In the last few months we have significantly extended the charting elements within XLCubed. We wanted to get the product formally certified by IBCS, and I’m delighted to say we achieved that in early June. We’ve been aware of IBCS for several years now through some of our customers and partners, but it was really only at the beginning of this year that we started to look in detail, and it really resonated with us.
What is IBCS?
So first of all, what is IBCS? It stands for International Business Communication Standards and it is a set of proposals and guidelines for the design of reports, dashboards and the tables and charts which these contain. IBCS stems from the work of Rolf Hichert and Jurgen Faisst, and is very well known in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with many of the large corporates in the region adopting the standards. Below are 5 of the reports which we created in XLCubed for the certification process:
While IBCS recommends certain chart types for specific use-cases, along with formatting elements and colour schemes, the overriding message is one of consistency. One of the core ideas is ‘what looks the same means the same’. With that guideline in place it means that the wide range of reports available across an organisation, or even within a department, become more intuitive and easier to assimilate and understand.
Making a comparison to other walks of life: the standard notation for music means that musicians can read and play something written by any other composer. So Metallica could play Chopin, could play Post Malone, could play Miles Davis (I doubt they’d choose to, but could be interesting!). Similarly an electrical circuit diagram can be understood by all electricians.
Why should business reporting be any different? Reports and dashboards should of course look good, but their purpose is to clearly convey information, not the designer’s particular artistic flair and taste.
Reports should make it easy and instantaneous to identify which data is actual, plan and forecast. It should be obvious to see which variances are good for the business and which are bad, and to identify the current period. It should be straightforward to compare two values, and clear whether we are looking at absolute numbers or relative/percentage values. IBCS helps with each of these, and many more, both for interactive reporting and also when it comes to communicating the business story behind a final version report – the ‘Message’ of a report. The approach is based on decades of research, and results in reports that are consistent and easy to understand, and which look polished and professional.
We’re looking forward to sharing some more detail through a series of blogs in the coming weeks. If you’re already intrigued I can definitely recommend the book “Solid Outlined Hatched” which covers the ground in much more depth: