Key takeaways

  • Workflow automation helps streamline workflow processes for better productivity while the bulk of the work is done by employees.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) can complete simple, repetitive tasks so humans don’t have to, completely taking it on.

Many people confuse workflow automation with process automation, as both technologies aim to automate business processes. However, they each differ in their approach and functionality. While workflow management refers to the processes involved in streamlining business operations, robotic process automation (RPA) refers to the use of software to automate repetitive, rule-based tasks.

Workflow management and RPA serve different purposes, and businesses should carefully consider their applications to choose the technology that best suits their needs. 

So read on, as this resource will explain everything you need to know about RPA and workflow management and how you can get the most out of each.

What is workflow automation?

In the business world, workflows refer to the repeatable steps implemented in a specific order to perform a process. That said, workflow management involves using software to plan, coordinate, execute, and monitor workflows. Generally, workflow management optimizes business processes through—you guessed it—workflow automation.

While traditional business workflows carry out tasks manually, passing information like approvals from one person to another can be a time-consuming and error-prone process. But workflow automation can allow information to be passed between systems, enabling businesses to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their operations. 

Businesses can use workflow automation technology to streamline workflow processes by automating the flow of information and tasks between people, systems, and departments. By automating these steps involved within a workflow, this technology ensures that the correct actions are performed appropriately, in the proper order, and by the right people.

How is workflow automation used?

Workflow automation can be applied in various ways to help business teams accomplish their processes quickly by performing some of the repeatable tasks within the workflow. As a result, businesses can automate parts of their work to save their workers time and effort while improving overall productivity.

Workflow management software solutions can be configured by businesses to automate specific tasks and workflows, and they can be integrated with other systems. The right tools can automatically perform these repetitive processes, maintain the correct order of task execution within the workflow, and keep track of uncompleted tasks.

Workflow automation can be applied to many industries for a variety of purposes. For example, report generation, document approval, and customer service requests are all tasks that can be optimized by workflow automation. In addition, organizations that implement workflow automation can quickly and easily adapt their workflows to meet new requirements, making them more responsive to changing market conditions.

Who is workflow automation best for?

Workflow automation is best for businesses looking to improve their workforce productivity with tools that can keep their teams on track and help them streamline their work processes for optimal results.

Workflow automation is ideal for tasks that involve decision-making, human collaboration, and interaction. Additionally, it is most successful when applied to processes requiring high flexibility and customization.

What is RPA?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a software technology that also uses automation to improve business efficiency. However, it supports workers by pushing certain tasks off to software robots to perform—thereby freeing up the team to focus on high-priority tasks. 

That’s right, RPA technology uses software robots to quickly and accurately perform rule-based, repetitive tasks for workers without the need for human intervention. These RPA robots are designed to mimic human actions to carry out tasks. RPA bots can be programmed to perform actions based on predefined rules. For example, they can interact with various systems and applications to access data and make decisions based on said data.

This automation technology also benefits businesses by reducing the time and costs necessary to complete these tasks. RPA can increase productivity, reduce errors, and improve compliance when applied to business processes. In streamlining business processes, RPA can help save time and reduce manual work for employees, enabling them to focus on more critical tasks.

How is RPA used?

Robotic process automation technology enables businesses to design robots that perform tasks that would otherwise be monotonous and time-consuming for employees. The robots can work across application user interfaces and interact with systems to carry out tasks on a worker’s behalf. 

RPA is best suited for automating simple, highly repetitive tasks involving little or no decision-making or human interaction. Examples include inputting data automatically and triggering actions across systems on the employee’s behalf. More specifically, this can consist of activities like data entry, data extraction, and invoice processing. 

RPA can be implemented in different ways, depending on the organization’s needs. It can also be integrated with other software tools and used in conjunction with other technologies, such as Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Who is RPA best for?

RPA technology is useful for businesses with workflows that involve monotonous, routine, and non-complex tasks. RPA can also be ideal for organizations seeking user-friendly automation technology, as even nontechnical professionals can quickly and easily utilize it.

Furthermore, the low cost of RPA technology means that it can be scaled up or down depending on the organization’s needs, making it a flexible solution for growing businesses.

Comparing RPA and workflow automation

So, what are the similarities and differences between RPA and workflow automation?


Both workflow automation and RPA can support businesses by optimizing processes and streamlining operations. The technologies each offer businesses a way to automate their workflows and can perform tasks involved in regular processes to speed up and increase efficiency within the company’s overall execution.


However, these technologies do have significant differences that set them apart. Each technology can be successful in automating tasks, but this depends on the task’s nature, complexity, and the level of human intervention required. 

Workflow automation is useful for processes involving human collaboration, decision-making, and interaction. It is also ideal for tasks that require a higher level of flexibility and customization by humans. On the contrary, RPA technology can automate highly repetitive tasks completely, as long as they require little to no decision-making or human intervention.

Workflow automation is also more suitable for complex processes involving multiple steps. This is especially true for processes requiring decisions, approvals, or collaboration between departments or individuals. On the other hand, RPA can be successful in carrying out simple tasks, like repetitive or rule-based actions. However, to carry these tasks out completely for humans, RPA technology must be applied toward actions that do not involve complex decisions or approvals.

Another difference between the two technologies is their implementation. RPA is an inexpensive technology that can be quickly and easily applied and scaled to meet a business’s needs. But while workflow automation is more complex and expensive, it can be a worthy investment for larger organizations looking to manage multiple workflows.

How to choose between RPA and workflow automation 

Workflow automation and RPA are two technologies that provide powerful results for businesses—when implemented appropriately. While workflow automation is most successful when utilized for streamlining complex processes involving human collaboration, RPA is best implemented to automate rule-based tasks that are simple, repetitive, and do not require human interaction. 

If you are looking to choose an automation technology for your business, you should evaluate your automation needs. Doing so can allow you to identify the technology best suited for your organization’s requirements. The right automation technology should help your organization reduce its costs and improve the quality and accuracy of its business processes.

While RPA often requires a specialized software, workflow automation is a common feature in project management software. So if you’re not quite sure about robotic process automation but would like to implement more workflow automation, we have a list of top project management software to get you started.

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