What is the Difference Between Workflow and BPM?

Workflow Software

Are workflow and BPM synonymous?

Ah, the age-old question (and misunderstanding):  Just what is the difference between workflow and Business Process Management (BPM)?  In tech circles, the terms are routinely used interchangeably, and often in error.  So let’s have a go at it, and distinguish between the two.


Dictionary.com defines workflow as “the flow or amount of work to and from an office, department or employee.”  In technical terms, it is an application that facilitates the interaction between people and/or systems.  In essence, you can take any business “flow”, and from an application perspective, recreate it digitally.  There are workflow applications that are standalone, and then there is workflow that can be embedded in an application that serves a specific purpose.  Say an Account Payable approval embedded within an accounting system.

Business Process Management (BPM)

So, Business Process Management, or BPM, is an often misused term, and really encompasses a broad approach to the optimization of any business function or process.  It is really the science of analyzing, building, refining and managing business at its core.  From a technical perspective, workflow is a core component of any BPM suite of tools, but only one piece of the puzzle.  Below is a fantastic image from Gartner, that shows all the core pieces of a BPM Platform.

Business Process Management (BPM) Components

I wanted this post to be a brief overview, if you want to go deeper on the difference, here are some great links: