Business Process Management vs. Workflow

Image of  what Business Process Management is - the intersection of workflow management. document management and application integration.

Most firms have stopped tracking projects and processes with paper routing sheets and now use automated workflow software to track due dates and act as the primary source of project status and communications. That’s where many automated workflow solutions stop, so it’s no wonder that many firms confuse workflow with business process management.

Firms use both workflow and business process management to streamline work, improve efficiency and increase capacity, but there are some important differences.

Business Process Management vs. Workflow

The earliest business process management solutions were focused on workflow – coordinating individual processes. On the other hand, business process management is about designing processes, executing them across people and systems, managing tasks, and continuously looking for ways to optimize and improve them.

If workflow focuses on tasks and the people performing them, business process management focuses on all of the unique processes within the firm in an effort to improve the efficiency of those processes. It also focuses on generating reports and analytics to help the firm work towards its goals and achieve results.

To illustrate, say you are planning a road trip. Your workflow includes leaving home on time, stopping for gas, following instructions from your phone’s map application, and reaching your destination. If workflow is your own process for getting from Point A to Point B, business process management is the Department of Transportation, ensuring highways connect those points, the roads and traffic signals are maintained and capable of handling all of the different vehicles on the road that day.

Business Process Management vs. Workflow Management Technology

Workflow automation technology is great for organizing people and documents. For example, when your firm wants to track the process of getting a tax return from receiving client documents to delivering the final return, a workflow solution allows you to establish clear instructions for who does what, and in what order.

In a very small team with just a handful of employees, that might be sufficient, but most firms need more. They need to coordinate interaction across several departments and several systems, such as customer relationships management, time and billing, and more. Business process management software is a means for managing all those processes and ensuring that everything is running smoothly.

In the past, workflow systems were easier to set up. The software came pre-loaded with workflow templates, and firms would have to adapt their processes to fit within the templates with limited options for customization. They required less time for configuration than business process management software, which typically required more time and technical knowledge to implement and configure.

Today, it’s possible to have a true business process management solution that is easy to deploy and doesn’t require hiring someone with a computer science degree or coding expertise. It’s easy to create templates and workflows to handle the firm’s unique processes, even without deep knowledge of the underlying technology.

Rather than adapting the firm’s processes to fit a pre-defined workflow, a business process management system allows the firm to:

  1. Capture their current end-to-end processes
  2. Document the actions or steps
  3. Look for inefficiencies and bottlenecks
  4. Make informed changes to each process to reduce waste and improve efficiency
  5. Track KPIs, allowing the firm to work toward continuous improvement

The accounting profession is competitive, and firms need business process management to streamline processes, automate repetitive manual tasks and achieve optimal performance.

Workflow and business process management aren’t competitors; they operate together to improve efficiency. But business process management takes it a step further by improving and optimizing multiple workflows across multiple channels. It doesn’t just improve one process or one department, but the organization as a whole.

Now that you’ve been introduced to business process management, are you ready to take your firm beyond workflow? Check out our Guide to Moving from Workflow to Business Process Management to discover tips for aligning your workflow with your firm’s unique business processes.