How Is Task Automation Different From Process Orchestration?

Brett Li
Brett Li
February 11, 2023
July 8, 2021
min read
How Is Task Automation Different From Process Orchestration?

What’s the difference between task automation and other forms of automation? Turns out, the difference is big.

In Tonkean’s State of Operations 2021 report, 87% of respondents agreed that automation was becoming “more important” to their company’s operations.

But what kind of automation do companies and their operations teams need?

Most tend to assume that automation software is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, and that to achieve the efficiency gains and operational improvements they seek, any tool with automation capabilities will do.

The truth is, automation tools come in all shapes and sizes, and to use automation tools to achieve the kind of comprehensive optimization that operations teams truly want— to more strategically orchestrate your organization’s unique and complex ecosystem of people, processes, and systems, better bridge the business and IT, or better enable nontechnical users to be more technologically creative — you need to use each for specific purposes. As pieces of a larger puzzle.

Two of those pieces? Task automation and process orchestration.

They’re very different kinds of automation software. Yet many believe you only need the former.

Here’s the difference between the two—along with why, exactly, the difference matters, and why you need to be using both kinds of tools together.

Task automation 101

Task automation is precisely what it sounds like. It’s the act of automatically completing very specific, singular, and typically simple tasks.  

Many automation tools can be grouped into this general bucket; it’s the type of tasks they automate that differentiate them from each other. Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, for example, specializes in automating previously un-automatable tasks on legacy systems—tasks that traditionally have had to be conducted manually—and with unstructured data, such as data collected through chat or voice message, as well as spreadsheets and documents.

RPA was developed over a decade ago as a method of automating tasks and mimicking how human workers interact with desktop applications. Today the automation solutions are built using software scripts that are referred to as software bots, or simply “bots” for short.

RPA bots can be used to automate tasks on top of hard-to-integrate systems—i.e. systems without APIs—which are handled today by human inputs. RPA bot building has even advanced to include the ability to build bots using new screen recorders that anchor on underlying web objects.

That’s impressive and important stuff. But RPA bots are not designed to facilitate dynamic or complex business processes end-to-end—only specific, human-to-machine tasks. This limits what you can achieve with a task-automation tool like RPA on its own.

Process orchestration 101

Process orchestration platforms, meanwhile, sit a layer above automation solutions, such that they can orchestrate—meaning, execute, monitor, and manage—entire business processes across systems and teams. They keep a human-in-the-loop who can make sure that the right action is taken at the right time, whether that’s updating a system, following up with a person, or managing items throughout the lifecycle of the process.

Similarly, since process orchestration platforms come with native connectors and capabilities like OCR and NLP, they can be used to handle business processes standalone, but they can also be used in conjunction with other automation platforms to add more flexibility in defining and managing the process logic.

Historically, process orchestration platforms—like Tonkean—have been more IT-centric, but with advancements in no-code/low-code technology, more and more users are able to access and manage them, in effect democratizing who inside the enterprise is able to leverage automation technology to drive outcomes and increase efficiencies. In this sense, process orchestration platforms act like operating systems for business operations teams.

Process orchestration platforms are proving a boon for enterprises because they better empower with technical creativity business users who possess the most intimate knowledge of the problems they use technology to solve. That’s a smart way to manage and optimize business logic—without introducing yet another app or requiring users to change behavior—as it’s a powerful means of business enablement.

Companies are using process orchestration platforms to facilitate automation, yes, but they’re also using them to fundamentally change the way they do business—from increasing the efficiency of their processes to empowering their people to focus more completely on the high-value work they were hired to focus on.

But process orchestration can’t do these things on its own, either.

How to use these tools together

Process orchestration platforms are of most use when you have powerful tools to orchestrate. Part of their utility is the way in which they enable companies to extract the utmost utility out of things such as task automation tools.

An enterprise’s operations are inherently symbiotic and interconnected. Even just one business process is an accumulation of multiple tasks conducted over a longer period of time. To increase the efficiency of a process, you have to manage and remain conscious of many different individual tasks and stakeholders. This is why task-automation does little, on its own, to improve (let alone actually automate) entire processes; they leave employees on their own to complete all the “in-between” steps that compose the larger process.

That’s where process orchestration comes in.

In a way—and to abandon the puzzle metaphor, for a moment—you can think of process orchestration as a tool for the conductor of your company’s operational orchestra. While task-automation is a tool for certain individual performers playing the instruments.

You need both if you want to improve the whole of the operation. And you need to know the purposes for which each was designed.

Want to learn more about automation tools available today? Check out our Ultimate Automation Buyer’s Guide.

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