One of the goals of utilizing Information Technology tools and resources is to build a process. The process is a step-by-step plan that can take you from a pre-planned state to a predetermined result. You can execute this process multiple times and usually get similar results.
Having a plan makes getting results easier. You do not have to expend time and energy remembering what worked and didn’t work, trying to replicate the results. The process gives the owner peace of mind regarding execution and the inner knowledge that they know what to do, and it will probably work as written.
Once the technology professional has a PROVEN plan/process, the next stage is to determine the tools and resources that can help reduce the amount of human interaction required to execute the tasks. Once those tools are selected and configured for the appropriate steps, the process is then verified, and more tools are found until you have the process running without human interaction as much as possible.
Automation is the practice of taking a specific process (of steps/stages) and finding tools and resources to complete steps in that process without human interaction.
A process is fully automated when no major human interaction is required to complete it fully. This is the ultimate goal of many technologists — to create the process, then fully automate it.
In short, automation is the process of removing manual/human interaction from the completion of a process with expected starting points and end results.