What is automation?
The application of technology, programs, robotics or processes to achieve outcomes with minimal human input
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Topics Automation illustration showing types of automation and use cases pictograms

Automation is the use of technology to perform tasks with where human input is minimized. This includes enterprise applications such as business process automation (BPA), IT automation, network automation, automating integration between systems, industrial automation such as robotics, and consumer applications such as home automation and more.

This article will focus on enterprise applications of automation software.

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Types of automation
Basic automation

Basic or task automation takes simple, repetitive tasks and automates them. This level of automation is about digitizing work by using automation to streamline and centralize routine tasks, such as using a shared messaging system instead of having information in disconnected silos. This helps eliminate errors, accelerate the pace of transactional work, and free up people’s time to do higher value, more meaningful work. Robotic process automation (RPA) is an example of basic automation.

Process automation

Process automation takes more complex and repeatable, multi-step processes by integrating with multiple systems and automates them. This level of automation manages business and IT processes for uniformity and transparency. Using process automation can increase productivity and efficiency within your business. It can also deliver new insights into business and IT challenges and suggest solutions using rules-based decisioning. Process mining and workflow automation and Business process management (BPM) are examples of process automation.

Intelligent automation

The most advanced level of automation is intelligent automation. It combines automation with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities. This means that machines that automations can continuously “learn” and make enable better decision making and actions based on data from past situations they have encountered and analyzed. For example, in customer service, virtual assistants powered by AI/ML can reduce costs while empowering both customers and human agents, creating an optimal customer service experience. AIOps and digital workers are examples of intelligent automation.

Automation use cases

The use of a repeated set of processes can IT increase IT productivity and efficiency and reduce human errors.

Business automation

Business automation uses software to automate repeatable, multistep business transactions connected to multiple enterprise information technology (IT) systems, and tailored specifically to the needs of an organization.

Content management

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

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Document processing

Document processing solutions combine artificial intelligence and deep learning to streamline the processing of business documents.

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Document management

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

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Workflow automation

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

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Decision management

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

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Process mapping

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

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IT automation

IT automation is the process of creating software and automated systems to replace repeatable processes and reduce manual intervention, accelerating the delivery of IT infrastructure and applications by automating manual processes that previously required human intervention.


Observability solutions enhance your application performance monitoring to provide the context you need to resolve incidents faster.

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Hybrid cloud cost optimization

Hybrid cloud cost optimization solutions allow you to eliminate guesswork with continuous automation that saves time and optimizes cost.

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Proactive incident management

Proactive incident management solutions estimate proactive and adaptive incident resolution and discover how to achieve IT operations using AI.

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Network performance management

Network performance solutions optimize IT operations with intelligent insights.

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

Examples include:

API management

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

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Application integration

Application integration solutions connect applications and data.

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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.
Learn how the Dutch brewer is deploying integration capabilities and digital transformation to become the world’s “Best Connected Brewer.”
Read how using digital workers to automate data gathering, IBM HR empowers human workers to devote more time to high-value tasks.
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

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning

AI and machine learning use data and experiences to learn, offering more sophisticated and informed insights with each new dataset. Applied to IT automation, AI/ML is detecting anomalies, triggering new processes, rerouting running processes, and making action recommendations.


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

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 will be responsible for implementing business process and IT operations decisions across the enterprise to determine when and what type of automation platform and strategy is best suited for each business imperative while working with a wide range of leaders across all business pillars such as IT, operations, cybersecurity, etc.

Digital worker

Digital workers are software robots trained to work with humans or independently to perform specific tasks or processes using a range of skills and AI capabilities, like machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing.


FinOps the portmanteau of finance and DevOps has emerged as the management discipline for organizations looking to optimize costs using best practices designed to maximize returns on investments in hybrid and multi cloud environments.

Green or sustainable IT

As green or sustainable IT has come into sharp focus, enterprises can apply automation to areas such as resourcing actions to proactively assure systems performance with the most efficient use of compute, storage and network. This helps organizations avoid wasted spend and wasted energy which typically occurs in over-provisioned environments.


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

Intelligent automation

The combination of AI and automation technologies is imperative for businesses to scale automations intelligently to maximize returns and gain competitive advantage.

Low-code, no-code

Workflow software requiring minimal or no coding which allows non technical line of business experts to automate processes using visual designers or natural language processing.

Resources Intelligent Automation
Get to better business outcomes using AI and automation.
The Art of Automation
Automation explained in 15 min or less.
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