best way to use my existing Visio drawings in tools like Adobe Photoshop, CorelDRAW, Quark Xpress and Macromedia Flash?

Mai-lan: You can use any of Visio output formats, such as PNG or JPG. I’d recommend JPG since Visio gives you the ability to control more output parameters.

Geetesh: Tell us more about some non-conventional uses of Visio.

Mai-lan: I’ve seen Visio used as a custom business process designer, a manufacturing shop floor simulation tool, a sales process automation tool, and in other widely varying contexts.

One of my favorite uses of Visio is in England, where Visio is used in a touch-screen application for bed assignments in a hospital. Nurses and hospital administrators can view and modify bed assignments in wards visually, which makes it easy to maintain maximum capacity. Another one of our partners has a great risk analysis and accident reporting tool that is being used by Dutch Shell. By using Visio process diagrams to map out potential risks and to review mistakes made in oil rigging accidents, the third party application was able to contribute to the significant reduction in accidents on site.

There are many other interesting examples for Visio usage in the workplace – regardless of industry, a visual representation of information often is the easiest way to convey simple or complex concepts.

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