Workflow vs. Process Automation: Understanding the Key Differences

9 minute read | 14 Jul 2023

By Boomi

In today’s increasingly competitive and digital business environment, smart companies aggressively pursue no-code and low-code automation opportunities to stay ahead of competitors. Automation enables your employees to work smarter, not harder, so your people can be allocated for higher-impact tasks.

Businesses have lots of options and opportunities for automation in both workflow and process capacities. Tools like Boomi’s low-code development platform can help your business stay at the top of the field – building apps quickly at scale, expediting data connectivity, and improving your brand experience while increasing security.

Let’s explore the key differences between workflow and process automation, so you can identify the best type of automation for your unique business needs.

Exploring Workflow Automation

Workflow automation primarily focuses on task and activity management within a specific department or business workflow. It aims to optimize individual tasks and improve efficiency at a granular level. This type of automation involves streamlining the flow of information and actions to ensure the smooth and efficient execution of individual tasks that interact with minimal stakeholders.

Workflow automation lets your employees eliminate manual, time-consuming, and error-prone activities by replacing them with automated processes. Organizations can achieve consistency, standardization, and improved productivity by defining and automating workflows.

Employees will enjoy working on higher-impact tasks that require a human touch – and companies will enjoy fewer errors and delays. Workflow automation enables the seamless transfer of data and tasks between individuals or systems, reducing delays, improving communication, and enhancing collaboration across the organization.

There are many benefits to workflow automation. In addition to higher employee satisfaction and more time for critical, value-adding tasks, benefits include:

  • Enhanced Efficiency: Workflow automation reduces the need for manual intervention, speeding up processes and minimizing delays. These tools can also be self-service, letting employees control the processes they automate without excessive oversight.
  • Improved Accuracy: Automation reduces the risk of human error during manual data entry and processing. By programming predefined rules and validations, workflow automation ensures consistency and accuracy in executing tasks.
  • Increased Visibility: With workflow automation, organizations gain real-time visibility into the status of tasks, progress, and bottlenecks.
  • Standardization and Compliance: Automation enforces standardized processes, ensuring adherence to internal and external guidelines. This includes industry standards and compliance requirements.

Each company’s exact workflow needs are unique, but all workflow automation has a few shared characteristics. Most offer the following key features:

  • Task Design and Modeling: Workflow automation platforms allow users to design, model, and visually represent workflows using intuitive interfaces.
  • Task Assignment: Workflow automation enables the automatic assignment of tasks to individuals or teams based on predefined rules about responsibilities associated with each task. It can also provide proper resource allocation to teams and individuals.
  • Integration and Data Exchange: Workflow automation platforms can facilitate integration with other systems and allow easy exchange of data and information between different systems involved in the workflow. These are typically native integrations with limited functionality, especially compared to more robust API integration.
  • Decision-Making and Approvals: Automating specific workflows allows for creating rules-based conditions and triggers for routing tasks to the appropriate stakeholders.
  • Reporting and Analytics: Workflow automation systems provide reporting and analytics capabilities to track process performance, identify bottlenecks, and measure efficiency.

By leveraging these features and components, organizations can build efficient, flexible, and scalable workflows that drive productivity, reduce errors, and improve overall business performance.

Understanding Process Automation

Process automation involves the use of technology to automate entire business processes. For example, expense approval or quote-to-cash processes can be automated from start to finish.

Process automation extends past individual tasks and focuses on automating end-to-end processes that involve multiple steps, systems, and stakeholders. The purpose of process automation is to optimize operational efficiency, reducing costs, minimizing errors, and enhancing productivity. Compared to workflow automation, process automation focuses on optimizing entire processes instead of individual tasks.

An important subset of process automation is Robotic Process Automation ( RPA). It uses software robots or “bots,” to automate repetitive, rule-based tasks typically performed by humans. While RPA is particularly useful for automating manual and repetitive tasks, there can still be issues due to exceptions and anomalies. Boomi Flow helps overcome these challenges, powering exception management workflows that route issues to human users for quick assessment and resolution.

Implementing process automation has many benefits for organizations. These include:

  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Process automation accelerates execution, leading to faster turnaround times and increased productivity.
  • Error Reduction: Automating your business processes minimizes the risk of human errors, ensuring consistency and accuracy.
  • Cost Savings: Automation reduces operational costs by eliminating the need for manual labor and optimizing resource utilization. Organizations can achieve more with fewer expenses.
  • Scalability: Automated processes are easily scalable, allowing organizations to handle increased volumes of work without significant additional resources.
  • Flexibility: Process automation also allows processes to  be modified and adapted to meet changing business requirements on demand.

Process automation needs are unique to your organization – but all process automation solutions typically offer these key components:

  • Process Modeling: Process automation platforms provide visual interfaces for designing and modeling end-to-end processes. Users can define flows, decision points, and integrations with other systems.
  • Integration and Orchestration: Process automation involves integrating disparate systems, applications and coordinating activities throughout a workflow. Automating processes through your integration platform as a service (iPaaS) also improves data security and defines your integrations more solidly than native integrations.
  • Rules and Decision Management: Automation systems include rule engines that allow for the definition and execution of business rules and decision-making logic during the process flow.
  • Project Management: These platforms provide task tracking, notifications, and escalation mechanisms to ensure timely completion. They make it easier to break big tasks into smaller, more manageable “buckets.”
  • Analytics and Reporting: Process automation solutions offer analytics and reporting capabilities to monitor process performance.

Key Differences Between Workflow Automation and Process Automation

While both workflow automation and process automation have their place in your organization, there are essential differences between them.

Scope and Purpose

Workflow automation primarily focuses on task and activity management within a specific workflow or department, aiming to optimize individual tasks and improve efficiency at a granular level. Process automation takes a broader perspective, focusing on end-to-end operations and optimizing entire processes.

Level of Complexity

​​Workflow automation excels in managing smaller, simpler tasks. Process automation is more complex and can deal with interdependent tasks. For example, process automation can handle multiple decision points and approvals.

Integration and Interdependencies

Workflow automation typically has limited integration capabilities and often operates within an isolated context. Process automation with iPaaS has extensive integrations with diverse organizational systems and supports data exchange and collaboration.

Scalability and Flexibility

Workflow automation is most suited for specific and targeted tasks. It is also the better option for self-serve tooling. Process automation scales across an entire organization and is often more flexible across tasks.

How to Choose Between Workflow Automation and Process Automation

So, which type of automation does your company need? Here are key factors to consider when choosing:

When to Choose Workflow Automation

If your company’s primary need relates to automating specific tasks within a process rather than the entire process from start to finish, you need workflow automation. Workflow automation is well-suited for tasks with a shorter duration and lower complexity, making it the better choice for streamlining and optimizing individual tasks rather than managing complex, multi-step processes. Workflow automation also empowers employees with self-service capabilities.

When to Choose Process Automation

Process automation is ideal when an organization aims to streamline and automate entire projects or work sequences. It will ensure seamless coordination and integration across complex, interdependent tasks. Process automation is particularly valuable for managing intricate processes that involve multiple steps and systems since it enables a holistic approach to optimizing your operations.


The future of business lies in automation. Most businesses can benefit from process and workflow automation – and the Boomi platform makes it easy. Boomi provides comprehensive tools and capabilities to automate and streamline business processes and workflows.

Discover why Boomi was named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Integration Platform as a Service report for more insights.