What are workflows vs. processes (and how to make them intelligent)

What are workflows vs. processes (and how to make them intelligent)

Hanna Kleinings

Success Builder


Defining workflows and processes

What is a workflow?

A workflow is a sequence of repetitive activities that must be accomplished to complete a certain task.

What is a process?

A process is a sequence of repetitive activities that must be accomplished to meet a certain organizational goal.

Although the similarity is evident at first, it’s the endgame where there is a stark contrast.

A task can be something as simple as getting a signed approval on a document by the entire management team. Thus, a workflow is a micro-level tactical play.

An organizational goal has more specific and wider implications, such as onboarding a new client, upgrading your customer experience, etc. Thus, a process is a more macro-level strategic play.

This table delves deeper into the key differences between workflows and processes:

Key differences between workflows and processes
Key differences between workflows and processes

Let’s consider the challenge of employee onboarding. Since this is an integral part of your business growth, you can classify it as an organizational goal. When it comes to solving it, it’s also a task that requires multiple actions from your HR department to proceed.

Thus, it can be seen as both a process and a workflow.

In other cases, you’ll also be dealing with several workflows that may not really be considered organizational goals at all. For instance, a simple bureaucratic task of getting a document signed by your management team members is just a workflow, not a process.

Types of workflows: Definition and tools

Workflow management focuses on a specific sequence of tasks. It aims to map and coordinate them to achieve maximum efficiency. Setting up a workflow means describing the role of each individual involved or defining which activity in the flow should be performed automatically. Once you set up a workflow, it’s often followed like a map until you reprogram it for another purpose.

In other words, workflow management helps companies to visualize an overview of a process, incorporate automation, and reduce inefficiencies.

In this regard, workflow management tools allows building and mapping out specific processes end-to-end. In addition, they often includes software solutions which automate repetitive activities along the flow based on specific triggers and conditional logic.

Your workflow automation tool will depend on the type of flow you wish to automate.

Rule-based workflows

When the path to execute a series of repetitive tasks is clearly laid out from the start, you can establish workflows to process an unlimited number of items going through them. These are known as process workflows.

Example of a rule-based workflow (process workflow)
Example of a rule-based workflow (process workflow)

Cognitive workflows

When the path to execute a series of tasks isn’t clear from the start and reveals itself after eventually gathering and structuring data, we depend on case workflows to tackle the situation. They can process unlimited items going through them as well, but they rely on discernment to determine the right path.

This usually occurs when unstructured data are involved in the flow. Indeed, cognitive capabilities are needed to provide this data type with a proper structure.

Example of a cognitive workflow aka case workflow
Example of a cognitive workflow (case workflow)

Which solution for which workflow: rule-based automation vs. cognitive workflows automation

Process workflows can be accomplished through rule-based automation tools. A rule-based automation tool is essentially a logical program that automates repetitive tasks based on pre-defined rules set by humans. These solutions follow a simple 'if-then' execution outline, triggered by an event to initiate a precise action as programmed by the human user initially.

On the other hand, case workflows require cognitive capabilities to achieve automation. Here is where cognitive workflows automation solutions come in.

These tools are powered by machine learning/AI algorithms to learn and adapt to take action without being fully bound by human-assigned rules:

Process workflows vs. case workflows
Process workflows vs. case workflows

It's clear that workflows and processes - once you have clear understanding what camp your tasks fall into - should be treated differently from an automation standpoint.

Understanding what type of automation you are dealing with and which tool you should use is key to achieving successful automation.

The next step is to consider whether a custom solution or an out-of-the-box tool is right for you.

Custom solutions vs. out-of-the-box AI tools

Self-service cognitive automation providers can represent the solution for the majority of your problems. They provide user-friendly AI and workflow builder tools that are easily navigable by anyone.

Even small businesses with zero code expertise can leverage new user-friendly machine learning (ML) modeling solutions to leverage their unstructured data. Using simple workflows and visually engaging drag-and-drop data modeling, customizing your own ML models can be accomplished within a few clicks. This simplicity allows for immediate implementation.

In addition, they can handle automation of interacted multi-step processes.

As a result, these solutions are easily accessible and applicable to a wide range of use cases. From the most simple automation to multi-stage personalized processes with unstructured data, including extracting and categorizing information from documents, processing email attachments, analyzing images; and understanding text and routing based on its content.

However, if you need a solution highly tailored to your specific industry, AI verticals solutions can provide access to powerful workflow automation solutions.

Specialized, customized or generic solutions for business problems
Which solution fits with which AI automation business need?

Even small businesses and non-technical people with zero coding expertise can smoothly navigate the user-friendly ML modeling interfaces to leverage their unstructured data. Using simple workflows and visually engaging drag-and-drop data modeling, customizing your own ML models can be accomplished in just a few clicks.


As you have seen, understanding the difference between processes and workflows is key to determining which tool to use for which purpose.

If you need to map and harmonize processes across your whole organization with the aim to maximize operational efficiency, process management software is the right solution.

Workflows are the tactical tracks to follow for executing processes. Given this executional nature, workflows are the place where process automation happens.

Workflow automation tools, then, satisfy your need for mapping and automatically executing a specific sequence of repetitive activities. Whether to use cognitive or rule-based workflow automation tools will depend on the possibility to lay out a single pre-defined path for your process.

Now that you're here

Levity is a tool that allows you to train AI models on images, documents, and text data. You can rebuild manual workflows and connect everything to your existing systems without writing a single line of code.

If you liked this blog post, you'll probably love Levity.

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