Understanding workflow automation concept: definitions, terms and mapping

Understanding workflow automation concept: definitions, terms and mapping

Automation technologies are a vital component for companies looking to sustain their success in 2020 and into the new decade. Use this comprehensive guide to learn the meaning of automation. When finished, you’ll be well on your way to recognizing the possibilities workflow automation vendors can offer your business on its way to the top.

Workflow automation definition

So, what does automation mean?

Dictionaries define automation as the invention and application of tools that eliminate human intervention in producing and delivering goods and services.

Thus, we can define workflow automation as the process of automating human tasks, data, and file routing between individuals or systems. Businesses and individuals all over the world automate workflows because they see significant improvements in productivity, accuracy, accountability, and job satisfaction.

And when you look at the numbers, the value of automation seems obvious. A Unit 4 global productivity study revealed that office workers spend roughly one-third of their working year on administrative tasks, costing companies an impressive $5 trillion. Beyond that, the same study states that every 2 out of 3 respondents believe that implementation of automation technologies boosts business competitiveness.

As the technology-driven pace of change is speeding up, businesses must seize every opportunity to optimize their resources, reduce labor costs, streamline processes, facilitate team collaboration, and drive profits to stay relevant. But there’s another side to this pace of change as well. Technologies that were either unavailable or too expensive five years ago, are becoming more and more accessible to smaller businesses, allowing for faster implementation and offering flexible solutions for organizations of all sizes.

Every business has room for improvement, and yours is no exception. If you’re still wondering how automation can make your business more efficient, we have all the answers you need.

A brief automation glossary

Before diving deeper into the topic, a short definition of automation is needed.

Wikipedia defines automation is the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal human assistance. In simple words, automation describes a situation when a task or workflow is being performed without human intervention.

Now, let’s go through some key automation terms to get a better understanding of the subject.

A brief automation glossary illustration


An algorithm is a step-by-step instruction outlining a sequence of actions required to complete a task or process. Every digital device in the world uses algorithms to perform its functions. In the case of automation software, an algorithm is a set of precise commands telling the device how to do a task or process data.


A software robot, or simply bot, is a program designed to carry out simple and repetitive tasks, such as data entry, quicker and more efficiently than humans. And since bots aren’t humans, they only exist on our computer screens interacting with us, as well as with other apps and systems, via user interface.

Bots can vary in terms of their functions in the system. For example, chatbots are “responsible” for text messages. Web crawler bots (or spiderbots) are used for web search purposes, while rule-based bots are designed to act in response to the specific rules defined by the user or system admin.

If statement

Automation software needs to be told what to do. One of the ways to do so is by setting up If statements. Being one of the fundamental programming principles, an If statement sets out a condition, and tells a computer what to do if that condition is met. If statements are especially useful when building multistep bot-based workflows.


Integration (or system integration) relates to the ability of automation software to communicate with other programs and services. Platforms with highly integrated architecture (CRM systems, cloud services, etc.) provide greater flexibility for your business. After all, it’s much easier to onboard new team members with only one program and one interface to install and learn.

No-code automation

No-code automation tools are made to help users build complex workflows across teams and departments without any programming knowledge or coding skills (and thus no developer assistance).

Process mapping

Process mapping (or workflow mapping) is used to allow non-technical people to work across departments and view a process landscape. Mapping out business processes brings greater visibility to business operations. It is a great way to understand all the steps needed to complete a workflow.


Finally, the last item in our glossary and one of the crucial automation terms as well. According to BusinessDictionary, a workflow is a progression of steps (tasks, events, interactions) that comprise a work process, involving two or more persons, and creating or adding value to the organization’s activities.

Since every workflow is unique, it’s important that the workflow automation solution you choose is scalable enough and capable of managing the entire workflow chain, not just part of it.

What are the newest workflow automation trends and how can they impact your business?

No-code automation solutions

Most businesses today use APIs to integrate third-party apps and services. In reality however, API’s are expensive, hard to on-board, and leave little space for team collaboration. Not only do they burden your business but they can also result in being charged per operation (the amount of content you process), rather than the service as a whole.

A no-code automation solution, on the other hand, allows users to automate processes in a matter of hours to increase efficiency with minimal IT involvement. According to recent Salesforce study, 76% of respondents are developing applications using minimal coding.

End-to-end workflow automation

End-to-end workflow is another important automation definition. It’s a process that delivers a full document and data lifecycle while supplying all the necessary components along the way. Despite the fact that there are dozens of vendors on the digital workflow market presenting themselves as full-circle workflow automation solutions, most of them are only capable of processing certain parts of a workflow chain.

Find out more about how to complete and automate your workflow without having to pay extra for third-party solutions and API integrations here.

Data-driven culture

Forbes defines data-driven (or data-first) culture as an operating environment that seeks to leverage data whenever possible to enhance business efficiency and effectiveness.

Modern-day business decision-making requires precise, data-driven analytics. Data-first culture — one in which people automate data-driven decision-making so they can respond to changing market conditions in real time — is the number one technique for every decision-making process.

Don’t follow trends blindly

Implement solutions that are proven to empower your business

Understanding workflow mapping and what it can teach you

Another major issue with workflow automation is that you cannot automate a broken process. At the end of the day,

Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency

Here we have to remind ourselves that we respond to, and process visual data, better than any other type of data. We process images 60,000 times faster than text. And about 90 percent of the information that we get is visual.

That’s why workflow mapping has become an “efficiency roadmap” for your business that helps you figure out the shortest path to completing tasks.

Human brain process illustration

Creating a precise diagram containing a description of processes to be done, together with deadlines and assigned responsibilities (roles), will give you and your team a clear picture of what’s coming next and an overall view of the process.

Below are a few benefits that workflow mapping brings to your daily operations:

Clear view of the process

By visualizing your business processes, you create a broader view of your automated workflow. Everybody involved in it will have a better understanding of requirements, problems, and the end goal.

Inefficiencies become visible

Without workflow mapping, it can feel like you’re dealing with abstract problems of any sort. But once you sit down and actually depict the process by writing out all the steps, you’ll gain clarity on what the issues are and how to deal with them.

Better accountability

Workflow mapping helps you create a schedule featuring names and roles for each step of the workflow which brings better understanding of who is supposed to do what at each point in the workflow. It eliminates confusion between team members that may occur if roles aren’t clearly defined.

There’s always a Plan B

Workflow mapping also helps you explore shortcuts along the way, identify best practices, or quickly come up with a Plan B to avoid bottlenecks and eliminate duplicating work.

In conclusion

Every business out there faces fierce competition — both in terms of sales and effectiveness. That’s exactly why automation isn’t just for industry giants.

Use this guide to adopt innovative automation techniques and increase your company’s chances to outpace its competitors. Think about where you want your business to be in a couple years and make sure your workflow automation solution has the necessary level of scalability, innovation, technology, and will correspond with it in the future. Learn about how to implement workflow automation of workflow with the airSlate Fundamentals course from the airSlate Academy.

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