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Ultimate Guide To 3 Types of Process Automation Tools in 2024

There are various process automation tools on the market today. The challenge is differentiating one from the others. Choosing the wrong process automation tool can result in automation failures.

Familiarity with the tools, and knowing the right type suited to specific process needs, will facilitate automation. To that end, we are explaining the main 3 process automation tools, their use cases, and application areas.

1. General process automation tools

General process automation tools work with multiple platforms and can serve any industry or business function.

1.a. RPA & cognitive automation tools

Robotic process automation (RPA) tools leverage screen scraping, screen recording,  image recognition, and OCR capabilities to access an application’s user interface (UI) like a human. This is a big advantage in automating legacy applications that only have a user interface but not an API

RPA tools are relatively easy to use because most RPA software can be programmed through drag & drop functionality and other no-code/low-code features. This means any curious office employee can harness the power of RPA systems to accomplish their daily tasks and lighten their workload. 

Moreover, RPA bots can be augmented with AI & ML capabilities to learn from previous examples and use Natural Language Processing or image recognition capabilities. These augmented bots are sometimes called cognitive or intelligent bots. They are provided by RPA companies and the line between RPA bots and intelligent bots is quite blurry.

The disadvantage of RPA bots is that as they gain flexibility, they lose precision. They are not able to deal with as precise, low-level instructions as ITPA tools. So depending on the needs of the project, a more focused or flexible tool should be chosen.

On the ethical front, there are concerns over the ethical risks that RPA poses, in addition to its potential on employment. 

Use cases

Some uses of RPA bots are:

  1. Processing incoming emails by opening them, saving attached files, or pulling out the necessary data from emails.
  2. Completing web forms for you using your guidelines.
  3. Building dashboard reports using extracted data from various information systems.
  4. Completing an advanced series of calculations and then forwarding the results to the rest of your team.
  5. Extracting specific character strings for research using pattern recognition.
  6. Updating your software systems automatically.
  7. Monitoring your security systems to lock down the facility when it senses a threat.
  8. Managing your inventory while tracking purchases, shipping statuses, and billing.
  9. Performing quick credit checks and alerting fraud-detection departments whenever they recognize suspicious activity.
  10. Transporting cargo with sensors alerts you about the current location, temperature, and humidity.
  11. Empowering employees to make basic changes to their basic 401k investment options.
  12. Batch processing of large amounts of data and other transactions.
  13. Building a paperless workflow.
  14. Performing common functions for research-based databases.

Explore other use cases of RPA.

1.b. Workload automation platforms

Workload automation (WLA) enables businesses to execute workflows on different business platforms from a single centralized point which creates a centralized control over multiple platforms, better data management, and reduces automation costs.

The difference between workload automation (WLA) and RPA is that WLA focuses on unattended (no human in the loop) automation of backend systems whereas RPA automates GUI-based tasks. Nonetheless, they can be used to complement one another. You can read in detail in our in-depth guide for tech buyers.

To understand the workload automation landscape, feel free to check our data-driven list of WLA platforms.

1.c. Low-code application platforms

Low-code application platforms allow rapid automation of modern applications by non-technical users. They were initially built to rapidly develop applications with GUI (Graphical User Interface). They also involve process orchestration features to enable end-to-end process management.

They are flexible tools that can be used in any industry or business to rapidly develop applications and automate tasks. They are easier to use than RPA tools and can be preferred when automating processes and tasks using modern systems with APIs.

You can read our guide about low & no-code development to learn more about these platforms. Additionally, there are open source low code development platforms that offer open-source benefits to users who want to create applications via a drag-and-drop interface, minimizing the amount of code required to write and maintain. 

For more details, explore our comprehensive list of open source low/no-code platforms

2. Business function-specific automation tools, such as IT process automation (ITPA)

Business units have specific automation needs and these needs can be satisfied by specialized process automation tools which can automate complex multi-system dependent processes

ITPA is the most popular business function-specific automation, helping IT departments automate complex processes. Since these tools are used by experienced IT professionals, UX has been less of a concern in this space.

IT departments have for a long time struggled with the 80/20 conundrum: spending 80% of their effort on maintenance and just 20% on improving the systems so they improve business outcomes and reduce their maintenance effort. ITPA helps IT departments reduce maintenance time by automating common tasks. 

For example, the provisioning of a virtual server which typically requires numerous manual steps can be fully automated. The automation module would take the steps below and finalize server provision without any IT personnel involvement. It would:

  • monitor for approved provisioning change requests
  • begin the server provisioning process upon receipt of an approved provisioning change request
  • configure the server settings
  • initiate server deployment
  • close out the change request

Incident management is another example. Such an automation module would:

  • monitor and prioritize alerts from multiple sources
  • Analyze alerts and verify them with other legitimate sources
  • Prioritizes actions to take and deploy recommended action plans.
  • Reach out to all the key players who require notifications of the activity before closing the support ticket

3. Macros that automate processes taking place in a single piece of software/system

Macros are the oldest tools in the automation toolkit. Ever since Excel existed, there have been Excel macros.

If the process you want to automate is simple and requires only one tool like Excel, then creating a macro to complete that task is the easiest way to go.

Macros are extremely useful in creating spreadsheet shortcuts when you have a task that you want to do every day very quickly. The benefit of shortcuts is that they save teams those precious seconds that can be better spent elsewhere. 

Use cases of macros include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Organizing data
  • Making advanced calculations
  • Text substitutions 
  • Mouse shortcuts
  • Removing duplicates
  • Pivoting tables 

For more on process automation

To learn more about process automation and its use cases, read:

And if you believe your business would benefit from adopting a business process automation solution, we have a data-driven list of vendors prepared.

And for other use cases, head over to our Automation Hub, where you will find vendors under different automation categories.

We will help you choose the best solution tailored to your needs:

Find the Right Vendors
Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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