Difference between workflow automation and iPaaS - is there one at all?

February 2021

In the world of automation, there are numerous terms and technologies that are somehow always used but rarely really defined or differentiated. Two of these terms are Workflow Automation and iPaaS. Both are used especially in the context of cloud automation (again such a term), sometimes even synonymous. Nevertheless, the two terms mean two different things that we want to try to distinguish from each other. However, we note that there is quite a large intersection and it is not always possible to clearly divide both terms. After all, iPaaS cannot be automated without workflow. Why? We'll explain it.

Workflow Automation - What is it?

A workflow is simply a work process. If it meets certain requirements, it can be automated, meaning it can be carried out completely independently. What are these requirements?

In order for a workflow to be automated, it must...

Run Digitally: When the process passes from digital applications to paper at one point, it is first necessary to digitize this analog step.

Run Standardized: If the workflow is completely different each time (and by "completely different" we do not mean other data or employees who carry out the process, but other process steps or applications), it must first be clearly defined and thus standardized.

Be Recurrent: We love automation, yes. But automating a workflow that occurs only once is probably a waste of time. However, our experience shows us that almost all workflows within a company are recurrent, even if only once a year.

Workflow Automation - Two Examples

If these prerequisites are met, the workflow can be automated. But what exactly does workflow automation mean? If the data of a process is simply pushed from A to B, i.e. "process automation", there we talk about workflow automation. A simplified example: Employee B submits a holiday application, which is approved by employee A and manager C. The holiday application is therefore simply postponed.

Workflow Automation therefore means that this process is automated in itself. Another example is Microsoft's Power Apps, which are designed to help you develop and share apps quickly and with little code. Basically, it is also possible to add external tools to such power apps, but it is not so easy and requires a lot of time and technical knowledge. Rather, the Power Apps are designed to work together and create automated processes.

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iPaaS - What is it?

Integration Platform as a Service is a term or rather a technology of cloud automation. As the name suggests, this means a platform that makes it possible to develop, execute and monitor integrations (thus automated processes). It integrates a variety of processes, apps, data, and services, both inside and outside an organization. There is software that offers exactly that - iPaaS. Two providers are Zapier and Make. Both tools create an interface on which data and applications can be "connected" and thus enable us not only to map entire processes, but also to model them. But iPaaS can do much more: migrate data, create complex integrations, and automate a complex sequence of workflows.

An example of iPaaS

A good example of what iPaaS creates compared to workflow automation is the "Iterator" module in Make. This module is built into a process. This looks something like this:

Workflow Automation and iPaas Difference

An iterator allows us to break down bundled incoming data into several individual parts. An example to illustrate: You will receive an email with three attachments. However, all three attachments must be stored in different folders. With the Iterator module, we can "read" the e-mail, recognize that there are three different attachments and split them up. This allows each individual file attachment to be stored in the designated folder.

So, what is the difference between workflow automation and iPaaS?

The so-called multi-connectivity of iPaaS is significantly higher than in workflow automation. IPaaS is embedded in a vast landscape of data, applications, processes and services, allowing us to map much more complex scenarios.

In short, iPaaS allows us to easily connect complex tools and processes. On such a platform, it is possible to build integrations with other tools and also to build workflow automations WITHIN them as well. That means, workflow automation and iPaaS go hand in hand, iPaaS can't do automation without workflow, but iPaaS can do much more.

Okay, that was quite a lot of technical terms. We strive to make the whole issue of automation more comprehensible and thus more tangible. But even when it comes to defining technical terms, we sometimes don't get around to using other technical terms. If you still have more question marks on your forehead, please let us know. We are happy to provide support in the analysis and subsequent automation of business processes, explain possibilities and address your company's processes individually.

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Cloud Integration, iPaaS, SaaS, BPA… Ough, hard to keep track of all these terms. They are currently used frequently (and increasingly) in the context of automation, and it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction and distinction. We have already written blog posts on the terms iPaaS, SaaS and BPA, but we’ll take them up again here to make the difference.

But let’s start with cloud integration, because that’s the central umbrella term in which we embed all the other technologies in this blog post.

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What does Cloud Integration mean?

What does Cloud Integration mean?


  • Is available in real time
  • Can be accessed from almost anywhere
  • Reduce potential sources of error by entering the same data multiple times
  • Require less installation and maintenance
  • Can optimize business processes

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To illustrate these advantages, an example is suitable that we know well from our everyday work as an automation agency:

The central data to be used here is the data of a major customer. This can be the simplest information, such as the address. This address is required in numerous but completely different processes in the company: on the one hand, for correct invoicing in accounting. On the other hand, in the CRM system, where all the data of the large customer is also stored. But the address is also important in sales, for example, when employees go to the sales meeting on site.

Now the customer announces that the address of the company has changed after a move. This information will reach you by e-mail. There are now two options:

01. The e-mail is forwarded to all affected departments, accounting, sales, customer service, marketing… All persons open their corresponding program, CRM, accounting software, marketing tools (such as newsletter marketing) and change the data already stored there of the customer. This means that in multiple applications, different people do exactly the same thing: change one address.

02. But there is also an alternative: By connecting your applications, thus by integrizing them, the customer’s e-mail, or rather the information it contains about the address change, is automatically passed on to all affected applications: CRM, accounting, marketing, ERP. This does not require any clicks, because the cloud integration detects a trigger, i.e. address change, and thus automatically starts the process.

What sounds unimpressive in a single process becomes more effective when such a process occurs several times a day or weekly. Because there is a lot of data that is available in different applications and should always be correct. If these applications are cloud applications they are suitable for cloud integration.

But cloud integration doesn’t just happen. There are now a variety of applications that enable and implement this. Such tools usually allow us to link the relevant cloud applications on a central platform and define clear rules on when, how, where, how much data should be passed on and what happens to them.

IPaaS, SaaS, BPA, ABC – who can still see through it?

To realize cloud integration, there are various applications and technologies that are sometimes used interchangeably.

We have made a first distinction between iPaaS and BPA here.

We explain the term SaaS in more detail here.

Here the short version, again:
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Cloud integration cannot be done without SaaS, iPaaS and BPA

Cloud integration is rather an umbrella term that includes numerous technologies, such as SaaS, iPaaS and BPA, and this is also absolutely necessary. Cloud integration is a concept that is made possible by appropriate technologies.

However, all terms share the commonality that they are cloud-based and thus offer enormous potential for growth and scaling. In addition, they are often cheaper to implement and maintain because changed requirements are easy to implement.

As an independent automation agency, we implement cloud integration according to your requirements. We use a variety of SaaS tools and iPaas (strictly speaking BPA) software. Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.

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Automation consulting. Automate. Improve. Succeed.

We advise you independently and offer our expertise.
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Automation consulting. Automate. Improve. Succeed.

We advise you independently and offer our expertise.