Understanding the process automation landscape

Processes and process automation take many forms. Here’s how to navigate the growing ecosystem of tools for automating everything from simple repetitive tasks to complex custom workflows.

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Sometimes, tool categories without specific support for process automation are also evaluated in the context of process automation projects. Data pipelines are a case in point. Because they can often be modeled graphically, people are tempted to use them for process automation. 

  • Data pipelines (e.g. Apache Airflow, Spring Cloud Data Flow): These tools have a different focus and thus lack important features for the process automation use case, such as support for control flow constructs like loops. Additionally, these tools don’t have their own implementation of persistence, so the state of a process instance is the data item flowing through the pipe.

Of course, one could also simply hard code everything to automate a process, yielding a bespoke workflow engine, which you should definitely avoid.

Summary and conclusion

With the thoughts above in mind, I sketched the landscape shown in the figure below. The table lists the main tool categories described in this article, along with some exemplary tools. (I apologize in advance for all the tools I missed!)

process automation 03 Camunda

I see developer-friendly workflow engines as the sweet spot to automate complex tailor-made processes. Low-code approaches also have their merits, typically when automating single tasks or simple processes in an environment that does not require much governance.

Bernd Ruecker is co-founder and chief technologist of Camunda as well as author of Practical Process Automation (O’Reilly). He likes speaking about himself in the third person. He is passionate about developer-friendly process automation technology. Connect via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter or send him an email. As always, he loves getting your feedback.

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