Tools

Open Source Workflow Automation with n8n

June 9, 2021

Workflow automation - a dazzling term that is finding its way more and more into the everyday life of many companies. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word? Of expensive software? Long implementation projects and highly qualified IT staff who do nothing but analyse and automate processes all day long?  

Exactly these three points are refuted by the open source workflow automation tool (what a mouthful) n8n. n8n wants to make workflow automation a reality for all companies - without much previous knowledge, IT skills or huge investments. The open source tool talks about "next-gen automation". Find out how it all works here.  

Why Workflow Automation?

Most of the time, automation is based on one thing: processes. These are indispensable and must be clearly defined so that automation can come true at all. Standardisation is another keyword here. This is precisely why automation has long been usable and important for many more companies - thanks to digitalisation. Because digital processes can also be standardised and thus run automatically. As a rule, automation tools are needed for this. In other words, software that makes automation possible and carries it out.

Workflow automation aims to simplify and manage complicated business processes. For example, when a form is filled out, a user action or a defined trigger takes place, automated workflows can move or transform data according to the rules set.  

Most of the time, automation is based on one thing: processes. These are indispensable and must be clearly defined so that automation can come true at all. Standardisation is another keyword here. This is precisely why automation has long been usable and important for many more companies - thanks to digitalisation. Because digital processes can also be standardised and thus run automatically. As a rule, automation tools are needed for this. In other words, software that makes automation possible and carries it out.

Most of these workflow automation tools offer a visual interface that allows you to create workflows without IT knowledge or programming. This is also the case with the open source workflow automation n8n.

n8n as the first open source workflow automation tool of its kind

n8n is one of the so-called iPaaS software, i.e. Integration Platform as a Service. This means that n8n provides a visual interface, i.e. platform, on which integrations can be created. For example, n8n (currently) supports over 200 cloud applications such as Hubspot, Asana, GSuite or Office356. All these apps can be linked to each other via the clearly arranged flowchart view and thus exchange relevant data all by themselves.  

This is how iPaaS tools implement the concept of workflow automation. The goal of such platforms: By automating small, administrative and time-consuming steps, the people behind the computer have more time for other, more fulfilling tasks.

The possible applications are wide-ranging: Marketing, HR, CRM, sales, administration or even accounting can be integrated, making iPaaS attractive for countless companies. And n8n does exactly that as the only workflow automation tool on an open source basis.  

n8n has three outstanding characteristics:  

  • Open Source Code

The source code of n8n is freely accessible via n8n.io. So you can host the tool wherever you want and of course develop it further. Of course, this may only be something for professionals. But it also has decisive advantages for companies: If n8n is self-hosted, high data protection and compliance requirements can be met. This is how you make optimal use of Open Source Workflow Automation. On top of that, n8n is even fair-code licensed.  

  • n8n.cloud

Of course, self-hosting is not for everyone. That's why n8n is also available in the cloud. Via n8n.cloud, you can use the tool out of the box and use it on n8n's servers. Currently 200 apps are supported, such as Calendly, Clickup, Discord or Google Drive.

  • Community Support

As with so much open source software, the community support for n8n is great. Not only is there help everywhere on the web in case of difficulties, but n8n itself regularly receives valuable feedback and suggestions. In this way, the code is constantly evolving. And with fresh funding behind it, n8n also has the means to develop the software further quickly.  

n8n in use: Implementing Open Source Workflow Automation yourself

n8n makes fast workflow automation really easy. One advantage is the flowchart view. This creates a clear process in which the relationships and dependencies are also immediately recognisable.

Workflow Automation Open Source Flow

Currently, n8n supports more than 200 apps, with a strong upward trend. Here, too, n8n benefits from the aforementioned community support and open source code: enthusiastic community members not only provide feedback and suggestions, but also develop apps themselves. In this way, the range of apps continues to grow rapidly.  

Moreover, the visual builder is easy to use and requires no prior technical knowledge. When you select an app, you are directly guided on how to connect it.  

We find that the view of the open source workflow automation tool immediately gives a good overview of the structure of the process and enables us to flexibly exchange individual modules or steps in the second step. This modularity makes development much easier than a linear structure.  

