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Tight labor markets and economic downturns are forcing companies to produce more with fewer resources. Enterprise automation helps global businesses stand up to this challenge and react fast to emerging opportunities. No wonder it has become a big wheel across different industries, projected to take up from $25 to $500 million of capital spending over the next 5 years.

But a path to automation is a thorny one. To pan out, your automation strategy should sit on an enterprise approach and make technology a single fluid experience within your organization. Here’s how to reach this tough bar.

What is enterprise automation? It’s not what you think it is

Enterprise automation is the implementation of a wide range of technologies and tools to streamline, integrate, and automate business workflows, while also reducing the amount of manual work. 

Instead, it implies a comprehensive approach aimed at creating centralized control and strategy over automation as opposed to a bolt-on approach. Automation structures should be designed to scale from the get-go and strategized by something greater than a simple goal of achieving gains in process efficiency and reduced costs.

Four types of enterprise automation

An automation toolbox may include a different lineup of enterprise automation solutions, tools, and technologies — from simple low-code platforms to complex human-like bots. An exact mixture depends on the type of enterprise automation you’re up to.

four types of enterprise automation

Basic automation

This is the less demanding form of enterprise automation that includes automating simple, stand-alone tasks such as automated email threads or report generation. It often relies on low-code or no-code software as a core enabler.

An example of basic automation would be automating the process of generating standard reports from data. For instance, a sales department automatically generates weekly sales reports through a simple software script that pulls data from the sales database, formats it into a predefined template, and then distributes it via email to the relevant stakeholders.

Business Process Automation (BPA)

Unlike basic automation, the turf of BPA spans across entire functions. In particular, process automation streamlines, and orchestrates repetitive business processes, for which it requires a multi-step automation workflow. The main differentiator of enterprise process automation is its reliance on integration, API, and data exchange across internal or external systems.

Automation of a new employee onboarding process is a fine specimen of BPA. In this case, a company deploys a workflow automation tool to manage the entire process from job offer acceptance, document submission, and verification, to provisioning work equipment and scheduling orientation sessions, with minimal human intervention.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic process automation is considered to be one of the approaches to Business Process Automation that includes the implementation of software bots. Following AI insights, bots complete high-volume, rule-based tasks, emulating human interaction with software applications.

Although RPA is technically a form of process automation, its focus is placed on automating the types of tasks traditionally performed by humans. Because of its non-intrusive nature and ease of deployment for specific repetitive tasks, RPA can often serve as a quick and effective automation solution that doesn’t require extensive changes to existing IT infrastructure. 

Robotic process automation is widely implemented in banking for customer-face communication, regulatory compliance, fraud detection, and KYC. Also, it can do the heavy lifting of invoice processing in the accounts payable department.

Healthcare, an industry facing significant staff shortages, relies on RPA software to automate patient scheduling, claims processing, reporting, data entry, and other tasks.

Integration automation

Enterprise automation strategies based on the integration-first approach mean connecting different business software systems and using this connectivity to automate manual tasks. In this case, connected business systems operate on shared data, reducing errors and eliminating the need for manual data entry.

For example, ERP systems hinge on integration automation to exchange data with finance, sales, and customer success departments. By connecting it with a CRM platform like Salesforce, businesses can streamline order management and execution. Once an order is added to a CRM, it’s automatically transferred to an ERP system and fed to the warehouse. 

The integration works backward: an ERP then provides sales insight into order statuses right from a CRM dashboard. 

CriteriaBasic automationProcess automationRPAIntegration automation
ComplexityLowMedium to highMediumHigh
ScopeIndividual tasksEnd-to-end processesCross-application tasksSystem-wide integration
Implementation effortLowMedium to highLow to mediumHigh
Main technologies usedSimple scripts, basic software toolsBPM, workflow automation toolsRPA software,
AI capabilities
Middleware, API management, ESB
Integration levelMinimalWithin processesUI-basedDeep, across systems
Main benefitsReduces simple repetitive tasksImproves process efficiency, standardize operations Quick wins, high ROI on repetitive tasksEnhances data flow, interoperability 
Typical use casesData entry, simple file transfersComplex workflows like onboarding, invoicing, etc.Data extraction, form filling, application bridgingConnecting disparate systems for real-time data exchange
ScalabilityLowMedium to highMediumHigh
Dependency on ITLowMedium to highMediumHigh
User interactionNone to minimalPossible through workflowsHigh (mimics human actions)Low to none

Count on our enterprise automation services to choose the right automation approach

Enterprise automation as a vital part of your digital transformation effort

Enterprise automation is a crucial piece of the digital transformation (DT) puzzle. But unlike automation, DT doesn’t boil down to just implementing a new ERP, adding an API into your software solutions or making bots a part of your business processes. 

