Workflow versus Workload
Workflow automation and workload automation are two different types of automation technologies. In general, automation performs repetitive tasks, moves data, and reduces manual human errors. While the spectrum of automation solutions is wide, most automation categories have a unique purpose. At the surface level, workflow and workload automation possess some similarities. But go a layer deeper, and you’ll be quick to find the differences.
Why do these categories get confused? Let us start with the obvious: they look and sound similar. In addition, if you look at vendor websites that sell these solutions, you will find that they use similar terminology to explain their value propositions. Both will display things like process improvement, automated tasks, and drag-and-drop workflow creation. Often, you’ll even find that product screenshots look similar.
However, while there is minimal overlap in terms of what can be accomplished with each technology, businesses use them for very different reasons. Below, we define and examine workflow automation’s market position, compare it with workload automation, and consider how they can come together in powerful ways.
What is Workflow Automation
Also known as workflow management or process management, the phrase workflow automation denotes that there is an automated series of processes that happen. Some vendors in this market have adopted the category workflow automation as a way to differentiate from traditional workflow management / process management competitors.
Workflow automation tools, at their core, automate business processes via a software solution that creates a sequential set of steps that need to happen (a workflow).
Most commonly, these steps are used to facilitate the flow of communication for approval processes. Steps within the workflow are typically person-to-person. Workflows often start with a form that is filled out by a person, which kicks off the approval process to the next person. The goal is to document and perform a process that enables businesses to function more efficiently.
Businesses use workflow automation to help:
- Standardize communication between employees. By following a workflow, those who need to review a decision have a common way to receive and respond to requests and initiate the next phase of review. The alternative to workflow automation is typically verbal checkpoints or manual requests via email, which can get lost or be difficult to track.
- Improve auditing and compliance. Workflows can be set to follow certain guidelines. They also create a paper trail that can be revisited and examined for reporting, documentation, and auditing purposes.
→ Workflow Automation Use Case: Employee On-boarding
Say a new employee needs their computer and telephone set up. Workflow automation can streamline this process by following a structure like the one below:
- A member of the HR team submits an onboarding support ticket that triggers an automated workflow.
- The workflow sends a request to the finance team to approve the cost of a computer/telephone line.
- Once approved, the workflow sends a request to the IT team with instructions to set up a computer and telephone line.
- Once approved, a request is sent to the operations teams to set up a workspace.
→ Workflow Automation Use Case: Finance Accounts Payable
Ask any finance professional: invoices are a headache. Invoices can be received via snail mail, email, portal…the list goes on. Then, finance must get approvals to make payment. With workflow automation, one use case could be:
- Finance enters the invoice details into a form.
- The workflow triggers, sending an approval request to the budget holder.
- Once approved, a request is sent to the controller to approve payment.
- Once approved, a request is sent to accounts payable to cut a check.
What is Workload Automation
As we mentioned earlier, many aspects of workflow automation sound similar to the benefits of workload automation, or WLA. But whereas workflow automation’s core focus is on the execution of person-to-person business processes, WLA is an IT automation solution that is focused on the orchestration of IT tasks and IT processes. These IT tasks and processes are within and between IT systems (database, application, platform), and typically do not include person to person interactions in the workflow.
And yep—using the word 'workflow' at the end of that last sentence was intentional. In workload automation, it's common practice to call a set of sequential automated steps 'workflows' as well. Yet another point of confusion.
Workflows within workload automation can be triggered by a person, or triggered via a system event, but the rest of the pre-defined workflow is automated without human interaction.
Here are a few use cases to help paint the picture:
→ Workload Automation Use Case: Real-time Customer Data Update in Management Reports
- A customer record is updated in a cloud-based CRM system.
- This event triggers the ETL tool (like Informatica) to update.
- Updated data is pushed into a data processor (like Hadoop).
- Data is then pushed into an analytics tool (like Tableau or Qlik).
All the above steps enable customer reporting to update in real-time for management.
→ Workload Automation Use Case: eCommerce Order Intake
- Order is placed on a Mobile Device.
- The order data is sent to an ecommerce platform.
- Data is then sent to the cloud-based CRM system.
- This trigger also simultaneously updates the customer record in the on-prem mainframe database.
- The order is then sent to the ERP solution and fulfillment center.
The output is an automated order to fulfillment process that removes any human data entry or swivel chair data processing.
Within the Stonebranch IT automation blog, we have written extensively on how workload automation will help an enterprise. To gain additional insight beyond this article, read What is Workload Automation – and How is it Changing.
How Do Workload Automation and Workflow Automation Work Together?
Workflow automates people-driven processes. Workload automates IT processes. By using workflow automation to trigger workload automation (or vice versa), a business can automate a broader set of “actions” that take place with one workflow. A workload automation solution like Universal Automation Center will integrate with various workflow automation tools and business process applications. Here is an example:
→ Combined Use Case: Request & Provision a Demo Instance for Sales
- Account Executive needs a new cloud demo provisioned for a sales engagement, so they submit a form (WF Automation).
- The request goes to the Sales VP, who approves the expense of provisioning the demo (WF Automation).
- This triggers an IT action, which automates the provisioning of the cloud services provider (AWS) and the installation of the demo via containerized microservices (Docker) (WL Automation).
- Account Executive is notified with a user/pass when the demo is up and running (WF Automation).
Output: The entire demo provisioning process is approved and fulfilled without the IT team needing to lift a hand. Plus, the sales manager was able to approve the expense in a way that can be tracked and audited.
One additional note: these forms of automation also mirror each other in terms of logic. They both have flows that are built based on conditional if/then business scenarios. This similarity creates a clear way to combine process streams.
Both workflow automation and workload automation solutions have their place along the automation spectrum. They have different core functions and structures, but both are founded on the principle of working smarter, not harder.