Finding the Right Process Automation Tool for IT

Process automation tools include a wide range of tools and technologies, part of a trend towards process orchestration. Understanding this trend is critical.

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Process automation tools include a wide range of tools and technologies, part of a trend towards process orchestration.

What are Process Automation Tools?

Process automation tools enable users to automate manual processes and tasks, often through a user-friendly workflow designer that supports low-code development. This allows users to build and automate processes without the need for custom scripting.

Additionally, process automation tools can make it easier to manage the complete process lifecycle by providing monitoring, alerting, resource management, and advanced DevOps capabilities.

In general, process automation software can be used to automate any digital task or job. As a result, process automation is an umbrella term for a wide range of technologies that include IT process automation, business process automation, robotic process automation, and more.  

What are the Benefits of Process Automation?

Whether used in a data warehouse or by a front-office sales team, process automation tools can offer substantial benefits to individual teams and the organization as a whole.

Automating common tasks can remove delays where organizations would typically have to wait for a process to be manually executed, or for data to be manually passed to a server -and by minimizing the risk of human error. 

By minimizing delays and errors caused by human intervention, automation reduces the time it takes for these tasks to complete. Advanced analytics and workload optimization tools can be used to further optimize these processes for efficiency, reliability, and speed.

With fewer manual tasks to handle, IT and business teams can spend more time on higher-value projects, whether designing new processes or spending more time with customers. This increase in productivity can lead to cost savings.

IT process automation tools that provide low-code workflow designers enable IT to rapidly develop or update processes that meet evolving business needs. While no-code process automation tools enable citizen developers to automate simple tasks and processes without having to rely on IT. This ease of use is a benefit to business teams while making sure IT isn’t overwhelmed by day-to-day business tasks.

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Types of Process Automation

Whether for IT or HR, simple tasks or complex processes, the basic goal of process automation is the same –to minimize the manual effort needed to complete a job. Today, there are 4 main categories of process automation:

  1. IT Process Automation (ITPA)
  2. Business Process Automation (BPA)
  3. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
  4. Digital Process Automation (DPA)

There is plenty of overlap in capabilities between these categories, but it’s important to note that they do not share the same origin, and hence do have different capabilities. 

IT Process Automation (ITPA)

IT process automation solutions emerged from batch scheduling technologies first developed in the 1960s. These tools evolved into job schedulers that provided event automation as well as date/time scheduling. Today, ITPA tools provide visual workflow designers and API accessibility, enabling IT to construct processes that manage data and dependencies across disparate systems and technologies.

Because ITPA platforms are designed to be used by IT –in support of an organization’s digital infrastructure– ITPA tools make it possible to orchestrate processes across the enterprise. ITPA capabilities can (and should) include:

  • Event-based automation to trigger processes based on IT and business events
  • Dynamic resource provisioning to ensure processes have adequate compute to successfully complete
  • Advanced analytics, in-depth views, and automated logging to minimize the time it takes to troubleshoot and optimize processes
  • Real-time monitoring and alerting to keep IT up-to-date and to support auto-remediation for unexpected issues or complications

Business Process Automation (BPA)

Business process automation came around in the early 2000s as a result of an earlier technology –business process management (BPM). 

BPM dates back to the 1980s and ‘90s. Organizations were digitizing tasks and processes as much as they could, driving the need to standardize and optimize those processes. As the volume of digital processes grew, so too did the need to automate.

BPA platforms go beyond the management of day-to-day tasks and provide tools needed to develop, automate, and monitor complex processes that are critical to business operations. This can include pulling data from multiple systems to automate onboarding processes, trigger file transfers based on business events, and compile and distribute reports to employees or customers.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Similar to BPM, robotic process automation tools evolved from back-office screen-scraping technologies that were popular in the 1980s and ’90s. This is what sets RPA tools apart from other process automation tools in that RPA largely operates via the user-interface, whereas BPA and ITPA interact with other applications at a deeper programmatic level.

RPA software is used to automate rule-based, repetitive tasks such as data collection, data entry, or creating user accounts. For example, if a customer has applied for an insurance quote, an RPA bot can collect that information and enter it into a desktop application or Excel spreadsheet.

Interest in RPA solutions has surged in recent years as an effective way to provide desktop automation for office employees. However, RPA implementations have been limited by the rigidity of the scripts that underlie these processes, as well as the impact large deployments of software robots can have when IT isn’t positioned as an owner.

Digital Process Automation (DPA)

Digital process automation is a relatively new arrival. The technology that underlies DPA tools is the same as what you will find in an ITPA or BPA tool, namely, API accessibility and direct integrations.

DPA is a hybrid of ITPA and BPA, not concerned with just the business or IT side of things, but the entire process. DPA is used to streamline and optimize the end-to-end delivery of data to support the customer experience.

For instance, when online traffic surges for a retailer, a DPA tool can provision the servers needed to support the extra traffic. A parallel DPA process can then take the customers’ information, perform an ETL process, and send the data to a BI tool before sending a morning report to the appropriate business users.

Digital Transformation and Process Orchestration

IT organizations are managing more data, applications, and systems than ever before, with environments that are increasingly diverse –leveraging open-source tools, SaaS, cloud-based infrastructure, on-premises mainframes, etc.

New tools and technologies –artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, 5G, natural language processing –are opening new possibilities for the digital workforces willing to adopt them, and the market pressures to adapt to these changes is increasing.

In order to stay ahead of new trends, organizations need the capacity to rapidly integrate new tools with existing legacy systems, and to create new processes that leverage these new technologies.

This requires process orchestration. Process orchestration is an emerging field occupied by a variety of technologies applied to a range of use cases. Automation vendors have in some cases successfully developed products that provide the tools needed to integrate, automate, optimize, and orchestrate disparate processes into end-to-end processes.

Process orchestration tools include the use of intelligent automation to help manage the entire process lifecycle, using workflow automation, machine learning, and advanced analytics to manage and optimize those processes.

Current orchestration technologies include:

The right process orchestration tool can provide the extensibility needed to rapidly integrate any new tool or technology, with DevOps tools that accelerate the creation and iteration of processes, and the monitoring needed to keep IT calmly in the center of it all.

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Brian is a staff writer for the IT Automation Without Boundaries blog, where he covers IT news, events, and thought leadership. He has written for several publications around the New York City-metro area, both in print and online, and received his B.A. in journalism from Rowan University. When he’s not writing about IT orchestration and modernization, he’s nose-deep in a good book or building Lego spaceships with his kids.