Posted in Workflow Automation

BPM vs. Workflow Automation: The Differences and Which Is Right For You

Business process management (BPM) and workflow automation are two terms you’ll undoubtedly come across as you look to increase productivity across your organization.

While BPM and workflow automation aim to improve efficiency, the terms aren’t exactly the same. Understanding the differences will help you find a solution that meets your needs.

In this article, we’ll cover the differences between BPM and workflow automation. We’ll also look at which one is right for you.

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What Is Business Process Management (BPM)?

Let’s start by defining a “process.”

A process is a series of activities that you perform to achieve an organizational goal. One of the key aspects of a process is its repeatability.

Take the procurement process as an example. To procure the goods and services that your company needs to operate, you might follow these steps:

  1. Identify internal needs
  2. Evaluate and select a supplier
  3. Negotiate contracts with selected vendors 
  4. Approve internal purchase requisition
  5. Release a purchase order
  6. Receive an invoice
  7. Receive and audit delivery

Each step is structured and clearly defined. Most importantly, they provide clarity for employees who are responsible for performing each step.

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Procurement is just one process that your company might have. Chances are your company relies on dozens of processes to onboard employees, approve documents, and more.

However, these processes can become inefficient over time if you don’t regularly revise them. So, how do you keep your processes from stagnating? How can you ensure they continue to align with your business goals?

This is where business process management comes in.

BPM is the practice of managing and optimizing existing processes. It uses various tools and methods to support ongoing improvement efforts and measure performance.

BPM is an organizational discipline that encompasses six elements to improve operational efficiency and ensure processes align with organizational goals.

These core elements are:

  • Strategic alignment: BPM initiatives should always align with and support your company’s objectives. 
  • Governance: Governance provides more structure to your processes. It entails establishing clear roles and responsibilities for your team.
  • Methods: Methods refer to the methodologies you use to improve a process. An example is DMAIC, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. 
  • Technology: BPM frequently relies on technology to streamline processes. For example, frevvo’s business process automation software lets you automate your processes and reduce repetitive tasks.
  • People: For your BPM efforts to succeed, you need support from your entire team. Any holdouts can create friction within the company.
  • Culture: Companies must have a culture that supports and embraces continuous improvement to generate consistent results.

In short, BPM is the practice of making business processes more efficient. And BPM software like frevvo makes that process a whole lot easier. 

75% of organizations believe that BPM processes and technologies have helped them accomplish their goals.

75% of organizations believe BPM processes have helped them accomplish their goals

Now, let’s look at what workflow automation is.

What Is Workflow Automation?

A workflow is a series of steps that you carry out according to a set of procedural rules to achieve a specific outcome.

Here’s an example of a workflow for purchase orders:

Example of a purchase order workflow

Workflows help you standardize how work gets done and ensure that everyone follows the same set of steps. However, workflows aren’t always efficient.

94% of employees say they perform repetitive and time-consuming tasks in their roles. What’s more, the average knowledge worker spends 60% of their time on non-value tasks like hunting down documents and chasing approvals.

This is where workflow automation comes in.

Workflow automation uses software with rule-based logic to automate a series of tasks with minimal or no human intervention. It can help your company boost productivity, reduce errors, and increase efficiency. 

As an example, consider the steps for an invoice approval workflow:

  1. Receive an invoice
  2. Verify the contents of the invoice 
  3. Check for irregularities and exceptions
  4. Approve the invoice
  5. Release the payment
  6. Record the invoice 

While these steps may seem straightforward, manually performing them can increase cycle times and delay payments. There’s also the risk of errors occurring — an employee could make a calculation error or forget to get the right approvals.

Workflow automation software like frevvo lets you create automated workflows and reduce repetitive tasks. For example, you can set up your workflows to automate document routing and even implement business rules to reduce common errors.

Instead of wasting hours chasing signatures or filling out the same forms, employees can focus on more productive work instead. 

