Workflow Vs Business Process Automation: What's the Difference?


Workflow vs business process 

What is workflow development? How does this compare to business process development? And how, exactly, does technology fit in?

Workflows and business processes are more than buzzwords. They are part and parcel of efficiently run organizations. They also play a crucial role in digital transformation. 

Many people use these terms and think they mean the same thing. But do they? What is workflow vs business process automation? Can you compare these concepts easily? Can you even compare them at all?

Before we discuss what is workflow vs business process, it’s important to look at each of these terms separately. 

What is a business process?

Business processes govern the way that an organization operates. From the back office to the front office. From the warehouse to the shop floor. From the human resources department to the customer services team. Business processes impact the entire enterprise. 

Some are simple and relevant to one team or department. Others are more complex and affect every area of the company. A process can include employees, managers, suppliers, business partners and even customers. 

No matter whether they happen in one unit or across several business functions, almost every process can be broken down into a series of steps. Each process begins with a trigger event and moves towards a specific business goal. A process trigger could be the submission of an invoice. The process goal, in this case, could be the timely approval and payment of this invoice. This process includes a range of different people and other resources, potentially from a few different departments. The process ensures that the right people review, approve and pay the invoice at the right time. If any of these process steps are skipped, this could mean a late invoice payment. This could erode a supplier relationship or even affect the company's credit record. All because a process was not efficiently carried out. 

Why optimize business processes?

Essentially, companies want to make sure that every process runs both efficiently and effectively. By effectively, this means meeting the process goal every time. By efficiently, this means ensuring that work flows as fast as possible from one step to the next. And this is achieved by making sure that every step is adding the value it should be. Perhaps some steps could be removed or combined? Or maybe new steps need to be added to make sure that the process goal is achieved time and time again. 

It’s also ideal to use resources optimally along the way. These resources include people, data, documents, information, knowledge, digital assets, systems and so forth. This helps to cut costs and save time. 

Business process examples

These are just a few of many examples:

  • Product assembly
  • Quality assurance
  • Invoicing
  • Risk management
  • Customer onboarding
  • Customer credit check
  • Vacation request
  • Training request
  • Expense claim approval 
  • Health and safety audit

What is business process management?

Business process management, or BPM for short, focuses on improving processes to achieve business goals. These include:

  • Increasing efficiency to control costs
  • Boosting productivity to elevate performance
  • Enhancing the customer experience
  • Increasing the competitive advantage
  • Staying agile in an evolving market 

BPM focuses on how each process should be carried out. Slow or outdated steps are removed. Manual work is automated. Roles and responsibilities are made clear. And steps are arranged in the best sequence to support process excellence.

Now that we've covered business processes and BPM, what is workflow management? And what is workflow automation adding to an organization compared to the digitization of business processes?

Workflow vs business process: comparing these two concepts 

A workflow is a sequence of steps that automates a task or an entire business process. In other words, it is the series of events for handling tasks and processes. For example, a workflow could govern the flow of a document within a department or organization. This forms part of a process, but it is not the whole process. 

Generally, a well-designed process results in a product or service being delivered on time and in line with other goals. On the other hand, a streamlined workflow will bring efficiency to a business process. 

Importantly: no matter how alike or different these two concepts are, both benefit from automation. 

What is workflow automation?

When business processes are powered by the right workflow tools, it's possible to harness the power of automation. This allows a company to turn slow, paper-based work into fast, accurate, digital work. 

K2 provides firms with workflows software to automate every process. Companies can build workflows that are completely digital, end-to-end. This helps to make work more accurate because there is less risk of human error. The K2 workflow tool also helps to speed up processes, so that solutions are delivered faster and issues are handled more efficiently. 

What is workflow automation like with K2?

The K2 approach to workflow management allows organizations to automate their processes fast, flexible and at scale. 

This low-code app development platform enables both developers and end users to build business process apps quickly and easily. How do they do this? By using drag and drop designers or app wizards that make custom app development possible in just a few steps. 

This modular approach to app development means that more users across the business can play a role in digital transformation. This places less pressure on IT, which means there are fewer backlogs holding back business. 

