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IT automation is the linking of disparate systems and software in such a way that they become self-acting or self-regulating.
An example of IT automation in practice might be as simple as the integration of a form into a PDF that is automatically routed to the correct recipients, or as complex as automated provisioning of an offsite backup.
IT automation has some limitations. In the security and risk management arena, automated systems can make errors, stemming from a weakness in human-level pattern recognition and language comprehension. An automated system is not the same thing as an intelligent system; it does not learn from past experiences. For instance, an email spam filter is an example of an automated IT process. Occasionally, valid emails end up in the spam folder and unwanted spam email gets past the filter and into a user's inbox.
While the goal of IT automation is to eventually demonstrate a strong ROI, there can be a fairly substantial investment on the front when deploying IT automation software, systems or infrastructure.
See also: business process automation.