75% of technical leaders report saving the equivalent of four hours a week using workflow automation software.

75% of technical leaders save four hours a week using workflow automation software

For example, Central Wyoming College (CWC) had a paper-based process to manage its purchase orders. However, its staff was spending hours on mundane tasks like chasing approvals and filling out forms by hand. Getting a purchase order approved could take days or even weeks.

By using frevvo, Central Wyoming College was able to create an automated purchase order approval workflow. As a result, CWC staff could spend more time on its students and less time on administrative tasks.

Now that we’ve covered BPM and workflow automation, let’s look at what the differences are between the two.

BPM vs. Workflow Automation: What’s the Difference?

Workflows are often part of a much larger process. For example, purchase orders are part of the procurement process to purchase and acquire goods.

With workflow automation, you’re automating steps in a single workflow. This helps reduce time-consuming tasks and increase the scalability of your workflows.

In contrast, BPM looks at the bigger picture. It involves taking a more methodological approach to managing, analyzing, and improving processes across your entire organization.

Let’s use an analogy to further illustrate the difference between BPM and workflow automation.

Imagine that you’re running a restaurant. You’ll have individual workflows to order ingredients, set up the display, prepare dishes, and deliver food to takeout customers. 

Delivering food workflow

However, your customers are complaining because they have to wait a long time. Keep this up, and your restaurant won’t be in business for much longer.

How can you improve the food preparation workflow?

Instead of having staff write down orders on paper, you could equip them with tablets and have orders sent to a terminal in the kitchen. You could also prep ingredients ahead of time, upgrade your equipment, and hire more staff. These measures can help you speed up service.

Of course, any restaurant owner will tell you there’s more to running a restaurant than just preparing meals. There are also the day-to-day operations of the business — ordering inventory, scheduling shifts, complying with safety regulations, closing the register, etc.

If workflow automation involves automating and speeding up individual workflows like food preparation, then BPM is all about managing and optimizing the processes that keep the restaurant running. Both are equally important in the grand scheme of things.

BPM vs. Workflow Automation: Which One is Right For You?

If you’re looking to automate a single workflow, your company can use workflow software to reduce repetitive tasks and increase productivity.

For example, if your accounts payable department is struggling to keep up with invoices, an automated workflow can help streamline approvals and lower processing costs.

However, as your company starts to scale and add new processes, you’ll want to opt for a more robust solution. frevvo’s business process management software gives you all the functionality of a workflow automation platform and more.

The platform includes the following features:

  • Visual workflow builder
  • Drag-and-drop form builder
  • Workflow management
  • Dynamic routing
  • E-signature support
  • Built-in mobility
  • Business rules engine
  • Notifications and reminders
  • Business system integration
  • Authentication and security features
  • Audit trails
  • PDF generation
  • Dashboards

With the built-in reporting features, you can measure key performance indicators (KPIs) across all your processes.

frevvo's built-in reporting dashboard

Tracking KPIs will help you identify inefficiencies and find ways to make your processes even more efficient.

Get Started With BPM Software Today

To summarize, both BPM and workflow automation aim to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and increase productivity. Companies use them to streamline their operations and lower costs.

The difference lies in their approach. BPM focuses on the bigger picture of managing and optimizing your processes, while workflow automation is about improving a single workflow.

If you’re not sure which one is right for your company, a BPM tool is always a safe bet. You can optimize your processes on a smaller scale and expand your efforts as you start to see results.

The good news is that you don’t need a team of developers or a large budget to get started.

With frevvo’s BPM platform, there’s no coding required — you can use visual tools to design dynamic forms, create automated workflows, and set up business logic. 

Plus, you get enterprise-grade software at an affordable cost with rock-solid security, audit trails, mobile responsiveness, accessibility features, and more.

Sign up for frevvo’s 30-day free trial today to see how our BPM software can help optimize your processes and streamline your operations.

Request a demo of our modern, cloud-based software.

Author:

Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, business.com and readwrite.com. Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.