Sketches and illustrations are constant partners of human ingenuity in the modern world. An idea, once conceived inside the human mind, can be developed through an illustration on paper, sand, or modern digital media. Data flow diagrams represent a form of illustration that adds flesh and bones to an idea. These ideas can pertain to complex industrial, engineering, scientific, and commercial processes, among others. The intent that powers the creation of these diagrams is to map said processes in considerable detail. We will examine some of the points of departure between flowcharts and data flow diagrams in the paragraphs below.
Flowcharts are useful when we wish to break down a complex mechanism or process into simple steps, with each step representing a stage in a process. These stages are connected by arrows in a linear fashion from the start to the end of a process. The purpose of creating a flowchart is to promote better understanding on the part of workers, reviewers, and audiences. The granular information emanating from a flowchart enables reviewers to detect and remedy problems as these arise in various processes. On the other hand, architects of information technology systems primarily use data flow diagrams to indicate the flow of data inside a system. This form of graphical representation typically follows a hierarchy and may comprise several layers depending on the extent and complexity of the system being represented.
The linear flow of a process inside a flowchart operates one-step at a time. Each step inside a flowchart necessarily follows the preceding step and leads to another stage in the process. The sum of the linear flows defines the essence of the flowchart. For instance, a flowchart depicting the creation of an automobile outlines the multiple stages and steps that help the manufacturer complete the construction of the final product. Certain steps may need reiteration in line with the demands of the process; however, the entire process is defined by its linearity. When we review data flow diagrams, we note processes inside these diagrams can operate parallel to each other. These processes can also have different timing based on days, weeks, or on-demand. We may state that these processes operate independently of each other. Certain pieces of data inside data flow diagrams can have a limited scope of use while other pieces of data can find wide levels of application. We note this represents a key point of departure between flowcharts and data flow diagrams.
Flowcharts indicate the various stages that enable a system to fulfil its designated functions. Each flowchart graphically indicates the cause and effect of various outcomes that animate a process or a system. Flowcharts can have various names – such as system flowcharts, program flow charts, etc. On the other hand, data flow diagrams indicate the essential functionality of a system. These diagrams can be partitioned into various levels that denote multiple activities. Various tasks and scenarios can be embedded into these multiple activities and these contribute to the complexity of data flow diagrams. Therefore, we may state these diagrams are three-dimensional representations wherein data is always flowing between multiple levels. These diagrams also involve the occurrence of multiple outcomes depending on how data interacts at various levels. This aspect represents one of the key points of departure between flowcharts and data flow diagrams.
Flowcharts do not include any inputs and outputs into external sources and scenarios. A flowchart is self-contained and depicts the flow of stages that complete a system or process. A flowchart commences at ‘start’ and is completed with a ‘stop’. This is essentially a non-dynamic system. On the other hand, data flow diagrams describe the path of data from external sources into processes and data stores that reside within a system. For instance, data flow diagrams used by an academic institution can include external inputs from various players such as students, tests, and student registrations. These are essentially variables that may differ for each academic season and therefore, may trigger different outcomes for each diagram.
Flowcharts often include a control element in visual shape of ‘diamonds’. These junctures signify decisions – yes or no – that have the power to heavily influence or guide the outcomes of a certain process. These junctures are part of the detailed descriptions that outline the operation of systems and processes. On the other hand, data flow diagrams do not include any control elements or branch elements. These diagrams merely describe how data interacts within a system or a process. These diagrams empower reviewers and audiences to visualize the operation of a particular system and its final output. In addition, these diagrams depict external entities, data stores, processes, and data flows. In line with this, we may state data flow diagrams bear no lines that cross each other and do not include loops and control elements.
Some experts have noted data flow diagrams are analogous to road maps. These maps indicate the multiple possibilities of the flow of traffic in a certain area or region. Similarly, data flow diagrams represent the potential for data to flow along various routes leading to different outcomes. Computer coders and information technology architects often use data flow diagrams to create new software systems for application in the real world. The varying flows of data in these diagrams enable said architects to explore new data structures and apply recent advances in technology to solve real world problems. In addition, the use of these diagrams indicates the possibilities of extant systems thereby positioning architects to refine current systems and their operations.
A modern data flow diagram comprises external entities, data flow symbols, data store symbols, and process symbols. An external entity represents the sources of data that enter a data flow diagram. This is significant in diagrams that seek to map real world scenarios. The data flow symbol represents the movement of data while data store indicates data at rest and these two states of data can exist inside data flow diagrams. The process symbol used inside a data flow diagram indicates activity that transforms data through combinations, re-ordering, or conversions. The various interactions between these factors can spark business insights and enable designers and creators to explore new dimensions inside extant processes. These factors operate in concert to create the entity known as the modern data flow diagram.
In the preceding paragraphs, we have examined some of the points of departure between flowcharts and data flow diagrams. We note these types of diagrams are useful in the digital world we inhabit primarily as enablers in many fields of human endeavour. The use of digital technologies has empowered designers and creators to refine the paradigms that govern these scientific systems. The emerging data-centric paradigms should see further innovation in the use and applications of flowcharts and data flow diagrams. Their centrality in the design and creation of new industrial, engineering, scientific, and commercial processes clearly remains beyond dispute. Corporate organizations and government entities must invest substantially in research and development efforts in a bid to promote the use of flowcharts and data flow diagrams. The intelligent application of such diagrams can enable inventors and process designers to make optimum use of corporate and natural resources in the service of the market and humanity at large.