Digitalization vs. Automation

Digitalization vs. Automation

The term digitalization is omnipresent and for many has already become an empty term that has been discussed, implemented and demanded for years and decades. Not least because it is mentioned in so many different contexts, the term has become diluted and not really tangible. This has been joined in recent years by the term automation. Another trend that promises a lot, is much discussed and is often mentioned in connection with digitalization. But where exactly is the difference between digitalization and automation? And how are the two terms related? A brief explanation and differentiation of both terms should provide clarity.  

Digitalization = supporting processes and tasks digitally

Automation = running processes and tasks autonomously and automatically

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The industry association Bitkom, for example, has found that companies understand completely different things under the guise of digitalization: Both the digitization of paper files, the general support of operational business processes, electronic bookkeeping and document entry as well as the automation of operational business processes were mentioned in the survey.

The latter in particular, as the name suggests, is more automation than digitization.  

What Does Digitalization Mean?

The term digitalization has several meanings and cannot be clearly defined.

Both the digital transformation of analogue documents and processes (quite classically: scanning a personnel file to make it digitally retrievable or scanning a supplier's invoice) and the entire megatrend, by which the change towards a more digital economy is meant, can be understood here.

We refer to the former in the following.

More generally, it can be said that processes that used to be analogue, for example on paper, and are now computerized, i.e. digital, have been successfully digitized.  

An example from our practice as a digitization agency: We digitized the previously paper-based survey of training participants for our client and converted it into an online form. This means that the forms are no longer filled out on paper using a pen, then typed up and digitally processed, but are filled out directly online and used for further processing.

This saves the time-consuming step of digitally recording the questionnaires.  

What Does Automation Mean?

The term automation refers to the transfer of process functions and entire process sequences from humans to technical systems. In most cases, it is not sufficient for the necessary documents to be available digitally (although this is the basic prerequisite for automation).

Through appropriate technologies and tools, such as ZAPIER or MAKE, the processes and data must be read out and transferred.

If a process was previously handled manually by the team (both analogue and digital) and is now handled independently by the PC without further human intervention, it has been successfully automated.

An example from our practice as an automation provider: We were able to automate the output of weekly project reports for our client.

The employees working on the project only have to book their respective times for the respective project in the project management tool via a comment.

The prepared weekly report is then generated automatically and provides everyone with an optimal overview of the progress and status of the project.

The project managers no longer have to deal with the time-consuming preparation.


Automation Not without Digitalization

In conclusion, automation can only take place on the basis of digitalization. It can be seen as the next step in the technological and digital transformation of our time.

While digitization mostly aims to support work digitally, automation can make it possible to carry out this very work independently.  

Both digitalization and automation can be supported by external experts. No matter where companies are in their journey, professional help can lead to faster and, above all, more sustainable solutions.

While the digitalization of one's own processes and work steps is usually irreversible and quickly establishes itself in companies, it can happen with automation that the solution does not become established due to a lack of efficient implementation.

Thus, projects are initiated but never completed or not followed up after completion.  

Clarification: Difference between Digitalization and Automation

A targeted automation of processes is individually tailored to the company, has an eye on the long-term development of these processes and can be modularly expanded with further process steps and tools.

A screenshot of a process in Make shows how something like this can look.

Make is an automation software that provides an interface where digital tools are connected to automate processes. The data is passed from application to application and enables an automated data flow.

Unterschied zwischen Digitalisierung und Automatisierung


In this example, invoices received by e-mail are automatically transferred to the Lexoffice accounting software.

As soon as an e-mail arrives in a defined mailbox, it is first checked for attachments. If the invoice is available as a file attachment, for example as a PDF, it is transferred to OneDrive and uploaded from there to Lexoffice (upper path).

If the invoice is not available as an e-mail attachment, but only in text form, a PDF file is first generated from the e-mail.

Then the same steps follow as before: The invoice is transferred to OneDrive and finally uploaded to Lexoffice, where it is available for posting (lower path).


This example illustrates how important the exact definition of a process is. Only then can both digitization and automation be implemented successfully and in the long term. A project should therefore always begin with an inventory and process definition and only then address the implementation.  

As an automation agency, it is indispensable for us to include prior digitalization and process definition in our service. The respective automation solution is as individual as any business process.  

Feel free to contact us for a free consultation to find out where you stand and how we can shape your path to digitalization and automation together.

Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.

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