June 23, 2015

Debbie Christensen, Systems Engineer

DoxTek, Inc.

What is the difference between Business Process Management (BPM) and Workflow? Your initial reaction might be, “this is a trick question, right?” If you would like to learn about opportunities to improve business organization and response to customers, continue to follow along!

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are separate entities. To make matters even more confusing, software suites offering workflow design may market itself as BPM, and vice-versa.

To illustrate the difference, I am going to share a metaphor. Take, for instance, the construction of a new building. There are various plans involved in a construction project: electrical, plumbing, framing, and the foundation, among others. I think of a workflow as the actions it takes to complete the work described within any specific set of plans.

In other words, a workflow is a set of activities and rules designed to ensure that a given task is completed, or, at the very least, moved from one state to another. In software, it usually includes manual as well as automated tasks to ensure all necessary steps are followed to accomplish a defined objective.

For a simplified accounts payable process, this might mean that when an invoice is received it is first routed to the correct person for approval, and then to accounting for payment. For an accounts receivable process, the workflow would consist of comparing a payment received with outstanding invoices in the accounting system, posting the payment to the correct account, and then depositing the check. In both instances, the workflows would likely include contingencies for when the payment or invoice are wrong or not approved, as well as a mechanism for reminding the people involved in the process to take action as needed. In either case, the goal is the same: to complete a specific task.

So, how does that definition differ from Business Process Management? Going back to the construction metaphor, the BPM would be the job that the general contractor performs. He or she isn’t just concerned with the accomplishment of a single process, but the entire construction. A skilled general contractor will also want to ensure that the construction is high quality, as well as within budget.

Likewise, BPM is concerned with the overall picture of a business’ processes as whole, and whether any aspect is not working, is too expensive, or could simply be made better. BPM software provides the tools to help design, measure, analyze, improve, standardize, and restructure the processes to help an organization run as optimally as possible.

A big part of the optimization within BPM is the use of well designed – you guessed it – workflows!  (Hence the relationship, and confusion, between the two). Workflows ensure standardization of tasks, and if well implemented, should remove a great deal of human error to which most manual tasks are prone.  BPM can, not only be used to design those workflows, but to measure and analyze the effectiveness of each, and how they interact with each other.  If necessary, BPM can also be used to re-engineer pieces that aren’t working well or remove pieces that are no longer needed.

To top it all, BPM software is generally designed to integrate with other enterprise applications, giving an organization even broader visibility into its processes, and allowing the users faster access to information outside the BPM software itself.

Ultimately, both BPM and workflow can be used together to keep your organization running smoothly, and increase responsiveness to your customers.  Please contact us if you would like to learn more!

PDF Version: BPM Vs Workflow

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