Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is kind of a confusing term. It’s not about physical robots—instead, it refers to software bots that streamline repetitive and tedious processes in the workplace.
Something else to note: RPA is the fastest growing segment in enterprise software, according to Gartner.
As a result, the mega tech operators are looking at the market. SAP, for example, has acquired Contextor to bolster its efforts. And yes, expect much more dealmaking.
Yet Microsoft will perhaps be the most impactful. At the Ignite conference, the company announced Power Automate, which is an offshoot of its Power Platform (this includes business intelligence capabilities, low code and workflow management). There are more than 275 prebuilt connectors for apps and services. Of course, there are deep integrations with Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure.
“I see a strong relationship between the dramatic rise and growth of RPA, low-code, and this announcement,” said Jay Jamison, who is the Chief Product and Technology Officer at Quick Base. “These all target common and urgent problems that enterprise-level organizations face today, namely: growing demand to digitize business and drive innovation, a mounting developer shortage, and the enormous footprint of existing legacy systems as a mountainous barrier to innovation. There is a gap in the market here, and it’s natural that new solutions via Microsoft’s Power Platform are popping up. The opportunity here is enormous.”
As for the current RPA market, the main players include UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism. All have raised substantial amounts of capital and have significant market shares.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are actually more than 70 RPA software vendors! In other words, there will likely be consolidation in the coming years.
So what will be the impact of Microsoft? Well, here are some responses:
- Automation Anywhere: “Last week at Microsoft Ignite, we announced a deeper collaboration to provide more simplified access to Automation Anywhere Enterprise A2019 from Microsoft Azure. As the partnership expands between the two companies, customers will be able to leverage Automation Anywhere software bots to automate more complex business processes and provide greater capabilities with Microsoft products.”
- UiPath: “UiPath is focused on providing a comprehensive platform to customers who are in need of a flexible solution that can be tailor-fit and easily integrated with a wide range of solutions in the AI ecosystem. Our latest product release validates that strategy, as we’ve made it easier than ever for every employee—regardless of their technical proficiency—to reap the benefits of rapidly automating their work without the need for developer resources or coding.”
- Blue Prism’s Bruce Curling, who is the SVP of Alliances: “Blue Prism focuses on enterprise interoperability over robotic desktop automation. Because Blue Prism is the only end-to-end solution on Azure, we see Microsoft’s move into this market as a strategic partnership opportunity and a chance to tell a ‘Better Together’ story that benefits customers with a broad range of solutions to meet their hybrid and multi-cloud needs.”
While Power Automate is a good solution, Microsoft is still playing catch up. According to Bill Galusha, who is the leader for product strategy for RPA and content intelligence for ABBYY: “The features announced are really table stake-type features you would expect where business users automate tasks by recording human interactions with an application. Still, there’s a lot more sophisticated capabilities that RPA vendors have today that focus on making orchestrating hundreds of these robots in production enterprise-ready.”
Consider that RPA has been a fairly mechanical technology, like a typical CRM or ERP system. But this is starting to change as AI becomes more important. “We see RPA as a step in the journey towards intelligent automation,” said PR Krishnan, who is the Executive Vice President & Global Head of Enterprise Intelligent Automation & Artificial Intelligence at Tata Consultancy Services. “Intelligent automation is where enterprises truly benefit from connectivity, data, talent and capabilities across a business ecosystem that transcends functional, organizational and even industry boundaries.”
However, for the existing RPA players, there will certainly be a rethinking of strategy because of Microsoft. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has shown a keen ability to fight hard and win battles.
“Current dominant RPA players such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism will need to focus on enhancing the user experience with orchestrating tasks and managing automations,” said Thomas Phelps, who is the Vice President of Corporate Strategy and CIO at Laserfiche. “Microsoft’s sheer size and adoption by corporate IT will help it to establish a foothold in the RPA software categories and scale quickly.”
But one thing is clear with Microsoft’s move: it’s a big-time sign that RPA technology is strategic, not just a passing fad.
“Having Microsoft step up and participate in the RPA market is great validation of the need for this critical piece of technology in the enterprise,” said Ryan Duguid, who is the chief of evangelism and advanced technology at Nintex. “More importantly, by making it part of a broader automation story, it supports our view that RPA shouldn’t exist in isolation from existing investments in business process automation and low/no-code technology. The change of name reflects the view that automation is a broad category, made up of process discovery, documentation, forms, workflow, RPA, document automation, electronic signatures, and deep insights, all designed to leverage advances in AI and ML to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness.”