BPR and BPM: Some Important Distinctions

The BPM (business process management) space is very active, populated by sophisticated software vendors, led in part by talented engineers and consultants and financed largely by IT budgets. Entire suites of BPM and BPA (business process analysis) applications are broadening into SOA (service-oriented architecture) capabilities. All of this is very exciting, enabling rapid transformation of enterprises and radically folding what used to be “IT” – the distinct geek department – into a business services environment. All of this is also IT-intensive and relatively expensive. I say “relatively” because BPM-mature organizations with revenues greater than $500M are not going to be particularly intimidated by BPMS (BPM Suites) that can run $3,500-$10,000 per seat (and then some). The rest of us are going to think twice. That’s what concerns me.

BPR (business process re-engineering) is about discovering opportunities for value-creation, efficiency, quality improvement and – yes – even automation. However, it is not strictly in service to software and application development. That isn’t to say that BPMS is strictly in service to software development. That would be an over-simplified conclusion. My experience and some persuasive research by Nathaniel Palmer (www.bptrends.com) gives the impression (not a scientific conclusion) that BPMS is tending and trending toward being an IT tool much more so than it is an operational improvement tool. At least that’s how large organizations are tending to use the tools. In essence, the tools are not gaining as much traction among operations and management teams as one would think. Having used some of these tools as an operations type, I find it a shame but it is what it is.

What to do?

Don’t lose sight of the value of workflow analysis and BPR! Your organization may not count itself among the bigger, richer shops that are equipped with BSAs (analysts) and BPMS sophisticates. That’s not a reason to abandon workflow documentation and process improvement. From an operations standpoint, there are dozens of fabulous reasons to adapt to your constraints. Simplest among them is hiring a well-equipped consultant to do it for you. Secondly, you can invest a few hundred bucks in Visio and do it yourself.

Simplified Workflow Analysis and BPR

If you happen to work in an organization that doesn’t see the value in process improvement, business rule management, value creation, efficiency gains and the like, then I suppose you have an entirely different task ahead of you. Send your leadership some books for Christmas. If the interest to improve is there but the budget isn’t, develop a keen sense of the reasons why your organization ought to pursue the skills and tools. Above all, develop the culture and discipline.

Create a Workflow and BPR Circle of Excellence

Call it what you want – a Circle of Excellence, SWAT Team, Process Improvement Team, Workflow Design Ensemble – the point is, you’ll need a cast of champions that cut across organizational silos and functional areas. Select your SMEs (subject matter experts), send them to training (1-2 days should do the trick) and have them do a little homework on the web (Wikipedia is a great resource if you’re on a budget). Buy at least one Visio license for every major functional area (finance, IT, customer service, sales, operations, etc.) and learn together. You might designate one person as the “super-user” to run ahead of the curve and serve as a mentor for others.


Challenge yourselves to learn the language of BPR, integrate the principles into your strategic planning, measure impact, pilot various projects and recognize/reward improvement. When you’re beginning to climb the learning curve, remember to accept failure as opportunity. Don’t allow cynics to pull the plug on your initiative simply because you encountered failure.


3 responses to “BPR and BPM: Some Important Distinctions

  1. do you think BPR is the same with BPI?

  2. Patrick Gauthier

    Thanks for the question! As with many acronyms in this field, the meaning is still up for debate. Business Process Re-engineering and Business Process Improvement can easily represent the same set of activities and purpose. However, there is at least one significant difference that stands out in my mind.

    BPI is a set of practices and an approach to business process with one goal: improvement of the process. Improvement implies that some key performance indicators (KPIs) are not showing ideal results so there is this impetus to improve. Those KPIs may be quality related (which can be extremely important in fields like healthcare), profit related (cost) or efficiency related (volume/speed of work getting done). There are others. In some ways, BPI is the noun and BPR is the verb. I feel that way about the distinction between BPM (more noun-ish) and BPA (more verb-like).

    Point being, in BPI you usually begin with a KPI that is calling for your attention. Or you may be driven by a new mandate to get to zero defects or to comply with a new law or respond to some crisis (like samonella poisoning in tomato products). Either way, you know what the issue is and you bear down on the process to improve it and know what that improvement needs to produce in terms of outcomes and outputs.

    In the case of BPR, you may be re-engineering for the sake of quality, cost and efficiency however, I would argue that you are more likely driven by product development and innovation than by performance targets and external mandates. I think there are environmental factors as well that drive BPR. For instance, a change in IT architecture may require BPR. A change in physical locations, infrastructure and even the acquisition of another company and its resources may be a reason to conduct BPR. If the CEO were suddenly to say “move that customer service function to the website” or “I want a CRM solution”, you’d be launching a BPR initiative rather than calling it BPI.

    Does this help?

  3. Yes, it’s very helpful. thanks.. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s