Workforce management vs workflow – do you know the difference?

June 18, 2018 | Workforce Management

workforce vs workflow OPX

All too often people are often confused by the industry terminology around workflow and workforce management, and vendors don’t make this any easier. However, there are several differences between both the product features, and the whole ethos around the workflow vendor’s approach to case processing, and the workforce vendor’s approach to operational excellence, which once understood we promise, will help to clarify the variation.

The definition of workflow provided by Wikipedia is: “A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity.”

Workforce management is defined as: “Workforce management is an institutional process that maximises performance levels and competency for an organisation.”
Put it simply, the workforce are your people (or robots), whereas workflow is your tasks and projects.

Workforce management aims to improve productivity and performance from the human perspective, by putting the right skilled people in right places. Workflow software, on the other hand, improves productivity from the perspective of the work itself, defining tasks, splitting them into manageable chunks, and allocating them to individuals and teams of employees.

Each has the potential to substantially improve your performance and productivity but combined together, provide true operational excellence!

Indeed, in the modern world, it’s hard to imagine that the two are disjointed. To manage any organisation, there needs to be a clearly defined set of services or goods being provided, and one or more business processes to provide those services. It’s rare to see anyone actually model the services a company provides, but this is well worth the effort, at least to clearly explain to everyone what we are doing, where things fit and how we do them.

Workflow – background information

Workflow vendors are interested in gathering information about the process used in the delivery of a service. Their intention is to automate the process where possible, using rules engines, and tracking cases through the sequential or parallel activities.

Workflow has been the basis of automating processes since the mid-nineties and has become more and more technical both in the definitions, such as BPMN (Business Process Management Notation), and in the implementation technologies. It belongs, as a project, in the class of Business Process Re-Engineering.

Today, a workflow is a joint effort between Operations and the IT department. It involves a great deal of business analysis followed by a development stage, (changing core business systems), and then implementing a test phase which will involve technical and end-user acceptance criteria.

Workforce management – background information

Workforce management is about managing the people and the processes. It deals with the who as well as the how.
Workforce management systems, often referred to as ‘Back Office Work Force Optimisation’ (BOWFO), or Workforce Management (WFM) for front office, are less interested in the nitty-gritty of IT re-engineering (and building new core systems with embedded workflow processes), and more interested in monitoring and management as a means of increasing productivity.

Workforce management systems provide operational intelligence on: what’s going on; where is it happening; who is doing what; with which systems. A workforce management system can be used to identify where people are underperforming, where there are major resource shortages, surpluses or system bottlenecks.
This is often a great way of spotting areas that need further re-engineering, providing the business data needed for the business case of the larger, longer running re-engineering projects.

Differences between workforce management and workflow software

Workforce management understands the processes but, unlike workflow, is often looking at higher-level tasks and a bigger picture. A workforce management system (WFM) is not implementing the back-end system, it is usually interested in the hand-offs of a case, (or sequential tasks), at a high level. For example, in a WFM system, changing address may be a task that takes eleven minutes. In the back-office system, this may involve several screens or applications which an embedded workflow system would have drawn out the process steps and implemented. This is of less interest to optimisation unless the eleven minutes is an issue.

Workflow systems tend to provide information based on activities at a granular level, such as the number of new cases per process being started and can often report on each activity including who has completed the work. Rarely do workflow systems do this with regards to customers, products, service level agreements, skills required or skills available, except for the permission skills in the processes or activity.

Operational level

Workforce management at an operational level, (rather than IT level), is specifically about real-time management information system (MIS) such as:
• backlog work in the queues
• new work being added by source
• re-work
• the time taken to process a case by each person/robot before handing off
• the quality outcomes for a team or individual
• skills required for the demand coming in
• skills available (human capacity)
• resources available
• productivity, utilisation, efficiency


In short, a workforce management system manages cases through processes, and the routing of these cases by business rules. A workforce management system manages the demand and resources placed on operations looking at the people and processes in a different manner.
Workforce management systems can be managed, changed and enhanced by the operations team with little or no IT involvement. The same cannot be said for workflow products.

OPX by Corporate Modelling

OPX is an innovative digital operations transformation software suite specifically developed to transform back office operations and streamline the integration with front office processes. OPX is the optimisation solution championed by leading organisations. To find out how OPX could facilitate a back office digital transformation in your organisation, please contact us today.

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