Home Topics Automation What is automation?
Explore IBM's automation solution Subscribe to AI Topic Updates
Illustration showing types of automation and use cases pictograms
What is automation?

Automation is the application of technology, programs, robotics or processes to achieve outcomes with minimal human input.

Automation is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the modern world and has countless applications, including: enterprise applications such as business process automation (BPA), AIOps, and enterprise automation, industrial automation applications such as robotics used in automotive manufacturing, and consumer applications such as home automation.

Automation software and technologies are used in a wide array of industries, from finance to healthcare, utilities to defense, and practically everywhere in between. Automation can be used in all aspects of business functions, and organizations that wield it most effectively stand to gain a significant competitive advantage.

Organizations use automation to increase productivity and profitability, improve customer service and satisfaction, reduce costs and operational errors, adhere to compliance standards, optimize operational efficiency and more. Automation is a key component of digital transformation, and is invaluable in helping businesses scale.

Debunking the myths of observability

This ebook aims to debunk myths surrounding observability and showcase its role in digital world.

Related content

Register for TEI Report for IBM Robotic Process Automation

Check out the six common automation scenarios
Types of automation
Basic automation

Basic or task automation takes simple, routine tasks and automates them. Basic automation is used to digitize, streamline, and centralize manual tasks such as distributing onboarding materials to new hires, forwarding documents for approvals, or automatically sending invoices to clients.

Using automation instead of human workers to complete these tasks helps eliminate errors, accelerate the pace of transactional work, and free employees from time-consuming tasks, allowing them to focus on higher value, more meaningful work.

Process automation

Process automation takes more complex and repeatable multi-step processes (sometimes involving multiple systems) and automates them. Process automation helps bring greater uniformity and transparency to business and IT processes.

Process automation can increase business productivity and efficiency, help deliver new insights into business and IT challenges, and surface solutions by using rules-based decisioning. Process mining, workflow automationbusiness process management (BPM), and robotic process automation (RPA) are examples of process automation.

Intelligent automation

Intelligent automation is a more advanced form of automation that combines artificial intelligence (AI), business process management, and robotic process automation capabilities to streamline and scale decision-making across organizations.

For example, virtual agents that are powered by technologies like natural language processing, intelligent search, and RPA can reduce costs and empower both employees and external customers. Such automation contributes to increased productivity and an optimal customer experience. AIOps and AI assistants are other examples of intelligent automation in practice.

Automation use cases

The use of a repeated set of processes can increase productivity and efficiency and reduce human errors. Automation can drive business value in numerous areas, including:

Business automation

Business automation refers to technologies used to automate repetitive tasks and processes to streamline business workflows and information technology (IT) systems. These solutions can be tailored specifically to the needs of an organization.

Content management

Content management solutions capture, store, activate, analyze, and automate business content.

Learn about content management
Document processing

Document processing solutions use artificial intelligence technologies like machine learning and natural language processing to streamline the processing of business documents.

Explore document processing solutions
Document management

Document management solutions capture, track, and store information from digital documents.

Learn about document management
Workflow automation

Workflow automation solutions use rules-based logic and algorithms to perform tasks with limited to no human interaction.

Explore workflow automation solutions
Decision management

Decision management solutions model, manage, and automate business decisions through machine learning.

Explore decision management solutions
Process mapping

Process mapping solutions can improve operations by identifying bottlenecks and enabling cross-organizational collaboration and orchestration.

Explore process mapping solutions
IT automation

IT automation is the creation and implementation of automated systems and software in place of time-consuming manual activities that previously required human intervention. IT automation helps accelerate the deployment and configuration of IT infrastructure and applications and improve processes at every stage of the operational lifecycle.


Observability solutions enhance application performance monitoring capabilities, providing a greater understanding of system performance and the context that is needed to resolve incidents faster.

Explore observability tools
Cloud automation

Cloud automation solutions reduce or eliminate the manual work that is associated with provisioning, configuring and managing cloud environments. Cloud automation helps drive efficiency in the cloud and allows organizations take full advantage of the benefits that cloud computing offers, like the ability to access cloud resources on demand.

Explore cloud automation solutions
Hybrid cloud cost optimization

Hybrid cloud cost optimization solutions help eliminate the guesswork in cloud resourcing with continuous automation that saves time and optimizes cost.

Explore hybrid cloud cost optimization tools
Network performance management

Network performance management solutions optimize IT operations with intelligent insights and contribute to increased network resilience and availability.

Explore network performance management tools

Integration is the connection of data, applications, APIs, and devices across your IT organization to be more efficient, productive, and agile.

API management

API management solutions help create, manage, secure, socialize, and monetize web application programming interfaces or APIs.

Explore API management tools
Application integration

Application integration solutions connect applications and data.

Explore application integration tools
Automation case studies Carhartt

Discover how this clothing retailer is planning to use AI and automation so that replenishment orders happen automatically.


Discover how this mission-critical file transfer solution provider is driving quicker solutions and greater uptime with real-time observability.

