What is the difference between BPMS and Workflow? Between DMS and CMS? Or ERP and a Custom Application? How does one make sense of all these system acronyms? How does one decide which system is the best fit?
The truth is, each of these systems was originally developed for a specific purpose within an organisation. In order to enlarge their market share, vendors have added features over the years that encroach on each other’s space. This makes it very difficult for the layperson to understand what they have, and to decide on what they actually need.
Why would I use a Document Management System in the paperless age?
Let’s talk about document management systems (DMS) first. Even though the world is rapidly moving towards a paperless society, it doesn’t mean organisations are moving away from using electronic documents. Documents form the basis of agreements within and across organisations. Documents range from financial (purchase orders and invoices), to human resources (employment agreements and written warnings), to legal (contracts and non-disclosure agreements). In most cases, we would recognise each of these as an ‘office document’ or a PDF document, and treat it as a unit. The document may consist of one page or multiple pages, but it must be complete to be of value. These documents need to be created; versioned; signed; controlled; maintained; indexed; archived. As many of these documents are protected by law, their retention as well as the period of retention is controlled by legislation. This is exactly what a DMS is designed to manage. The DMS controls the documents and ensures that an authorised person can retrieve and view untampered documents on demand. These systems are often augmented to include features, such as scanning and optical character recognition (OCR), which aid in converting hardcopy documents into electronic format, for easier retention and management. Many DMS’s may include basic workflow capabilities, to aid in the management of these documents.
How does a Content Management System differ from a DMS?
A content management system (CMS) looks at a wider range of electronic assets. The system may contain electronic documents as described above, but in many cases, it also contains pictures, artwork and videos. In big organisations (usually enterprise size), the management of corporate digital assets such as logos, artwork and html content is a large task. It is extremely important to ensure that the correct content is used on marketing initiatives, websites and other collateral. Additionally, this content is used to create new content such as brochures and websites. This content must go through an approval process, and then be released to websites or publishers. This process needs to be executed in a coordinated and controlled manner. Content management systems are used to achieve this.
You have an ERP System, but what does that mean?
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is probably one of the most widely used acronyms in IT, and likely one of the most misunderstood. Broadly speaking, it means software that covers a wide range of applications (i.e. finance, human resources, planning, distribution, asset management) which share a common database. ERP vendors (i.e. SAP, Oracle, Sage, SYSPRO) have a variety of modules in their product, which means each customer can implement their own combination of the modules. This can be challenging, because when you engage with someone and they say, “Sure we run XYZ ERP”, it doesn’t always mean the same thing.
How does an ERP System relate to a DMS?
A practical example of this would be managing a supplier. Organisations may capture information about a supplier in their ERP system in order to process a payment, but the actual contract signed with that supplier would be stored as a document in the DMS.
What is Workflow and why do all the vendors say they have it?
Simply stated, workflow is a sequence of steps that need to be done, in order to complete a business activity. For example, a document (i.e. policy, invoice, purchase order) must be authorised before it is acted on. In this case, a simple workflow within the DMS in question could manage this. Almost all mature products have a version of embedded workflow, whether it be a DMS, CMS or ERP System.
If these systems have a built-in Workflow, what is a BPMS and why do I need it?
Firstly, business process management (BPM) is a methodology for managing business processes in order to become more efficient. A business process management suite or system (BPMS) is the software used to manage those business processes. A less formal description is that a BPMS is a workflow engine on steroids…lots of steroids!
Yes, most of the products listed above will have built-in workflows, but the capability of these workflows is not the same as that of a BPM System. Take for instance the workflow in a DMS. The workflow engine in a DMS is built to handle the management of a document. The engine accepts that it is going to be working with a document and is capable of executing things like routing or approvals. These capabilities are far removed from developing a workflow that needs to execute a complex business process, like on-boarding a new employee or updating an ERP System.
This pattern is true for the workflows in the other Systems as well. The workflow engine in those Systems knows how to work with the objects in their System like documents; content; or financial forms. These workflow engines were not developed to work outside their Systems. Their security frameworks, processing engines, and object models were developed to function inside their environments, not across environments.
Do you want to orchestrate business processes over multiple Systems?
That's what business process management systems (BPMS) do.
Effective BPMS are developed with the ability to connect to, and manage the security requirements of different systems. They can work with or without documents.
BPMS are optimised for the task of retrieving data from various systems, and displaying this data to human users by means of a user interface.
BPMS are the glue that hold all the data from the various systems (DMS, ERP, CRM) together.
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