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July 15, 2020

International Bussines Communication Standards

Author: Branka Trifunović

For Power BI version 2.76.5678.782 (December 2019).

International Business Communication Standards or IBCS is a set of rules for unified look of business reports. Rules cover shapes and colors for all report elements like charts, tables, schemes and labels. Let’s look at how we correctly visualize data.

Chart orientation

Orientation depends on data type. We use the following rules.

  • Arrange time series horizontally.

  • Arrange categorical data vertically.

Chart type

Chart type depends on data type. We use the following rules.

  • Use line or column chart for time series.
  • Use bar chart for categorical data.

If possible, we avoid pie charts. We only use them if the number of categories is small (for example 2 or 3).


We usually show different scenarios: Actual (AC), Forecast (FC), Plan (PL) and Past (PY). We use the following rules:

  • Actual is shown in black color.
  • Past is shown in grey color.
  • Forecast is shown in black and white hatched pattern.
  • Plan is shown with white color or outlined pattern.

  • For showing two scenarios we use columns only.

AC and PL by month

AC and PY by month

AC and FC by month

  • We show the third scenario using labels instead of columns. We use the color according to the rules above.

AC, PL and PY by month


Variances are differences between scenarios. They are often crucial part of the business report. We use the following notations.

  • ΔPY, difference between AC and previous year PY
  • ΔPL, difference between AC and plan PL
  • ΔFC, difference between AC and forecast FC

Variances are given in absolute or relative numbers. We use the following rules.

  • We use the same colors for variances on all charts, usually green for positive and red for negative variance.
  • On charts we include the number value for every variance.
  • When we’re interested in variances only, we use »plus-minus« charts.

  • When we’re interested in variances versus the actual values, we use integrated variances chart.

Relative values

When we’re interested in an overview of relative values (for example, how many of each product was sold in the region), we use detailed view of column or bar charts.

  • For showing element size, we use stacked column chart or stacked bar chart. We provide number value for each element.

Titles, text and labels

Text and number labels usually play a smaller part in a business report. We use the following rules.

  • We title pages, charts and tables. We name the organization and department, KPI and time period.
  • Reports have their message. We summarize the message of the page on the top of every page.
  • We name categories in charts. We avoid text labels on chart axes. We avoid gridlines.

Scales and comparisons

We usually include multiple charts in one report. We make sure to use the same scale through all charts. This way we can quickly compare data. We use the following rules.

  • For the same units we use the same scale.
  • We don’t cut axes.
  • We provide number values in charts where necessary.


For highlighting data we use unified indicators, for example a highlighting ellipse, trend arrows, difference markers and similar.


Zebra BI Charts

Zebra BI Charts is a visualization for Power BI that follows the IBCS rules. We no longer need to format our charts, it’s done by visualization. We select the values we want to show (usually AC, PL, PY and FC), Zebra compiles the charts and offers them for display.

Zebra BI can be found on Marketplace in Power BI Desktop. It’s available in free and paid version, which offers additional functionalities. More on Zebra BI at