5 June 2017

Workflow Management and BPM: understand the difference

Workflow management and BPM (Business Process Management) are two terms crucial to modern business, and yet they are often confused. Some might say that they are the same thing; others might argue that they are totally different concepts. I am acquainted with both, and in this article, I want to explain the differences and similarities of these two approaches. After all, without understanding what is what, it is impossible to make the right choice and equip your business with the right tools.

workflow management and BPM ELMA BPM Blog

Although BPM and workflow mostly address the same needs, each does it in a different manner.
Workflow management allows you to coordinate certain repeated tasks and procedures to save time and do the work better. Workflow focuses on people and instructions and describes the role of each person involved in a task. Essentially, workflow management allows you to organize your daily work.

Business Process Management, in its turn, is a more complex approach. It coordinates the entire organization and focuses on its processes to improve their efficiency. This is important; BPM is not merely automation of processes, but also their continuous improvement. However, BPM does include workflow management as a component, and this often leads to confusion.

However, at this point, you can see that Workflow is not Business Process Management. Workflow concerns, for example, processing a purchase order. It is a job done by certain people who follow certain instructions, and it is part of a customer-oriented process.

Business Process Management, however, is company-wide and ongoing; you cannot limit it to a set of activities displayed in a chart. It focuses on the big picture and is rather a strategy than a description of how a certain job must be done.

workflow management and business process management - ELMA BPM Blog

Consider technical support. Depending on a client’s problem, the workflow assigns the issue to a certain employee, sets the time limit, and then directs the solved issue back to the client. In BPM, however, technical support is just one of many departments (and workflows). Its operation is coordinated with that of software engineers, legal and sales departments (and CRM for that matter!). The documents involved in solving technical support issues belong to the company’s EDMS, and all these interactions are monitored by Business Process Management software, that looks for bottlenecks and drives improvement in all the processes of the company according to the general strategy.

BPM Software and Workflow Management Software

Business Process Management itself is not a product, nor is Workflow Management. However, there is software for either of them and once you have decided which approach suits your company best at the moment, you can implement an appropriate solution.

So the question is: what is best for your company?

Workflow automation is best for organizing people and documents and helps your employees do their jobs better. If you are looking to automate certain steps of a process, then workflow management software might be just the right solution for you. It is perfect for coordinating the work of one or two departments and setting clear instructions as to who does what and at what time.

Workflow systems are easier to set up and require less time for configuration. Of course, their implementation and upgrade are less expensive, too.
However, if your company is relatively large and you are rather looking for ways to

  • implement a strategy
  • coordinate interaction across all the departments as well as external systems
  • implement continuous improvement

then a Business Process Management system is what you are probably looking for. It enables integration across different platforms and can connect CRM, ECM and other applications.

BPM systems are a great investment, too. They are scalable and allow you to gain total control over every aspect of your business. They are usually quite expensive, and require more time for implementation and configuration; however, there is free BPM software available, too, so if you are positive about implementing this approach, you can try to do it a very low cost.

The bottomline is: choose wisely!

Implementing a BPM system, even a free one, in a company the size of 5 people would be a waste of resources. Not only money is concerned, but also time for implementation, process description, configuration, and training. A workflow solution, however, would give you the right level of control without excessive commitment.

On the other hand, if you are managing a company that has long overgrown a one-room office, you will find BPM a great solution for ensuring comprehensive automation, monitoring, and administration of your entire business, linking together different systems and creating a shared information space where all the departments work as one.

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Alexander Khodyrev
Localization Specialist