This also allows each function to develop their own workflow solutions. Instead of getting lost in translation, they can use K2 workflow management software to meet their exact business needs. What is workflow automation's purpose if it is not optimizing business? With K2's approach to workflow automation, there is no need for business units to settle for "good enough" or wait weeks for IT to adjust one or two steps in a workflow. This can all be handled by the people who will be using the workflow to automate and optimize their business processes. 

What is workflow management with pre-built apps?

K2 also offers workflow templates—an even shorter route to process automation. These solutions are called SmartStarters on the K2 platform. And they are ready to roll out. They can be used as they are, or quickly customized to meet specific requirements. All you do is select your data, choose your template and complete the process to custom-build your own app.

SmartStarters include free forms, workflows and reports. Essentially, these are all the building blocks you need to create apps for your teams or functions in a just a few steps. You can even include dynamic rules and link your apps with existing systems. This means that once you decide to improve your processes, you can benefit from this important step almost immediately. Digital transformation is well within reach!

What would you use SmartStarters for? This approach is ideal for improving common business processes, such as:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Sales quote approval
  • Social media post review
  • Expense claim processing
  • Training requests
  • Managing IT access 
  • And so forth

Digital forms made easy

What is workflow management without forms? 

With this low code approach to building forms, you get a browser-based form designer that is easy to use. This means that both developers and end users can create their own digital forms without writing code. 

How does it work? Simply use the modular form designer to drag and drop the fields you need into place. You no longer need to rely on paperwork to get things done. This reduces the time spent keying data into your digital systems. It also prevents disruptions that are caused by misfiled documents.

This way, data is easily accessible to anyone. And because you can custom build any form you need, you get digital forms that meet your exact business requirements. These can also be rolled out very quickly, whether they’re needed internally or externally. 

Mobilizing the workforce

And what is workflow management if you don't have the tools to work on the go? 

With K2 SmartStarters, your apps are automatically supported on any device. This includes smartphones and tablets. There are no extra steps needed for you to make your apps work on both desktops and devices. It's that simple!

This process is easy with your other custom-built apps on the K2 Platform, too. Once you have built a digital asset, it can be easily configured for mobile use. K2 mobile apps work across a range of different devices. The app components can also be re-used to create solutions for other business units.

K2 mobile apps also include native device capabilities. This means that you can include functions that really take advantage of mobile technology. These functions include:

  • Barcode scanning
  • Geolocation
  • Picture capture
  • Annotation
  • On-device app integration

And just because you're outside the office, this doesn't mean that you need to compromise security. With K2, you have access to role-based access controls. This means that you can manage who accesses which assets from their mobile devices. Standard file encryption keeps your data safe and private. 

Gain more value from SharePoint

What is workflow management like when you're also using SharePoint?

Forrester research revealed that 52-percent of SharePoint customers are building, or plan to build, custom apps in their SharePoint systems. However, many developers find that SharePoint can be tricky to use. This can not only result in unstable environments but can also mean that only specialized SharePoint developers are able to build custom assets. 

Unfortunately, this can mean that business users who rely on these solutions end up waiting too long for the critical business tools that they need. And IT teams are burdened with heavy workloads, which can lead to backlogs that take months to clear. 

Is there a solution? 

Yes! A third-party technology partner like K2 can be used to build improved SharePoint workflows. K2 provides a cloud-based service that integrates with your SharePoint Online environment. As a result, you can easily extend your SharePoint and Office 365 capabilities with K2 apps, workflow and forms to deliver greater process efficiency. 

What is workflow automation like in K2 for SharePoint?

This technology allows you to build: 

  • SharePoint workflows that pull in data from line of business (LOB) systems and web services
  • Powerful digital forms that capture and display information in SharePoint
  • Tailored reports and dashboards to support better decision-making 
  • Mobile apps that work on any device, online and offline

You can also access your assets that are housed inside other K2 apps from a central list. 

Keen to find out more? 

Read Easy to Build Workflows and Forms For Dummies. This is a K2 ebook that will help you understand the importance of increasing agility and driving efficiency throughout your business.

You'll gain insights into:

  • Building scalable and flexible business processes
  • Using digital transformation as the cornerstone of your business case for tech investments
  • How to overhaul your forms and workflows for the digital age

What about workflow vs business process management? In reality, comparing workflow vs business process is not really important. These two concepts work hand in hand. And both can be optimized with automation. 

Read the guide for more takeaways that will help you implement best practices for each.