Elena Christopher
 
Senior Vice President, Research 
Learn more about Elena Christopher
If Microsoft is buying Softomotive it’s not only beneficial to each party, but also for the RPA market
May 04, 2020 | Miriam DeasyElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

There’s a very strong rumor that Microsoft is in talks to buy Softomotive, unconfirmed by either party which didn’t stop Bloomberg running the story, and we’re happy to wonder what it might mean. There’s lots that’s promising – for Microsoft, for Softomotive and for the RPA category as a whole.  And most likely great timing in a market where rapid digitization is the calling card.

The smaller proven RPA vendors are more attractive acquisitions to fill functionality gaps

At the beginning of this year we cogitated that no one would buy any of the big three RPA vendors when we made 2020 predictions – then within weeks when Appian bought Jidoka we noted that smaller RPA vendors are still certainly likely acquisition targets. We even suspected UiPath was positioning itself to be acquired by MS last year but was clearly far too hefty an investment for Microsoft’s appetite as it eyed ticking the RPA box in its catalog of automation and AI solutions.  However, an acquisition of Softomotive, which could fetch a low nine-figure number, clearly shows MS is serious about adding this much-needed capability to address the space.

In 2018 Softomotive secured funding of $25m (Series A) and we reckon it’s not easy to get funding these days. Although Blue Prism managed to raise $125m to strengthen and protect its balance sheet and Kryon recently finalized a $40m Series C. We expect there are more acquisitions to come. So, we’re not that surprised, and we are hoping there is truth to this tale.

Microsoft has shown up to the RPA party late and it can easily buy its way in

Microsoft has been talking RPA all through the second half of 2019, in multiple earnings calls and announcing the Power Automate launch at Ignite. It recently launched its Power Automate version of RPA to general availability. HFS initial reactions laid out Power Automate (RPA) and its overall fit in Microsoft’s Power Platform. It is mainly what was Flow (close to IFTTT) with some UI screen scraping for the legacy green screens and the ability to record the various keystrokes or clicks. We saw attended automation as per UiPath and Automation Anywhere, but couldn’t help but question the unattended capability as per Blue Prism at that point and called out the need for catching up to RPA vendors’ level of capability.

Softomotive would give Microsoft both attended and unattended capabilities, a significant customer base and real credibility as an intelligent automation solution

What Microsoft could gain here with Softomotive (if this goes ahead) is an RPA veteran with roots in desktop automation, with a solid engineering approach and a decent set of both attended (WinAutomation) and unattended (ProcessRobot) capabilities. It has more than 9,000 customers worldwide and is a longstanding Microsoft partner. For more on HFS’s view of Softomotive and other RPA players see HFS Top10 RPA Products 2020.  Softomotive demonstrates sound thought leadership with its “People 1st Approach” and it made an interesting move last year with the launch of Robin, an open-source RPA language. At HFS, we liked the vision and concept of Robin very much but struggled to see how people (especially competitors) would be motivated or incentivized to play along, and it really needs lots and lots of developers playing along to be successful. Softomotive is hitting the jackpot here though and might find a lot more people throughout Microsoft’s extensive installed base readily incentivized to ensure portability and interoperability of RPA using Robin if it becomes part of the Microsoft empire. If Robin proves popular with that critical mass, competitors have little option but to follow.

Microsoft is well on its way to becoming a one-stop-shop for all enterprise software needs

So, there’s the hardware of course, but the real value of this acquisition would be embedding or connecting robust RPA into Microsoft’s many well-established software product families, from MS Office, Teams, SharePoint and Dynamics 365 for ERP, CRM etc. This is all subject to Softomotive’s technology being absorbed at a technical level into the Microsoft product family – not just in slideware. Microsoft Power Platform is not reliant on only MS software, other software will be in use at its customers’ organizations, so its running with a vast array of connectors (300+ at last count) to hook up to the many large enterprise platforms in common use. Considering how many RPA use cases start with or rely on a trigger like an email (with attachment) or an excel spreadsheet it’s easy to see why Microsoft has a vested interest in picking up the baton itself with RPA extending its value proposition, rather than letting third party vendors come in to carry the data along its process journey. What Softomotive could provide to Microsoft is more much needed connective tissue, to help business users with the complexity of business processes laden with process debt.