If you are looking for inspiration, n8n offers numerous templates for workflows on its own website. These can simply be copied and pasted into the n8n editor via CTRL + V. It could hardly be easier. All that remains is to configure your own accounts and your workflow is ready.

Why rely on open source workflow automation?

The workflow automation market is still young but already today the competitive pressure is high. In doing so, n8n connects important dots that can become a huge advantage for companies in the years to come:

The open source code gives you security. Not only because you can host it wherever you want, but also because the community support is usually strong. If n8n goes bankrupt the day after tomorrow (which we don't expect), you can still use the service for years to come. Especially if a lot of your workflows are integrated, this is an important factor.

In addition, n8n gives you the choice between cloud and on-prem. It's exactly between these two worlds that many companies still find themselves today. n8n accommodates this dilemma and you don't have to choose. However, we expect the current trend to continue: More companies will migrate completely to the cloud.

n8n offers a great introduction to the world of open source workflow automation. It is important that the barriers are not too big, so that you and your team are really convinced of the facilitation that automation can offer. If team members are then even able to create small integrations themselves, acceptance can increase.  

We think n8n is doing a lot right. If you value open source, then you've come to the right place. We are happy to support you in uncovering potentials, illuminating possibilities and implementing automation.

Cloud Integration, iPaaS, SaaS, BPA... Ough, hard to keep track of all these terms. They are currently used frequently (and increasingly) in the context of automation, and it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction and distinction. We have already written blog posts on the terms iPaaS, SaaS and BPA, but we'll take them up again here to make the difference.

But let's start with cloud integration, because that's the central umbrella term in which we embed all the other technologies in this blog post.

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What does Cloud Integration mean?

What does Cloud Integration mean?

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  • Is available in real time
  • Can be accessed from almost anywhere
  • Reduce potential sources of error by entering the same data multiple times
  • Require less installation and maintenance
  • Can optimize business processes

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To illustrate these advantages, an example is suitable that we know well from our everyday work as an automation agency:

The central data to be used here is the data of a major customer. This can be the simplest information, such as the address. This address is required in numerous but completely different processes in the company: on the one hand, for correct invoicing in accounting. On the other hand, in the CRM system, where all the data of the large customer is also stored. But the address is also important in sales, for example, when employees go to the sales meeting on site.

Now the customer announces that the address of the company has changed after a move. This information will reach you by e-mail. There are now two options:

01. the e-mail is forwarded to all affected departments, accounting, sales, customer service, marketing... All persons open their corresponding program, CRM, accounting software, marketing tools (such as newsletter marketing) and change the data already stored there of the customer. This means that in multiple applications, different people do exactly the same thing: change one address.

02. But there is also an alternative: By connecting your applications, thus by integrizing them, the customer's e-mail, or rather the information it contains about the address change, is automatically passed on to all affected applications: CRM, accounting, marketing, ERP. This does not require any clicks, because the cloud integration detects a trigger, i.e. address change, and thus automatically starts the process.

What sounds unimpressive in a single process becomes more effective when such a process occurs several times a day or weekly. Because there is a lot of data that is available in different applications and should always be correct. If these applications are cloud applications they are suitable for cloud integration.

But cloud integration doesn't just happen. There are now a variety of applications that enable and implement this. Such tools usually allow us to link the relevant cloud applications on a central platform and define clear rules on when, how, where, how much data should be passed on and what happens to them.

IPaaS, SaaS, BPA, ABC - who can still see through it?

To realize cloud integration, there are various applications and technologies that are sometimes used interchangeably.

We have made a first distinction between iPaaS and BPA here.

We explain the term SaaS in more detail here.

Here the short version, again:

Cloud integration cannot be done without SaaS, iPaaS and BPA

Cloud integration is rather an umbrella term that includes numerous technologies, such as SaaS, iPaaS and BPA, and this is also absolutely necessary. Cloud integration is a concept that is made possible by appropriate technologies.

However, all terms share the commonality that they are cloud-based and thus offer enormous potential for growth and scaling. In addition, they are often cheaper to implement and maintain because changed requirements are easy to implement.

As an independent automation agency, we implement cloud integration according to your requirements. We use a variety of SaaS tools and iPaas (strictly speaking BPA) software. Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.

Arrange a free cloud integration consultation now

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We advise you independently and offer our expertise.
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Automation consulting. Automate. Improve. Succeed.

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