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What is the difference between process orchestration and process automation

Julien Broucke
October 30, 2023
min read
What is the difference between process orchestration and process automation

Why orchestration and automation are key to performance?

Orchestration and automation are key to supply chain management performance because they help streamline and optimize processes, resulting in increased efficiency and productivity.

One of the biggest expenditure in Supply Chains - that is the most difficult to control - is the human capital: getting talents in the organization, keeping them and make sure they are efficient.

  • Orchestration is all about making sure people are efficient. Orchestration allows teams to coordinate and manage multiple steps and entities within a process.
  • Automation is all about handling repetitive tasks, freeing up time for team members to focus on more high-value tasks.

Orchestration and automation are complementary, with orchestration sitting on top.

By utilizing these tools, supply chain management teams can better manage and control their operations, leading to improved performance. Additionally, automation can help reduce the risk of human error and increase accuracy and consistency in processes.

Overall, orchestration and automation play a crucial role in driving better performance in supply chain management especially in transport hubs, manufacturing, distribution and logistics.

What is process orchestration?

Let's imagine an airport hub with 50,000 pieces of luggage in transit everyday. The process to move one individual piece of luggage throughout the airport is an easy task, there is a limited number of options. But, it is not as easy when 50,000 pieces of luggage are in transit every day with a fixed number of people, aircrafts arrival and departure not respecting the schedule and a number of physical assets. Orchestration is about dispatching the right activities to the right folk at the right time, with necessary information they need to do their work, stay in sync with their colleagues in other areas, with the necessary trucks, belts... on the ground to deliver baggages on time in full to improve customer experience. The same applies in a MtO (Make to Order) manufacturing environment, or a direct to consumer (DTC) fulfilment and many more.

Operations and supply chain management can greatly benefit from the use of process orchestration software. These platforms help teams execute, monitor, and manage business processes across teams and systems. Essentially, process orchestration software allows you to more strategically utilize the enterprise systems (ERP, WMS, APS...) and existing data sources.

Process orchestration platforms sit a layer above your existing landscape. Orchestration sits on top of the automation tools, it coordinate them in a logical way using business rules, triggers. In Supply Chain, these can be out of stock, new orders, new customers, unexpected forecast spikes, and so on. Powerful automation tools designed to automate specific sets of tasks, such as RPA, used to automate repetitive, manual tasks risk optimizing silos with not benefit to the wider organization if left alone without orchestration.

Orchestration happens in any organization. 95% of the time it is done by middle management. This is why supply chain and ops folks say there are busy all the time. 

By enabling the orchestration and optimization of workflows that involve multiple steps deployed across different entities, process orchestration platforms extend the capabilities of existing tools, connect previously siloed technological environments, and allow users to focus on high-value tasks that today can only be done with supply chain executives, managers and experts.

Imagine that your company is like an orchestra. An orchestra is made up of different instruments, like violins, cellos, and flutes, that all work together to create music. The conductor of the orchestra is like the person who tells each instrument when to play and how to play. They don't actually play any of the instruments themselves, but they make sure that all of the instruments are working together to create a beautiful song.

Process orchestration is like the conductor of the orchestra. It's a tool that helps make sure that all of the different parts of your company are working together and doing the right things at the right times. It's like having someone who can see the big picture and make sure everything is running smoothly.

Automation is like having a robot play an instrument instead of a human. It's a tool that can help do certain tasks automatically, without needing a person to do them. Process orchestration is different because it helps coordinate and oversee more complex tasks that involve many different parts working together.

Often pure automation will be mimicking human activities, like with RPA or OCR and you need significant volume to really see the benefits on the bottom line.

Orchestration can be seen as the automation of the manual coordination in between silos, stitching of data to gather insights.

Process Orchestration allows company to keep the connection between their documented strategy and its operating model (read sum of all business processes and their SLAs) and the reality of the execution on the ground as people are augmented by the orchestration tool instead of things happening for key supply chain talent that make sure things happen consistently according to the agreed ways of working.

Process Orchestration can be used in autonomy in environment where sync of people across teams, functions and geographies is key. It is more powerful usually when connected to existing enterprise systems like ERP or WMS and APS. And even more when augmented with OCR, RPA, and Process Mining technologies.

With a process orchestration tool a company can link what should be happening with execution and monitor where things deviate form plan. Seems easy but this is typically impossible as things get lost in between silos, spreadsheets, and emails. To achieve this the tool will require a supply chain organization digital twin.

Overall, process orchestration software enables users to make more strategic decisions and execute more efficiently with their entire operational infrastructure. A process orchestration does not replace people nor RPA tech. It enables them, connect them and add glue and pace to the whole.

Orchestration tools requires automation. Automation does not require Orchestration per se.

Which industries and verticals are most prone to benefits from process orchestration?

Every organizations dealing with short lead times, loads of people involved with expensive physical assets and infrastructure. Even more for fast growing businesses.

  • Transportation Hubs (airports, ports)
  • Manufacturers
  • Distributors
  • Logistics and Fulfilment providers
  • Hospitals
  • Event management (concert, exhibition, sport events)
  • Cleaning and property management

Metronome your processes. Why?

Musicians know they need a metronome to play together.

As soon as everyone is perfectly in the beat, the metronome remains central yet imperceptible.

No one alone set the tone, it just feels right to everyone.

We believe technology should be just that for operations: supportive but invisible.

If you'd like to expand onto these use cases or new ones, be in touch.

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Julien Broucke
Co-founder & CEO, Process Metronome

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