Is Business Process Management The Same As Workflow?

Many firms often use the terms Workflow and Business Process Management interchangeably. But are they?

If you were to look at Wikipedia, Business Process Management (BPM) is described as “a discipline in operations management in which people use various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve, optimize, and automate business processes.  BPM focuses on improving corporate performance by managing business processes.  Any combination of methods used to manage a company’s business processes is BPM. Processes can be structured and repeatable or unstructured and variable.”

Whereas Workflow “consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity enabled by the systematic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information. It can be depicted as a sequence of operations, the work of a person or group, the work of an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms.”

When you lay out the definitions in that manner, they no longer seem interchangeable. In fact, it sounds more like a good BPM system can only benefit from a good workflow. And a workflow without an overarching BPM will not get your firm to where it needs to be to stay competitive in today’s market.

What does all this mean for the Accounting firm of today?

When looking for the proper BPM Software, it should contain all the elements of workflow software, be able to incorporate policies, procedures, methods, metrics, human tasks, software tasks, and IT, and optimize all levels of business functions. Sounds like a tall order, however with the right due diligence you will find exactly what your firm needs.

What should “due diligence” incorporate?

First and foremost, you need to figure out what your firm needs. You should take the time to understand what your staff is currently doing, learn where the pain points are, and figure out what the best course of action looks like. Once you have determined this, you will be better suited in choosing the appropriate process management solution for your firm, while also obtaining buy-in from your staff.

When it comes to deciding on the best BPM system for your firm, there are several key and necessary features that should be within its underlying workflow:

  • Logic Driven – You want to find a workflow that thinks. One of the main goals of workflow is process automation. Having the ability to build in business logic will insure that the right person is involved in the engagement at the right time. This will also allow for better management and control of the work being done.
  • Seamless Integration – In the world of technology today, your need to choose software that plays nicely in the playground. If not, you will never gain the efficiencies you are seeking. You need an open system that essentially becomes the operational hub of all processes. This will provide your firm with a seamless process resulting in fewer mistakes and greater time spent on the more important aspects of your company – developing client relationships and uncovering additional opportunities.
  • Open, Powerful Reporting System – When your workflow software is integrated within the rest of your systems, the data that can be extracted becomes powerful! This will allow you to generate a wide range of reports that will provide visibility in to bottlenecks and other areas where you can gain measurable improvement.
  • Easily configurable and customizable – No one wants to have to conform to a box. Yes, when starting out an out of the box solution has its benefits, however as your firm grows, you want to be able to spread your wings and showcase what makes your firm unique and competitive!

In addition to an expansive workflow, the BPM system that your firm decides upon should also allow for the following:

  • Overall Client Management – With more and more Accounting firms adding Client Advisory Services to their portfolios, the need for a BPM to move from job management to overall client management is key! No longer are we just looking to incorporate due dates and deliverables into our process, we are also looking to assess our client’s financial status and overall company health.
  • Sub Processes and Multiple Scenarios Across Multiple Channels – The work your staff does no longer goes nicely from A to B to C. Your BPM solution needs to be flexible and able to capture all the nuances of your process. It needs to be as dynamic as your process is.
  • Connecting the Dots – Your BPM solution should serve as your Quarterback. It should be able to push and pull information between departments and your other systems. It should allow your firm to breakdown the silos
  • Improvements at the Organizational Level – – When you no longer live in the world of departmental silos, you not only gain access to cross-selling opportunities that you never would have before, you enable your staff to openly communicate, empowering them to share the same vision and purpose.

At the end of the work day, BPM and workflow are not interchangeable, they are dependent upon one another. So when your firm starts to research what the best workflow platform is to fit your needs, I challenge you to broaden your scope a bit more and ask “What is the best BPM solution out there that can also incorporate my firm’s workflow? Allowing the two to work together seamlessly, will enable your firm rise-up and stand out in the very competitive landscape of our current Accounting Industry.