Bathgate. Alastair Bathgate… Unshaken and stirring the pot, but doing it his way
Anyone who’s known Blue Prism CEO and Co-Founder Alastair Bathgate over the years has seen a marked change in his executive presence, especially since the IPO two years ago. While he still insists on driving his Volvo SUV, while his buddies are prancing around in fancy Aston Martins and Bentleys, he is a more assured and confident individual than the chap I first met seven years ago, when we first alerted the world to RPA. Yes, he still has the same honest style and just tells you what he thinks, but there’s a certaswagger about him now – he sees the future of his firm and is hell-bent on taking it there. And yes, if only he could use his wine pricing app for RPA, all his problems would be solved =)
In short, it’s been a mildly frustrating couple of years for RPA’s early mover and market maker, Blue Prism… the firm was the first (and still only the first) pureplay RPA firm to go public, with every dollar spent being visible, all staff moves closely scrutinized, and a CEO who’s had to divide his time between board meetings and investor days instead of harassing the conference circuit as aggressively as his rivals.
Meanwhile, while some of his competitors have been in stealth mode, raising all sorts of private investment and offering licensing models that appear (on the surface) a lot cheaper, while selling the “This is easy, this is no/low code, we can train you in weeks and get you a nice certificate to share with your friends on LinkedIn”. This is what I personally detest about the software business… anyone can sell dreams, confuse executives too scared to ask critical questions like “how exactly does this work again?” especially when you have the lovely term “robotics” to excite greedy CFOs and CEOs eager to find new ways to increase margins.
‘Refusing to get carried away’ may have hurt Blue Prism in the short-term
Cutting to the chase, the Blue Prism team has stuck together for almost a couple of decades and has stayed true to its very British style of keeping the discussion realistic, refusing to get too carried away with the hype and the fantastical stories gripping many starry-eyed executives eager to slap RPA success on their CVs… not unlike the SAP and Oracle roll-outs of the 90s and Workday and Salesforce escapades of the last decade.
Now it’s all about stitching the wonderful skills of building scripts, macros, document processing and screen scrapes with the emerging excitement of Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Augmented Reality and Computer Vision. Yes, folks, you thought the hype-train of the past 30 years was bad, the one we’re venturing into is going to drive many of us completely nuts.
It’s been pretty hard for Alastair Bathgate not to get irritated by the challenge of his highly-visible firm taking pot-shots from other firms, playing on the excitement this market is generating, promising enterprise clients dreams that will likely turn into nightmares when they set their expectations to achieve outcomes their staff simply do not have the skills to achieve – with a hodge-podge of processes far too messed up to fix, simply by slapping new software components over the top.
However, Blue Prism’s low-hype, pragmatic approach could pay attractive dividends as the hype-phase dissipates and fresh investments are made in re-thinking the whole RPA/AI model
While his firm may not have been quite as successful as UiPath in forging lucrative partnerships with professional services firms and lacks some of the terrific messaging and vision of Automation Anywhere… while having to tackle a publicly-listed firm persona and widespread (unjustified) confusion over its pricing model, you have to credit Alastair, Dave Moss, Pat Geary and Martin Flood for sticking to their knitting and focusing on what they know best – keeping the conversational balanced and realistic and investing in the sales and technical talent they believe they need to keep developing their product.
It went unnoticed to many that Blue Prism recently landed a $130m investment round. What excites me about this investment is the firm will actually get the money over the next two years and we can see exactly where it is going… on its product-specific developers in Manchester and an exciting new group of research in London, where 25 crack AI thinkers will be working hard to take Blue Prism’s solution into the place it needs to go. The firm already has a diverse group of 250 salespeople… now it can focus on the development areas that hold the key to who will ultimately will this automation arms race.
Upping its RDA game and expanding its presence in Japan are immediate needs that it needs to deliver
In addition, the firm is working hard to fill the gaps in its current solutions… while it prides itself of the back office unattended automation, if has suffered at the hands of AA and UiPath when it comes to very RDA-centric (Robotic Desktop Automation) engagements (what we call “unattended watched RPA”).
Plans to release (in version 6.5) document processing capabilities to support end-to-end processing of document workflows which also acts as an OCR system to classify documents, extract key-value pairs and encode verification steps into the digitization process, could well propel the firms back to the front of the market as the reality of delivery exceed these dreams of great visions. In addition, Blue Prism plans to deliver full Japanese and simplified Chinese language capabilities with this new version release… essential add-ons as it plays catch-up to UiPath in this region.
The Bottom-Line: The real work starts now as RPA evolves to become a key component of the AI tool kit
The stark reality we’re currently facing is getting ahead of market confusion to forge genuine learning journeys for ourselves, our careers and our companies. At our AI-enabling Operations roundtable last week in New York, we all agreed that AI is Nascent, New, Hard … but it is, most certainly, Inevitable.
The most important clarity that most organizations have gained over the last several months is that AI is not some monolithic thing or a singular technology. Instead, we’ve come to understand AI as a toolkit, or “a bucket of stuff” that enterprises can use to make their operations more intelligent; building blocks that include various elements of foundational AI moving across a spectrum toward more packaged solutions.
The one common denominator among the executives was that they were all determinedly seeking to evolve their experiences from RPA to join the dots to the next steps of achieving enterprise-wide automation and AI capability… essentially integrating the tools and hatching a real plan to get it done. This is where the likes of Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Pega, Kofax, and AntWorks need to head next; building on the RPA digitization to create real solutions that go far beyond scripts and bots… solutions that can help re-invent the underlying institutional processes that have held back firms for years.