How to Harness the Power of a Process Engine for Automation

Automation is a powerful tool for wrangling complexity. Find out how a process engine can help you use it effectively.
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As organizations grow increasingly digital, more distributed, and operate on a larger scale, it’s impossible to avoid also becoming more cumbersome and complex.

Obviously, this isn’t good because, ”as complexity increases,” a report by HBR remarked, ”a system’s understandability decreases.” The results are a business run by processes that are unmanageable, unpredictable, or both.

Automation is an effective tool for wrangling complexity. Removing the need for human input in all or parts of a process can help make operations more streamlined, efficient, and less error-prone.

Ironically, once you’ve begun automating multiple systems, complexity rears its head again. The solution is to bring in a system to orchestrate those automated processes no matter the systems or tools in use—and that’s where a process engine comes in.

A process engine has the dual benefits of helping orchestrate automation across the enterprise and helping you do it in a more scalable and efficient way. In this post, we’re going to dig into why.

What is a process engine, and why does it matter?

A process engine, sometimes referred to as a workflow engine, is the beating heart of any business process management system. In short, a process engine is a tool that serves to design, execute, monitor, and optimize business processes, even and including those that are 100% automated.

Process engines help make sense of intricate operations within a business. They ensure that tasks are executed in the correct order and at the correct time in conjunction with other workflows that might be happening simultaneously. They help deconstruct an opaque black box of sprawling, monolithic business processes into understandable (and monitorable) chunks.

Process engines and automation aren’t just for multinational global enterprises however—any organization with processes that span across various departments can benefit from automating all or part of the process.

For instance, let’s use a customer signing up for a SaaS (software as a service) product as an example. From the time that a person first learns of the product through becoming a customer, they may have interacted with five or more different departments. Marketing may have been tracking the person’s information as they were learning more about the product, Sales would have gotten involved when the customer wanted to sign up for a paid plan, and Customer Support would have been responsible for managing the relationship.

Automation can help greatly with streamlining handoffs between any of these points. At the same time, the process extends far beyond these three teams. The legal department, accounting, and IT team might be involved in various capacities as well. The more complicated a process like this becomes, the more a process engine can help facilitate that customer experience by seamlessly passing information and completing tasks from end-to-end.

How to harness the power of a process engine for automation

Every company is going to be in a different place in their automation journey.

Few may be starting with a complete greenfield and more will have automated some but not all processes that could use it. The last, smallest group of all will have many processes automated. Here’s how each of those groups should be leveraging a process engine.

Zero or few processes automated

If you’ve got more space to work with, the most important thing is that you incorporate a process engine by automating a clearly delineated, non-business-critical process. This should be a process that can be easily cordoned off from the rest of the business (and compensated for) should the test not function properly.

Unfortunately, many leap too quickly from a murky, possible problem to “this is the tool we’ll use” far too quickly. It’s only after really understanding the process from the get-go that you can move on to understanding which process engine can interface with the aspect of the business you’re looking to automate.

One example might be automated lead routing for sales teams. The team is looking for inbound leads to be assigned to the right person, in the proper territory, with the correct account distribution. This would be a perfect process that can be automated.

Should things go awry, a person monitoring can still adjust and fix without losing any opportunities. Then, and only then, should teams start exploring possible tools to use, be sure to consider one that offers high performance, even at scale, and offers the flexibility your internal teams need.

Many processes automated but looking to scale

If your organization has a more advanced automation program, the struggles and challenges take on a different hue. Instead of trying to figure out which processes to automate, you’re instead looking at how these processes interact with each other or ensure data integrity.

The first step in this case is to have a complete understanding of the way these automated processes fit into the overall structure of your business workflows. Begin by mapping the various processes that include automation from end-to-end.

Using a standard, visual language like Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) can make this step less time-consuming as it will allow stakeholders from across the organization to contribute their portion. Then, using the diagram(s) created, begin to identify how those automated processes fit into the larger enterprise.

It’s vital you map these processes before adding a process engine into the mix. You can’t have the process engine operating as a centralized hub if you don’t know what parts to add into it. Likewise, by ensuring you have the complete process outlined, a solid process engine can provide analytics and show you where the bottlenecks and inefficiencies are. As you incorporate using a process engine to orchestrate existing automations as well as adding new ones, you’ll ensure you’re scaling faster and in a more deliberate manner.

What to look for in a process engine

The selection of the tool your team is using to properly automate the business process you’ve identified is equally as important. As you’re looking to select your tool, here are a few things to keep in mind.


Durability refers to a process engine’s ability to complete processes over a long period of time.

Business processes may cross multiple workflows and require input from various stakeholders over their duration.

You’ll want a process engine that can effectively handle state persistence, message correlation, timeout handling, and status transparency without losing information as it executes.


Having a resilient process engine means that should an error be thrown at any point during a process, the workflow engine is able to either A) retry the same step over again or B) follow a designated backup plan.

Without this quality, it would mean that if one part of a process fails the entire workflow breaks even if the error is only due to a small part of the process.


When searching for an automation engine, it’s essential to prioritize scalability.

Any automation engine you’re considering adopting should be scalable and able to accommodate growth. This is a crucial function for businesses that want to stay competitive and responsive to changing demands.

A scalable workflow engine can adapt to the needs of a growing business, whether it’s deploying a process across multiple departments or managing a high volume of transactions.


Reusability refers to a process engine’s ability to use and repurpose existing processes or process fragments, rather than starting from scratch every time.

This can significantly reduce development time and increase efficiency since the same processes can be used across different areas of the business. For instance, a customer onboarding process may be utilized across multiple departments such as sales and customer service.

With reusability, businesses can save time and resources by leveraging existing processes and building upon them. This also ensures consistency and standardization, improving the overall quality of the processes.

Ready to automate and optimize your processes?

If you’re looking for a process engine that fits all of the important criteria, consider building or migrating your automation efforts to Camunda. Every day, Zeebe, the process engine behind Camunda, is helping huge enterprises and scrappy start-ups alike with a cloud-native design that delivers superior performance, resilience, and security.

With its distributed architecture designed for high throughput, Zeebe offers horizontal scalability that can accommodate the ever-changing demands of businesses. Furthermore, the sophisticated mechanism for asynchronous communication with microservices and language-agnostic approach makes it possible to build clients in any programming language.

By utilizing Camunda (and by extension, Zeebe) enterprises can future-proof their process orchestration efforts and stay ahead of the competition.

Find out more about Zeebe or give it a try with our 30-day, no-strings-attached free trial of Camunda.

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