The bottom line: Microsoft is just one of many big fish menacingly circling the RPA space

Not only does this move validate the RPA category, it also threatens those who pioneered the category. Other independent software vendors (ISVs) are making moves too. Pega has its Infinity platform low-code, BPM, RPA combination fueled by the Openspan acquisition, SAP’s Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (IRPA) offering is based on a combo of previous internal efforts and its Contextor acquisition. Appian acquired Jidoka. Compelling pricing propositions for RPA as an add-on are visible. And these approaches, including Microsoft’s, are broad approaches supplementing the rigor of enterprise software platforms, low-code, BPM, AI and APIs with RPA.

What’s more, Google is tackling the intelligent part of intelligent automation to structure unstructured data with Document AI, in partnership with UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Appian amongst others. Given Google's intentions to deliver an array of functional and vertical solutions with partners and its technology stack we should anticipate that some of the pain points that RPA addresses will be targeted in these initiatives. And Salesforce is keeping its options open, with MuleSoft in hand already with an API led approach and Salesforce Ventures led Automation Anywhere’s Series B financing.

Other RPA vendors need to pay attention to the fact that while they have undoubtedly proven the market need for RPA, they have no guarantee of keeping hold of the market they created. Their best bet is proving that a third-party layer on top is superior to embedded and connected approaches, and we expect that RPA vendors will make a decent stab at articulating this throughout the rest of 2020.

SBA: Please stop spanking bots
April 30, 2020 | Elena ChristopherMiriam DeasyPhil Fersht

What better to blame - when all goes wrong - than the evil robotic thing you just inserted into your system.  Many of you saw the recent article in ABA Banking Journal where they blamed RPA for the "burden on their processing system and diminishing of its capabilities".  We will discuss this debacle in a more detailed POV (stay tuned) but the crux of the issue here is a poorly run government IT function tinkering with software to try and process a mad scramble for many thousands of small business handouts from the recent Covid-19 stimulus package - and most likely in some weird virtual lockdown vacuum.  And it appears woefully understaffed. 

In short, APIs + humans + bots need to work within system parameters, or we're always going to have failures of scale like this one.  

RPA is a highly useful tool to support this environment, but please let's start deploying it as part of the overall tool-box 

As we’ve said of late, the digital workforce that wasn’t finally has its burning platform chance to shine. Since global lockdown commenced, we’ve been tracking, talking, and learning about the ways in which enterprises and their service and technology partners are using automation to help them function. One of the most prevalent use cases in recent weeks is in the banking and financial services sector where lenders are using automation, largely, RPA, to support loan processing for government-backed loans. RPA is helping lenders grapple with massive loan volumes and get them submitted quickly so loans can be approved and dispersed.

Insert monkey wrench.

The U.S. government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) application and approval portal was overwhelmed with demand as a second tranche of government funds were made available on April 27. The funds are intended to support loans for small and medium-sized businesses (administered via banks) as part of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) during the Covid-19 pandemic. The SBA E-Tran system receives the loan applications and then the SBA processes and approves them. The system struggled to handle the new surge of applications coming through and repeatedly crashed. As of Tuesday, April 28, the SBA prohibited the use of RPA bots in the application process.

RPA fail, right? Not exactly. It is actually the overwhelming success of a blunt instrument.