Digital transformation is about rewiring the entire business in a holistic way, rethinking and redesigning existing processes, organizational structures, and customer value — and using technology as a means to achieve that. It’s a much broader effort than enterprise automation, integrating technology into all areas of business and promoting cultural change.

digital transformation

Mapping the benefits of the automated enterprise

According to McKinsey, 70% of organizations are at least piloting automation technologies in one or more business units or functions. About two-thirds paint a positive picture of automation’s impact on their company with benefits ranging from significant improvements in quality control improvements to reduced operating expenses. Let’s look into that.

Cost base improvement

More than anything, enterprise automation platforms are seen as a cost-reduction exercise. But unlike a traditional approach that tells us to calculate the ROI of automation based on the FTE numbers only, it isn’t about solely redistributing head count. Enterprise automation software is instrumental in removing contractors and contingent workers from the equation. 

Using automation, organizations can also save costs indirectly by improving the efficiencies of current technologies deployed.

Shorter cycle times and enhanced throughput

In industries like manufacturing, enterprise automation systems help companies speed up product cycle times in an automated production line, allowing manufacturers to eliminate waiting time and adjust to shifting customer demand. 

Among other key benefits of automated solutions is their ability to improve employee productivity and capacity. Automation allows employees to automate menial, low-value tasks and free up time for more valuable work. Over 90% of workers say using automation software has helped them be more productive at work.

Process and business scalability

Automation solutions can complete the same tasks on different endpoints within different environments. It means that once a process is automated, businesses can reproduce the solution to execute similar or the same tasks in other departments — with low cost and little human input. Along with process scalability, this also introduces an added value of business scalability.

Refined data quality 

As a quality improvement mechanism, well-designed enterprise process automation software eliminates inconsistencies and mistakes caused by the human variable. Automated workflows can identify and rectify data quality issues, ensuring data integrity across systems. 

Increased employee satisfaction and retention

Another reason to justify automation investment is its profound effect on employees. According to a report, automation has improved jobs for 90% of workers and productivity for 66% of them. Absolved from drudgery, employees can dedicate their time to executing strategic initiatives that propel the organization forward.

Straightforward way to insights

Not only does automation facilitate real-time data access, but it also allows for greater visibility into automated processes by providing an audit trail. In this case, you have a set of documents and files that prove the accuracy of your company’s records. Enhanced data transparency also ensures that your organization remains compliant with applicable regulations.

However, automation success won’t arrive overnight. To reap the benefits, you need to back up your automation initiatives with an enterprise automation roadmap and solid governance structures.

Need a helping hand with your enterprise automation?

Challenges of introducing automation into your organization

Companies that focus on enterprise automation risk facing challenges on their automation journey. Our experts have highlighted the core ones below.

Selecting the right processes to automate enterprise

Most organizations have a hard time understanding the opportunities for automation. Betting on the wrong business case (such as non-standardized tasks) prevents companies from seeing quick returns from automation efforts and, in turn, dampens the enthusiasm of executives.

Dealing with the technical aspects of deploying an enterprise automation system

The truth is that some companies aren’t ripe for becoming a fully automated enterprise. A perfect storm of legacy software, siloed data, integration challenges, and outdated business operations gum up the gears of automation. Before jumping on an automation project, make sure to bring together data locked away in disparate systems and funnel it into a single source of truth.

Managing the organizational change required to adopt new workflows

Organizational change management is a critical enabler of successful automation initiatives and a common missing link in automation strategies. Automation requires involvement from all levels of the workforce and failing to do so may prevent companies from getting employee buy-in.

Lack of a solid governance structure and enterprise automation roadmap

If your automation project lacks a supporting structure, it’ll likely run into difficulties down the road. Long implementation timelines, high costs of implementation, unclear value of automation systems, and narrow efficiency are common side effects of a half-hearted governance framework. 

Make sure your automation initiative is laid out in a strategic blueprint and centered around well-defined goals, KPIs, and value drivers. Putting a solid governance structure in place will help organizations lay hold of exponential ROI. 

How to win enterprise automation: a detailed roadmap

According to McKinsey, the automation success drivers include clear enterprise automation strategy and goals, well-picked processes for automation, effective change management, seamless technology integration, and scale-ready automation solutions. 

More importantly, enterprise automation solutions should align with the three core aspects of every organization: its leadership, its technological capabilities, and its human resources.


Most of the time, automation adoption starts with developing pilots to estimate the viability of solutions. But even in this case, organizations need to have a big picture in mind and use pilots as a launchpad for at-scale automation across the enterprise.

  • Identifying problem areas

Organize a working group to map out areas of opportunity for automation. Your working group should include representatives from each relevant department.

  • Finding the fit for automation

Instead of the big-bang automation, start small by choosing a particular area to automate. The activities most susceptible to automation are the ones in structured and predictable environments, including manual processes, data collection and analysis, standard inputs, rule-based operations, and processes with a high volume of transactions.

  • Prioritizing opportunities

Double down on the opportunities with the greatest potential for success and impact. To reveal the best opportunities, weigh the benefits of automation against the complexity of building the automated process.

automation adoption
  • Optimizing business procedures

Map and audit current processes, including formal and informal ones, to get rid of excessive workflows. Automating a process with 5 steps is easier and cheaper than automating a process with 25 steps.

