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What is workflow automation?

This article was written by Ma-Keba Frye, SEO Content Writer at MuleSoft.

In today's business world, organizations rely heavily on cloud-backed, system-to-system, and person-to-person functions. As a result, they're constantly looking for ways to eliminate or improve manual tasks that often hinder productivity, profitability, and more. However, organizations can cut costs, increase outcomes, and improve efficiency with the right processes and software. Automation harnesses innovative capabilities to empower teams and their end-to-end processes. That's where tools and solutions like workflow automation can enhance and simplify an organization's operations.

Workflow automation is the system of automating a series of repetitive, manual, and complicated tasks and activities based on pre-defined rules. Using technology, organizations eliminate troublesome bottlenecks and automate various workflows to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of simple, often monotonous tasks. If executed correctly, they can simplify end-to-end processes and complete them faster, more accurately, and more consistently, enabling employees to reallocate their time and energy to other, more complex business areas.

Why is it important and how does it work?

Workflow automation can help organizations perform regular, often mundane tasks more effectively and efficiently. While creating a workflow can be a big task, the payoff can drastically improve a business and its growth potential. Burdensome yet simple human-involved processes often hinder an organization –– negatively impacting its efficiency, quality of products or services, employee productivity, and operational costs. As businesses grow and scale their operations, they must optimize their processes to achieve faster, better, and cheaper outcomes.

Before automating a workflow, the organization must identify the starting and stopping points for a series of tasks that impact the desired outcome. Once this information is gathered, the organization maps out who’s involved in a certain process and what tools, systems, and apps make up the workflow. It then creates a set of rules and logic that dictate how each task is done. Finally, these predetermined rules are programmed within the software or tool.

Once implemented, workflow automation transforms business-critical processes such as form fills, user actions, and document creation, enabling completion with minimal to no attention from people. Automating these complicated tasks leads to more straightforward methods, lower operational costs, faster results, and saved time.

What are the benefits of workflow automation?

Workflow automation is an important business component because it allows organizations to revamp their operations by automating various tasks, significantly impacting different aspects of the business. Implementing workflow automation tools and software can benefit organizations in several ways, including:

  • Lower operational costs due to spending less time, workforce energy, and resources on executing tasks
  • Increased accuracy by eliminating error-prone human intervention
  • Improved workload management and employee productivity
  • Accelerated completion of functions due to consistent and reliable processes
  • Greater visibility of operations and workflows across the organization
  • Increased efficiency
  • Better collaboration across the organization
  • Reduced paperwork and manual tasks
  • Ensure compliance with processes
  • Improved document management
  • Reduced process cycles

What are some examples and use cases?

Workflow automation tools and software provide value in optimizing business operations and outcomes across several business functions. Some of the top use cases are:

Information technology

IT service desks are often inundated with inefficient processes related to manual operations and multiple tickets. These may be easy-to-solve issues. However, high ticket and request volumes negatively impact the process. Ultimately this leads to slow response times for employees, further impacting their work. Workflow automation tools and software IT service desks can accelerate response times, reduce hours spent on troubleshooting, and eliminate manual tasks.

Human resources

In HR, workflow automation can help facilitate employee requests. It also enhances employee onboarding and offboarding, timesheets, manager approvals, and document creation and collection. Although HR is typically responsible for onboarding and offboarding employees, they must work with other departments to complete various tasks, including manager approvals, IT equipment procurement, facilities access, and more.


Workflow automation can help modernize finance operations. Finance departments and companies, from banking to lending to insurance, often rely on legacy software to carry out their daily operations. However, financial services have changed drastically over the years and need to modernize their operations to keep up with customer demands, competition, innovations within the industry, and more. With workflow automation, organizations can reimagine their finance operations and gain more precise insights, improve accuracy, and optimize resources across fraud detection, accounts payable, invoice and budget approvals, and tax accounting.


Healthcare professionals use workflow automation to admit, transfer, and discharge patients. It also creates staff work schedules and rotations and electronically transfers patient health records. By implementing these tools, healthcare professionals can simplify operations and focus on providing patient care instead of logistics and back-office tasks.

Workflow automation also helps improve functions and scenarios related to:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Facilities
  • Operations
  • Procurement
  • Customer service
  • Legal
  • Cybersecurity

How does workflow automation stack up against other tools?

Many automation tools are available to improve business processes and simplify complex tasks. However, it can be tricky to differentiate between them and identify which strategy is best for an organization. For starters, business process management (BPM) doesn't compete with tools like workflow automation, hyperautomation, intelligent process automation, robotic process automation (RPA), and business process automation (BPA). Instead, it identifies opportunities for organizations to improve their business processes and aims to create strategies to optimize workflows.

BPM and workflow automation

Compared to BPM software, workflow automation is faster to implement, less complex, and less scalable. It's used for a sequence of tasks and is best for organizing people and documents. Meanwhile, BPM aims for the bigger picture and encompasses multiple workflows related to a business. For example, workflow automation is the right option if an organization needs to optimize a single process, such as employee onboarding.

RPA and workflow automation

Workflow automation and RPA don't compete with each other. Instead, workflow automation is ideal for automating specific tasks in a workflow and focuses on how tasks flow from one to another. On the other hand, RPA works best for processes that rely on rules and regulations and can automate entire workflows from start to finish. In reality, both solutions can work synergistically to maximize outcomes.

Combat productivity and efficiency challenges with automation

Automation is and will continue to be present in businesses of all sizes. It's vital to digital transformation, the workplace, and the economy. Once considered a costly solution or tool for larger companies, automation tools such as workflow automation have become more accessible and more affordable. As a result, at least one function in 31% of organizations is automated, and employees estimate they might save 240 hours annually by automating tasks.

Whether it's workflow automation software or a process automation solution, automation can help businesses achieve new efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity levels. Watch our Automation 101: Transforming Your Business For Any Future webinar for more information on transforming your organization with automation.