What is Automation? A Glossary of Automation Definitions

Get to know the essential vocabulary around workflow automation, process automation, business automation, and hyperautomation.

Time to read: 6 minutes
John Kucera
SVP, Product Management, Salesforce

If you’ve ever ordered a meal for delivery on your phone, then you’ve experienced the time-saving flexibility of automation. And if you use Salesforce or other customer relationship management (CRM) software, you probably know how automation can save time and money for your business.

But first, what is automation?



Automation reduces the work that humans have to do on repetitive or monotonous tasks, which usually means a better experience for your customers and lower stress for your teams. It involves technology that takes a task people do and relegates it to software or hardware. Automation is a streamlined process that reduces or eliminates manual steps. There are two types of automation: unattended (actions without human intervention) and attended (actions executed by humans). Some automated tasks may combine the two.

Example: In service, a sudden and large influx of support cases on a single product or event could trigger an automatic notification to IT. The IT response team could diagnose the problem and complete a guided workflow that documents the resolution via a form. That form could then be sent automatically for approval before closing the case.

Even if you don’t plan to build automations yourself, you might run into some terms you’re not familiar with. We put together this short glossary to help you understand the automation terms you'll run across most often, and how you can use them in every part of your business.

Background Process (also called background flow, unattended, or autolaunched)

This refers to an action not triggered by human input and executed by a system or bot in the background automatically.

The four types of autolaunched triggers include:

  • Invokable action, meaning a process that launches when called by code or other processes
  • Schedule, which launches at a specified time and/or frequency
  • Change, which launches when a record is created, updated, or deleted
  • Event, which kicks off when an action takes place

Example: An example of an autolaunched trigger is scheduling a newsletter to send every Monday at 8:00 a.m.

Business Process Automation (BPA)

This is the overarching umbrella term for using technology to streamline business processes and functions. This includes technologies such as workflow automation, robotic process automation (RPA), low-code application platforms (LCAP), artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual assistants (like chatbots).

Example: Technology used to streamline a multistep, cross-organization process such as customer onboarding. For a typical organization, this often requires collaboration workflows across sales, finance, and service.

Read more about business process automation.

Business Process Management (BPM)

The process of routing work using automation, similar to orchestration. However, it often involves more developer resources and coding.

Example: After a hard copy of a change of address is received and scanned, a person must look at the image and determine what action to take next. This then gets added to a BPM system to route it to the next step in the process.

Decision Assist (also called decisioning)

This refers to tools that help people make decisions by providing insight, recommended actions, predictions, or logic to make a decision for them. AI decisioning uses algorithms learned from historical data or behavior. Rules-based decisioning is based on “if this, then that” instructions.

Example: AI decisioning might suggest offering a 20% discount on a car insurance policy for every customer who purchased a home insurance policy. It suggests this action because it knows that customers are more likely to purchase an additional policy if they own a house. An example of rules-based decisioning is if a customer buys the red belt at your online boutique, the online store would then show the customer the red shoes to match.

Digital Process Automation (DPA)

Automation that focuses on removing routine work involving written documents such as forms, records, or letters within a workflow.

Example: Replacing a hard copy of a W-2 form with an electronic version which can then kick off an automated action upon completion.


This is a somewhat recent and increasingly popular term in automation, and one that’s primarily used by industry analysts rather than businesses or organizations. It refers to the action of scaling business process automation initiatives by identifying, vetting, and automating as many processes as possible as quickly as possible.

Example: Robotic processing automation can be used to process loan applications and quickly trigger the loan approval process.

Read more about hyperautomation.


These are tools that connect business systems like applications, data, and devices, often through an application programming interface (API). Integration means reading, creating, updating, and/or initiating an action in a system, such as sending an email or refunding a payment. The means of performing an integrated task can change depending on the type of the integration – batch jobs, syncs, events, APIs, and more.

Example: Connecting your customer portal to your internal system of record or CRM to update information in both systems.

Learn more about connecting apps and data to your CRM with clicks, not code.

Intelligent Process Automation

Similar to DPA, intelligent process automation includes AI functionality using technology like optical character recognition (OCR) and named entity recognition (NER).

Example: Using a picture of a driver’s license and automatically extracting the data into an electronic form which can then kick off an automated action.

Marketing Automation

This refers to the technology that manages marketing processes and multistep campaigns across multiple channels. It is typically used for outbound customer marketing activities and takes customers through the buyer journey to build long-term engagement.

Example: Email marketing automation can automatically trigger an email to follow up on abandoned shopping carts or to personalize messaging for a customer’s birthday, to increase the likelihood of engagement.

Read more about marketing automation.


The act of coordinating and streamlining a business process with one or more workflows using automation.

Example: Coordinating an employee onboarding process by connecting the new hire paperwork workflow, IT provisioning workflow, and training workflow into one streamlined process.


A business process comprised of one or more workflows or fully automated processes.

Example: The employee onboarding process.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

An application or bot usually running on a virtual or on-premises machine that can perform repetitive tasks like entering text and updating fields with prerecorded actions. It often gets used alongside OCR technology.

Example: Extracting vendor contact information from a large volume of invoices quickly.

Learn more about RPA.

Sales Automation

The technology that removes or minimizes many of the manual, tedious tasks associated with the sales process.

Example: This could include creating automatic email alerts for deals over a certain size, auto-assigning tasks as a deal moves through its stages and automating approvals.

Learn more about sales automation.

Service Automation

The technology that helps streamline customer service and support to improve efficiency and the customer experience.

Example: Automatically routing cases to the right department and suggesting relevant knowledge articles to address the customer’s issue.

Read more about service automation.


A single step or group of steps within a process that needs to be accomplished.

Example: Any singular action taken, such as filling out a form.


Any action or event based on user or machine input that starts an automation task.

Example: Items left behind in an ecommerce shopping cart can trigger a reminder email after a preset number of hours of inactivity.


A people-centric process involving multiple tasks completed over a period. As a result, workflows often involve dependencies, delays, and the potential for human error.

Example: A new hire workflow may involve filling out new hire paperwork such as government documents, direct deposit forms, and benefit forms.

Workflow Automation

The process of optimizing or automating tedious, manual tasks within a larger workflow. Workflow automation helps reduce bottlenecks and the potential for human error — leaving people to do what they do best: analyze data to make decisions and build customer relationships.

Example: After manually updating a new employee’s address in one system, the address is automatically updated in every system of record related to it reducing the need for duplicate data entry.

Learn more about workflow automation and how it works with CRM.

Why invest in automation?

According to the “Trends in Workflow Automation” report, technical leaders who have implemented automation report strong ROI. Nearly 75% see time savings equivalent to at least four hours per a 40-hour week.

Our research also found that 95% of IT leaders are prioritizing process automation. Automation for IT workflows often includes automated incidence responses, purchase order tracking, or asset management.

John Kucera
SVP, Product Management, Salesforce
John Kucera leads the Automation Services product team, directly responsible for Einstein Chatbots, Flow, and Einstein Next Best Action. He is also responsible for driving the Einstein Automate vision across the Platform, Mulesoft, and Salesforce Industries, enabling end-to-end automation, integrated across any system.



3 Tips to Improve Marketing Workflows and Grow Relationships with Slack


What is workflow automation?


More Resources



Learn to build automations on the Salesforce Platform.


Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.