Workflow Automation vs. iPaaS

Workflow Automation vs. iPaaS

In the world of automation, there are numerous terms and technologies that are somehow always used but rarely really defined or delineated. Two of these terms are workflow automation and iPaaS. Both are used especially in the context of cloud automation (another term), sometimes even synonymously. Nevertheless, both terms mean two different things, which we would like to try to differentiate. In doing so, however, we note that there is definitely a large overlap and that it is not always possible to clearly divide the two terms. iPaaS, after all, cannot do without workflow automation. Why? We explain.

Workflow Automation - What Is It?

A workflow is simply a work process. If it meets certain requirements, it can be automated, i.e. it can run completely independently. What are these prerequisites?

For a workflow to be automated, it must be...

Run digitally: If at any point the process moves from digital applications to paper, it is first necessary to digitize this analogue step.

Run in a standardized way: If the workflow is completely different every time (and by "completely different" we don't mean different data or different people carrying out the process, but different process steps or applications), it must first be clearly defined and thus standardized.

Be recurring: We love automation, yes. But automating a workflow that only occurs once is then probably a waste of time. However, our experience shows us that almost all workflows within a company are recurring, even if only once a year.

Workflow Automation - Two Examples

If these requirements are met, workflow automation can take place. But what exactly does workflow automation mean? If the data of a process are simply moved from A to B, i.e. a "process automation", we are talking about workflow automation. Here is a simplified example: Employee B submits a leave request, which is approved by employee A and supervisor C. The leave request is then simply moved from A to B. This is called workflow automation. The leave request is simply postponed.

Workflow automation means that this process is automated in itself. Another example is Microsoft's Power Apps: these are intended to help develop and share apps quickly and with little code. In principle, it is also possible to add external tools to such Power Apps, but it is not so easy and requires a lot of time and technical knowledge. The Power Apps are designed to be self-contained and to create automated processes.

iPaaS - What Is That?

Integration Platform as a Service is a term or rather a cloud automation technology. As the name suggests, it refers to a platform that enables integrations (i.e. automated processes) to be developed, executed and monitored. This involves integrating a variety of processes, apps, data and services, both inside and outside an organization. There is software that offers just that, i.e. iPaaS. Two providers:in are Zapier and Make. Both tools create an interface on which data and applications can be "plugged together", enabling us not only to map entire processes, but also to model them. But IPaaS can do much more: migrate data, create complex integrations and automate a complex sequence of workflows.  

An Example of iPaaS

A good example of what iPaaS can do compared to workflow automation is the "Iterator" module in Make. This module is built into a process. It looks something like this:  


An iterator enables us to break down bundled incoming data into several individual parts. An example to illustrate this: You receive an e-mail with three attachments. However, all three attachments have to be stored in different folders. With the Iterator module, we can "read" the email, recognize that there are three different attachments and split them up. Each attachment can then be saved in the appropriate folder.

So, What is the Difference Between Workflow Automation and iPaaS?

The so-called multi-connectivity of iPaaS is significantly higher than with workflow automation. IPaaS is embedded in a huge landscape of data, applications, processes and services, allowing us to map much more complex scenarios.  

In short, iPaaS allows us to easily connect complex tools and processes. On such a platform, it is possible to build integrations to other tools and also to build workflow automations THERE. This means that workflow automation and iPaaS belong together, iPaaS cannot work without workflow automation, but iPaaS can do much more.

Okay, that was a lot of technical terms. We try to make the whole topic of automation more understandable and thus more tangible. But even with the definition of technical terms, we sometimes have to use other technical terms. If there are still or even more question marks on your forehead, let us know. We are happy to support you in the analysis and subsequent automation of business processes, explain possibilities and individually address your company's processes.

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