Workflow vs. BPM, Part 3

How is Workflow different than BPM?

In the previous two posts, “BPM Series: Part 1″ and What is Workflow: Part 2″, we defined both workflow and BPM.   Now that we know those definitions, let’s talk about how the two concepts are different.   Then, we’ll discuss how to make them BOTH work for you.

Workflow Only - Workflows facilitate the use of the digital form to collect data (that was formerly collected on paper) , input that data into a system such as SharePoint (rather than doing it manually), and/or tracking the status of that form through completion.

Business Process Management (BPM) - In a BPM solution, you define a business process, such as “Patient Intake Process”.  This process will have several components, such as:

  • Patient completes forms (electronic forms)
  • Data is input into the systems (workflow)
  • System notifies nursing staff as to what room to assign.(workflow)
  • Doctor is notified that a patient is waiting in the room. (workflow)
  • Patient is treated by doctor. (manual process)
  • Prescription is given to patient (or not) – (workflow)
  • Patient is released with return date (or not)

As you can see from the hypothetical example above, your workflow(s) will often be sub-components of a greater process (i.e. Patient Intake Process).   A single process may integrate with multiple back-end systems and multiple workflows (This is BPM).

What does this have to do with SharePoint?

Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, SharePoint is a great platform for workflows.  Many people will look at the Workflow Foundation features provided out of the box in SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010, then say, “Well, it’s just not that robust”.   That may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not extremely valuable!

SharePoint’s workflow features, more than adequately, provide the following workflow capabilities:

  • Email Notification
  • Document Routing
  • Approval / Rejection functionality
  • Multi-stage and/or Parallel and Serial workflows
  • Version Control
  • File storage, tracking, and audit capabilities
  • and much more.

This also makes SharePoint a great “jumping off” point for Business Process Management solutions. If you truly want to add “agility” to your business (the ability to continually improve in small, fast increments), then you need to leverage the investment in your current workflows and enhance them by creating a richer, more robust Business Process that is managed throughout it’s lifecycle.

Follow the example of Toyota and how they leveraged the “Kaizen” methodology for continuous improvement of their business processes.

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