What is the difference between workflow and Business Process Management (BPM)?
Workflow is geared at routing business documents (requisition, expense forms, etc.) through a series of tasks in a predefined order. Workflows are application-specific and are somewhat departmental in scope. The workflow may involve a certain set of predefined documents or forms that a particular application manages and interacts with using a predefined set of roles within an organization.
For example, each week a new timesheet is sent to the team member for entering his/her time spent on a particular project. The workflow engine that sends this notification may also send a reminder if the timesheet is not completed by a particular time. Once the timesheet is entered, the workflow engine will send the information to the project manager(s) for approval before sending this information for payroll. Here a business rule, embedded in the workflow and based on the defined worksheet routing, alerts the human to do a certain work or sends notifications if some other threshold has been crossed.
BPM, on the other hand, is enterprise-wide in scope and spans departmental and application boundaries. When combined with commodity Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and Business Rules Engine (BRE) technologies, BPM solutions can actually complete the tasks without any manual intervention. BPM-managed processes may impact several business entities such as project managers, sales people, customers, project team, contractors, help desk, accounting and HR departments. Automation of these processes must accommodate these entities and related business documents (timesheet, project plan, customer invoice, expense report, service request, etc.) stored and managed in multiple back-end systems.
Business Process Management also encapsulates modeling, analytics, simulation of business processes and a set of tools to view, control and change ‘run time’ process instances in real-time. Workflow technologies typically lack these features but still can be looked at as a subset of BPM without the ability to orchestrate processes across other applications and data silos.
In the BPM world, the above example may be extended by defining additional systems or human roles (or actors), which can take this automation to the next level. The approval process may be done by a rules engine where all timesheets based on certain conditions or rules are automatically evaluated and approved – with the exceptions going to the project manager. Under this approach none of the rules are ‘coded’ programmatically. Furthermore, the approved timesheet data is automatically routed to the Human Resource application (another actor) where vacation and other employee information is automatically adjusted. If the project work is billable, then a customer invoice is automatically created in the Billing or the ERP system when all the timesheets of the project team are completed (another business rule), in which a notification is sent to the account manager assigned to the customer – as defined in the company’s CRM system. Here the BPM will not only automate the process, it will also provide real-time visibility in managing and reducing billing delays which may impact the company’s ability to pay its own bills.
Tenrox Project Workforce Management System, with its highly configurable workflow and process engine, is specifically designed to manage business processes using a single system of records that unifies customer, project and workforce management and maintains all the relevant information in a centralized auditable database.