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UN 3.1  Unify Measures

Business measures such as sales, profit, margin, etc. describe, report, and calculate business situations. A standardized notation will help to comprehend the specific characteristics of measures, e.g. whether they are basic measures or calculated ratios of measures, whether they represent value or volume figures, flow or stock figures, or whether they have a positive or negative impact.


The visualization of business measures is presented here, but their definition, generally given in accounting manuals or similar documentation, is not discussed here. For the unified wording of business measures and their abbreviations see also the UNIFY rule UN 1.1 "Unify terms and abbreviations".

  Basic measures such as “export sales” or “energy costs” are directly derived from business processes. Ratios are quotients of two basic measures 

Basic meaures

Basic measures are measured either in currency units (e.g. EUR) or in physical units (e.g. kg). They are neither shares of something (percentages) nor quotients of two measures.


Use 2/3 of the category width for the column width in column charts and the bar width in bar charts to visualize basic measures. 


Use thick lines for representing basic measures in line charts. Line chart markers in general are square shaped. If helpful, tie the shape of the markers to the representation of value or volume measures.


Basic measures can be viewed under the following three aspects: value and volume, flow and stock and positive and negative impact



Ratios are quotients of two basic measures such as “profit per sales” or “sales per capita.” In practice few denominators exist. Denominators such as “sales”, “units sold”, “headcount”, and “capital” constitute up to 90% of all practical ratios.


If both the enumerator and denominator have the same unit (generally a currency unit) the resulting ratio has no unit. It is expressed rather in percent (e.g. “profit in % of sales”).


Furthermore, if both enumerator and denominator have the same basic measure (e.g. “headcount”), it is called a share (e.g. “gender share”).


The width of both bars and columns representing ratios is 1/3 of the category width, i.e. 50% of the width of bars and columns representing basic measures.


Represent ratios in line charts ratios with thin lines (50% of thick lines).


Value measures such as “profit” and “capital” have currency units. Volume measures such as “shipment” and “headcount” have physical units.


If it is helpful to distinguish volume measures from value measures in a chart or a table, use round corners for visualization elements representing volume measures while value measures retain an angular shape. In line charts and for the heads of pins, use circle shaped markers for volume measures, and square-shaped markers for value measures.



Flow measures like “net sales” and “new hires” relate to a certain time period such as months or years. Stock measures like “inventory” and “equity” relate to a certain fixed date, such as December 31st of 2015 (at midnight).


A future version of the IBCS will address the visualization of flow and stock measures.



An increase of a positive measure such as “profit” or “sales” positively impacts the organization’s result.


An increase of a negative measure such as “cost” or “waste” negatively impacts the organization’s result.


An increase of neutral measures such as “market size” or “investment” has no direct impact to the organization’s result.


A future version of the IBCS will address the visualization of positive, negative, and neutral impact.








© 2015 IBCS Association. Except where otherwise noted licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 International.