IBM human resources (HR)

Read how IBM HR empowers human workers to devote more time to high-value tasks by using AI assistants to automate data gathering.

Max Mara

Discover how the Italian fashion group is redesigning its order-to-cash processes for a better buying experience.

Selta Square

Learn how a leading South Korean pharmaceutical company automates a core process for drug safety monitoring.

Automation tools, trends, and terms
AI assistants

Formerly known as digital workers, AI assistants are software robots (or bots) that are trained to work with humans, or independently, to perform specific tasks or processes. AI assistants use a range of skills and AI capabilities, like machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing.


Artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) uses AI to improve and automate IT service and operations management. By integrating separate, manual IT operations tools into a single, intelligent, and automated IT operations platform, AIOps provides end-to-end visibility and context. Operations teams use this visibility to respond more quickly—even proactively—to events that if left alone, might lead to slowdowns and outages.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is technology that enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. Machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision are fields of artificial intelligence.

Chief automation officer (CAO)

The chief automation officer (CAO) (link resides outside ibm.com) is a rapidly emerging role that is growing in importance due to the positive impact automation is having on businesses across industries. The CAO is responsible for implementing business process and IT operations decisions across the enterprise to determine what type of automation platform and strategy is best suited for each business initiative. The CAO works with a wide range of leaders across all business pillars such as IT, operations, and cybersecurity.

Computer vision

Computer vision is a field of artificial intelligence that uses machine learning and neural networks to teach computers and systems to derive meaningful information from digital images, videos, and other visual inputs—and to make recommendations or take actions when defects or issues are identified.


FinOps (or cloud FinOps), a portmanteau of finance and DevOps, is an evolving cloud financial management discipline and cultural practice that aims to maximize business value in hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Green or sustainable IT

Green or sustainable IT puts a focus on creating and operating more efficient, environmentally friendly data centers. Enterprises can use automation in resourcing actions to proactively ensure systems performance with the most efficient use of compute, storage, and network resources. This helps organizations avoid wasted spend and wasted energy, which typically occurs in overprovisioned environments.


Hyperautomation is an approach that merges multiple technologies and tools to efficiently automate across the broadest set of business and IT processes, environments, and workflows.

Low-code and no-code

Low-code and no-code refer to workflow software requiring minimal (low code) or no coding that allows nontechnical line-of-business experts to automate processes by using visual designers or natural language processing.

Machine learning

Machine learning (ML) is a branch of artificial intelligence and computer science that focuses on using data and algorithms to enable AI to imitate the way that humans learn, gradually improving its accuracy. Applied to IT automation, machine learning is used to detect anomalies, reroute processes, trigger new processes, and make action recommendations.

Natural language processing

Natural language processing, or NLP, combines computational linguistics—rule-based modeling of human language—with statistical and machine learning models to enable computers and digital devices to recognize, understand, and generate text and speech. Natural language processing is often used in modern chatbots to help chabots interpret user questions and automate responses to them.

Related solutions
IBM® intelligent automation solutions

Discover how high-impact automations can help make your IT systems more proactive, processes more efficient, and people more productive.

Explore IBM AI and automation solutions
IBM AIOps solutions

Discover how AI for IT operations delivers the insights you need to help drive exceptional business performance.

Explore IBM AIOps solutions
IBM business automation solutions

Automate business workflows, seamlessly integrate business systems, gain insights into operations, and create a stronger, more productive workforce.

Explore IBM business automation solutions
IBM integration solutions

Speed development, minimize unplanned outages and reduce time to manage and monitor, while still maintaining enhanced security, governance, and availability.

Explore IBM integration solutions
IBM iPaaS solutions

Connect applications, data, business processes, and services, whether they are hosted on-premises, in a private cloud, or within a public cloud environment.

Explore IBM iPaaS solutions
IBM infrastructure automation solutions

Deploy, control, and manage your IBM Cloud infrastructure with feature-rich tools and a robust open API.

Explore IBM infrastructure automation solutions
IBM automation consulting services

IBM Consulting’s extreme automation consulting services enable enterprises to move beyond simple task automations to handling high-profile, customer-facing, and revenue-producing processes with built-in adoption and scale.

Explore IBM automation consulting services
Resources The evolution of process automation

Intelligent automation can change how work gets done, but organizations need to balance operational efficiencies with evolutionary workforce changes.

The Art of Automation

Automation explained in 15 minutes or less.

Automation-powered AIOps

Optimize enterprise operations with integrated observability and IT automation.

Automation innovation workshop

Meet with experts at no cost and discover new ways to improve your business using intelligent automation.

AI for Business Automation

Learn more about tools to help businesses automate much of their daily processes, to save time and drive new insights through trusted, safe, and explainable AI systems.

The Enterprise Guide to Observability

Because you can’t fix what you can’t see.

Take the next step

Start your automation journey with IBM Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It’s an AI-driven solution that helps you automate more business and IT processes at scale with the ease and speed of traditional RPA. 

Explore Robotic Process Automation Try for free