What are the three types of batch automation tools?
Batch automation tools come in three distinct flavors: service orchestration and automation platforms (SOAPs), workload automation (WLA), and schedulers. Each type of automation tool has pros and cons when used for automating batch processes.
SOAPs are premium, high-end, modern automation tools. They offer users a “single-pane-of-glass” approach to managing back-office automation by providing a single, consolidated view and centralized management of automation across multiple distributed servers and applications. They are also capable of spanning cloud, on-premises, and hybrid servers and data centers.
SOAPs have six core competencies[i]:
- Application workflow orchestration: This refers to the ability to create truly complex business flows that cross applications, operating systems, and anything in between to properly automate modern business processes.
- Event-driven automation: This type of automation is triggered by specific events or actions that occur within a business, rather than being limited to time- and dependency-based flows.
- Scheduling, monitoring, visibility, and alerting: These advanced features allow users to define when workflows run, easily monitor their status, and receive intelligent alerts of any potential processing issues.
- Self-service automation: Business users with no IT skills can be given the ability to manage their own workflows through a secure, easy-to-use interface.
- Resource provisioning: SOAPs typically offer end users the ability to dynamically build up and tear down infrastructure in response to workload and resource needs. Such flexibility is becoming critically important as environments increasingly move to the cloud.
- Managing data pipelines: This functionality refers to advanced file transfer management and deep integrations into databases, data warehouses, and data lakes. It empowers users to move data around the enterprise as needed to enable the further automation of business processes.
WLA tools can be viewed as a less feature-rich version of a SOAP. Like a SOAP, WLA tools frequently have the ability to define complex chains of business processes that incorporate conditional logic. They also have broad integration lists that can automate many applications from a single tool. Typically, they offer event-driven automation, allowing changes in the business to trigger automation events. WLA solutions also offer a feature-rich scheduling system that allows for time- or calendar-based run plans.
Monitoring, visibility, and alerting capabilities exist, but they're typically less robust than those offered by a SOAP. Where SOAPs might provide customized views for external business stakeholders or senior management, WLA tools typically provide this functionality only for automation operators. SOAPs can often predict if a job won’t complete on time or is behind schedule, while WLA tools do not. Self-service automation might be missing entirely or not be delivered in an easy-to-use model, preventing the tool from transitioning beyond IT to a business-wide automation and orchestration platform.
WLA tools tend to be weakest in resource provisioning and managing data pipelines. Functionality delivered here is often not deeply integrated. Dynamic workloads and infrastructure management capabilities are generally cumbersome. WLA can handle simple file transfers but not more complex and sophisticated scenarios.
Schedulers are the simplest tools available for batch automation. They typically interface with fewer servers, applications, and data sources than SOAPs or WLA tools and offer only time-based scheduling with limited workflow composition or dependencies. Schedulers are meant to be used with a single server, so automating more than one server requires employing multiple unintegrated copies of the software. Most operating systems have simple schedulers that come bundled with their core features and functionality.