  • Defining objectives

Set measurable objectives to track your automation progress (added scalability, improved availability, increased operator productivity, and others). Each long-term goal should have one or more specific measurements or indicators.

  • Establishing KPIs

The set of KPIs depends on the process qualified for automation and its key stakeholders (total incidents processed by automation, total cost saved, and others). In any case, your KPIs should be aligned with your business strategy, stakeholder expectations, and industry standards.

  • Securing senior management support

Quantify the potential benefits of automation and present them to executives to build support for the project.

  • Highlighting potential risks

Account for the emerging risks and evolution of existing risks within the organization. Automation may come with new data vulnerabilities, black box problems, culture risks, and regulatory hurdles. 


The development of technological abilities will determine the pace and extent of your automation efforts. Therefore, you should bank on the right technology resources that can scope, build, and maintain automation processes.

  • Selecting the combination of automation technologies 

Reach out to a tech partner to get advice on your enterprise project and identify the right type of automation for your unique business needs and scope. Then, select an optimal set of technologies and make sure they integrate well with the existing ecosystem. 

  • Integrating the automation solution with your existing ecosystem

Explore the need for API development to bring the systems together and provide access to the organization’s data repositories.

  • Taking care of data quality

Prepare your data for automation by categorizing and sorting it based on accessibility and importance. Make sure you have access to the required source systems and that your input is compliant with your overall data strategy. 

Change management

At this stage, you combine top-down directives with bottom-up support to achieve strategic alignment amongst key stakeholders.

  • Communicating automation goals to the staff

Giving your rank-and-file employees a seat at the table will help you both refine your vision and warm them up to new software. Make sure to be transparent and upfront about the goals of automation and the impact it’ll have on their core responsibilities. 

  • Educating employees

Develop a blueprint for training at-risk employees so they can shift to new roles and build the capabilities they need to transition to higher-value tasks.

  • Embracing Agile working practices

Bring Agile into play to lead change, ushering in the much-needed flexibility for your employees and letting them pivot quickly. By emphasizing meaningful participation, you can iteratively manage the people side of change.

Success drivers of enterprise automation

The missing ingredient for automation success? An experienced tech team

Innovative technologies that expand the possibilities of enterprise automation

Over 60% of organizations are leveraging a combination of cutting-edge tech to expedite their automation efforts. While some technologies deliver an unprecedented level of automation for complex tasks, others are confined in their scale, taking over only straightforward workflows.

Intelligent automation (ML, gen AI, NLP)

Level of automation: high

Whenever you have complex tasks that have intrinsic variability of solutions, intelligent automation is your best bet. By combining AI technologies with RPA, companies can create workflows that trigger immediate automations based on real-time changes. Depending on the nature of your workflows, you can employ machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, or generative AI to create a more intelligent automation environment.

Possible applications: customer service automation, supplier selection automation, vehicle route planning.


Level of automation: medium

Robotic process automation takes the form of software robots or physical robots — with scripts baked into them to emulate human response. Unlike intelligent automation, RPA technologies are incapable of complex decision-making and analysis. Instead, RPA comes into play whenever you need to automate repetitive tasks.

Possible applications: data extraction, form filling, report generation.

Optical character recognition (OCR)

Level of automation: medium

OCR systems automate the process of converting unstructured data into machine-readable, searchable text. ICR software, the successor of OCR systems, ups the ante by enabling the interpretation of various handwriting styles.

Possible applications: loan document management, patient record processing, invoice processing.

Data prep and analysis tools

Level of automation: low

Data preparation tools streamline the entire data preparation process — from data extraction to integration from disparate sources. This automation technology helps organizations gain a coordinated view of their data and transform raw data into a format more suitable for analysis and decision-making

Possible applications: self-service data analytics tools.


Level of automation: high

IoT automation relies on devices equipped with sensors to collect data and transmit it through an interconnected network. This connectivity allows devices to communicate with each other and make informed decisions without manual intervention.

Possible applications: self-driving vehicles, predictive maintenance, delivery requirement management in supply chains.

Augmented/Virtual reality

Level of automation: high

Immersive technologies offer limitless potential for automation in enterprise settings. They can enable interactive training programs, remote equipment monitoring, efficient warehouse management, and assembly line optimization. In most cases, mixed reality applications are used to precisely overlay a digital 3D twin onto a physical object.

Possible applications: digital twins, plant layout planning, design, prototyping.

Winning in automation requires a breadth of view and an at-scale effort

Unlike tactical fixes that are easy for competitors to imitate, enterprise level automation allows for durable forms of value and differentiation with near-limitless potential. To hit it big with automation processes, organizations need to prioritize a human-centered approach and a tech-enabled environment — empowered with strategic leadership. 

More importantly, successful automation initiatives start with a custom approach reflected in every aspect of automation: technology, workforce, and strategy.

Looking for a tailored enterprise automation solution that fits into your system?

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Chad West
Authored by Chad West,

*instinctools USA
Managing Director,
15+ years in IT consulting

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