A momentous event occurred in the world of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) today, when its pioneering vendor, Blue Prism, became the first pureplay RPA vendor to announce officially its intention to IPO.
Naturally, this sparked some feverish debate among the RPA cognerati over whether we may see one of the established services firms make a play to own their very own RPA platform, as opposed the the currently practice of every service provider partnering with every RPA product on the market.
My personal viewpoint is that IBM should take a serious look at Blue Prism, especially now RPA is officially a market-worthy capital asset. IBM is a huge software company and could seriously benefit from having an RPA offering it can build out as an enterprise platform, provided it makes sufficient investment and has leadership attention to develop the solution.
So let's look at the pros and cons:
Why IBM should probably buy Blue Prism
Watson alone is not going to do it for IBM in the Intelligent Automation space. IBM needs an RPA offering as the first building block along the Intelligent Automation Continuum (see below). Pushing RPA onto more clients will also open up the Watson conversation as a logical next step for many clients.
A Blue Prism + Watson platform could create a whole new ecosystem of possibilities. Adding Watson's cognitive capabilities to Blue Prism would create a real differentiator in the Intelligent Automation domain - you would end up with a whole new ecosystem of services and capabilities for enterprises across automation, predictive analytics and cognitive computing.
IBM needs to focus on becoming the leader in industry-centric Automation/Cognitive services. This is where IBM can really make its future mark in 2020-and-beyond enterprise services. There are limitless possibilities with the potential of artificial intelligence in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and retail. Simply providing a cognitive engine is not enough - IBM needs to build leading-edge business practices around it. It is doing some very cool stuff in healthcare and medical research, for example, but I believe it can do so much more to help enterprises streamline their processes and act on realtime data, with a defined Intelligent Automation roadmap.
A genuine RPA underbelly for enterprises. IBM can position Blue Prism as a true enterprise RPA platform, as opposed to a mere robotics tool for specific processes. It's one thing tightening up a few loose parts, another entirely, when you overhaul the engine...
Brand credibility and IBM's hooks into leadership discussions. IBM has real credibility to dominate the RPA conversation with enterprise leaders - having its own platform adds some serious fuel to the fire. Automation and cognitive are high on the leadership agenda, where IBM has the potential to make it a market of one.
More than BPO. In addition to fuelling its BPO capabilities, IBM could leverage Blue Prism as part of its management toolset and BPM portfolio
Modest initial investment. For IBM, the likely cost of acquiring Blue Prism would be modest compared to its regular mega acquisition habits
Why IBM probably should probably not buy Blue Prism
Alternative offerings could be considered. Some clients prefer (or claim to prefer) using Automation Anywhere and UiPath, among others. However, there is no reason why and IBM-owned Blue Prism could not operate in a multi-solution automation environment.
Citrix issues. Some Blue Prism partners claim they struggle with Blue Prism in Citrix environments.
Longevity of RPA as a "solution". In two years’ time, nobody will talk about RPA anymore - it'll be native in any enterprise process solution worth its salt.
Does IBM really need it? IBM's current BPO business portfolio is active enough to drive significant bot deployments on its own.
Size of IBM's box of tricks. Will the emerging roadmap for industrializing RPA become lost inside of IBM's bulging software portfolio?
Reduces attention on RPA as a solution in its own right. Will embedding Blue Prism in IBM lead to a reduction of attention on RPA as a solution in its own right, just at the moment when RPA is becoming a coordinated strategy for many enterprises?
The Bottom-line: No clear Intelligent Automation services leader has yet emerged. Acquiring one of the leading RPA platforms could be the catalyst
IBM needs to do something - buying up Weather Channels and Workday implementers is all great for today's markets, but with its huge bets on Watson and cognitive computing, the addition of an enterprise RPA platform underbelly could be a killer move. Service providers such as Accenture, Cognizant, HP and TCS are already very active pushing RPA deployments, and, while IBM is also deep in the mix, it is already playing catch-up to some of the service providers. And maybe Blue Prism is not the right move to make - there are other potentials to look at (which it surely is doing), but the pros are far outweighing the cons in today's climate, where aggressive moves are critical.