Difference between digitization and automation

The term of digitization is omnipresent and for many has already become a meaningless term that has been discussed, implemented and demanded for years and decades. Not least because of the mention in so many different contexts, the term is watered down and not really tangible. In addition, the concept of automation has joined for several years now. Another trend that promises a lot, is much discussed and is often mentioned in connection with digitization. But what exactly is the difference between digitization and automation? And how are the two terms related? A brief explanation and demarcation of both terms should provide clarity.

Digitization = To digitally support processes and tasks

Automation = Let processes and tasks run independently and automatically

The trade association Bitkom, for example, has foundthat completely different things are understood in companies under the guise of digitalization: Both the digitization of paper files, the general support of operational business processes, electronic accounting and document recording as well as the automation of operational business processes were mentioned in the survey. The latter, in particular, counts, as the name suggests, more to automation than to digitization.

What does digitalization mean?

The term digitization has several meanings and cannot be defined clearly. Both the digital transformation of analogue documents and processes (quite classic: scanning a personnel file in order to make it digitally available or scanning a supplier invoice) as well as the entire megatrend, which means the change towards a more digital economy, can be understood here. We refer to the former in the following.

In a more general way, it can be said that processes that used to be analog, for example on paper, and are now computer-aided, digital, have been successfully digitized.

An example from our practice as a digitization agency: We digitized the previously paper-based survey of training participants for our customer and transferred it to an online form. The forms are no longer filled in by pen on paper, then typed and digitally processed, but are filled in directly online and used for further use. This saves the time-consuming step of digitally capturing the questionnaires.

What does automation mean?

The term automation refers to the transfer of process functions and entire process sequences from humans to technical systems. For this, it is usually not sufficient that the necessary documents are available digitally (but this is the basic requirement for automation). The processes and data must be read out and transferred by appropriate technologies and tools, such as Zapier or Integromat.

If a process was previously handled manually by the team (both analog and digital) and is now carried out independently by the PC without further human intervention, it has been successfully automated.

An example from our practice as an automation provider: For our customer, we were able to automate the output of weekly project reports. The employees, who work on the project, only book their corresponding times on the respective project in the project management tool via a comment. The prepared weekly report is then automatically generated and provides all people with an optimal overview of the progress and status of the project. The project managers no longer have to deal with the time-consuming creation.

Automation not without digitization

Finally, it should be noted that automation can only take place on the basis of digitization. It can be seen as the next step in the technological and digital transformation of our time. While digitization usually aims to support work digitally, automation can enable these works to be carried out independently.

Both, digitization and automation, can be accompanied by external experts. No matter where companies are at, professional help can lead to faster and, above all, more sustainable solutions. While the digitization of one’s own processes and work steps is usually irreversible and quickly establishes itself in companies, it can happen with automation that the solution does not catch on due to a lack of efficient implementation. In this way, projects are initiated, but never completed or not followed up after completion.

Clarification: Difference between digitization and automation

A targeted process automation is individually tailored to the company, has the long-term development of these in mind and can be expanded modularly by further process steps and tools. A screenshot of a process in Integromatshows what this can look like.

Integromat is an automation software that provides an interface where digital tools are connected to each other, thus automating processes. The data is passed from application to application and enables an automated data flow.

Difference between digitization and automation
Transfer invoices from e-mail to accounting


In this example, invoices received by e-mail are automatically transferred to the accounting software. As soon as an e-mail arrives in a defined mailbox, it is checked for attachments. If the invoice is available as a file attachment, such as PDF, it is transferred to OneDrive and uploaded from there to Accounting (upper path).

If the invoice is not available as an e-mail attachment, but only in text form, a PDF file is first generated from the e-mail. Then follow the same steps as before: The invoice is transferred to OneDrive and finally uploaded to Accounting, where it is available for booking (lower path).

This example illustrates the importance of defining a process accurately. Only then can both digitization and automation be implemented successfully and in the long term. A project should therefore always start with an analysis and process definition and only then address the implementation.

As an automation agency, it is essential for us to integrate the previous digitization and process definition into our service. The respective automation solution is as individual as any business process.

Feel free to contact us and find out in a free consultation where you stand and how we can work together to shape your path to digitization and automation. We are happy to provide support in the analysis and subsequent automation of business processes, explain possibilities and address your company’s processes individually.