The HFS team dug in and spoke with a variety of ecosystem players - banks, software companies, and service providers to get the straight scoop. We also reached out to the SBA, but they have not responded. We view this as a case of RPA being used as a blunt instrument allowing any bank that invested in RPA to automate loan application submissions. RPA very legitimately helped banks and lenders process scads of PPP loans. This presented two immediate issues:

  1. The SBA E-Tran system crashed – it was way overburdened with hundreds of thousands of loan applications.
  2. Banks with automation were potentially able to submit more loan applications than those without thus more effectively accessing a limited pool of stimulus funds.

The SBA responded in a super butt-covering mode with its "NO RPA!!" edict. It will still allow loans to be automatically processed through APIs. So now banks are scrambling to convert their RPA processes to API-led. And the SBA assigned one person. Yep, one person to field all requests for API access. We hope this poor beleaguered contact has some help, but banks have reported the API access option is “very slow”. To address the potential of access bias for those firms with automation – deemed to be the larger banks - the SBA designated an eight-hour window on April 29 for lenders with less than $1 billion in assets to submit loans.

Bottom line: This SBA debacle is why you need nuance and a toolbox approach to automation to get desired results.

It’s too easy to say RPA failed. It’s more complicated than that. Really RPA was a blunt instrument here – for its speed to solution and ability to swiftly process loan applications and it worked remarkably well. Too well. It swiftly overwhelmed SBA’s E-Tran system – which was doomed to be overwhelmed anyway by these unprecedented volumes in a short period of time. But RPA exacerbated it and potentially gave access advantage to automation-savvy firms. While access through SBA’s XML API may allow for more efficient loan submission rather than the RPA model of going through the user interface and clogging the narrow pipes, this did not have to be an ‘either or’ situation. APIs versus RPA is not the point. Automation always lives in an ecosystem with upstream and downstream impacts and these were not adequately addressed. A better approach would have been a toolbox approach that leveraged RPA for loan preparation and access into legacy systems in the lenders’ shops, APIs for submission and humans for oversight with some substantial volume throttling to give the SBA’s system half a chance at doing its job. Automation cannot live in a vacuum.

Don’t you wish you’d done more? The digital workforce that wasn’t finally has its burning platform chance to shine
April 18, 2020 | Phil FershtElena Christopher

Well, we can’t deny it was noisy, loaded with more hype than a Vegas heavyweight boxing match, and backed by more investment dollars than the GDP of a small country. Yes, folks, that was quite the automation ride we all recently experienced. And what a dogs' breakfast that all turned out to be...

Sadly, nearly nine out of ten enterprise adopters simply didn’t get past piecemeal projects, pilots, and lots of very drawn-out evaluations. In fact, most simply didn’t have a burning platform to do very much at all with it.  The lethargy to do anything more than hype up RPA at conferences with bullshit such as "a bot for every desktop" drove us to proclaim (quite correctly) that the RPA value proposition was dead.

However, if there’s ever been a time we needed a digital workforce to augment humans, it’s now as 54% of major enterprises we surveyed this month seek to increase their process automation investments.  Yes, people, there is a realization of the importance of process automation technologies to support these rapidly evolving digital workplaces, which is only superseded by the need to invest in cybersecurity:

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 As we all adjust to the new abnormal, this is finally the time for the digital workforce to shine

The COVID-19 global pandemic is challenging our fundamental ability to keep businesses across all industries up and running while ensuring employee safety, preserving employees’ livelihoods, and meeting customer needs. Massive portions of the global workforce are being told to work from home, creating the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history. These rapidly emerging, globally distributed, remote, virtual workforces are creating a huge need for effective automation and a digital workforce. Yes, folks, the burning platform has arrived, and it’s literally ablaze.

As the following data from a few months ago reminds us, we’ve seen far less scale of Triple-A Trifecta (automation, AI, and smart analytics) technologies than we’d like (and need). Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in digital transformation and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. It is what it is at this point, as we have no time to lament what we should have done. Now it’s all hands on deck to leverage what we do have to help businesses function during the pandemic. The need of the moment is operational impact; thus, the implored imperative is to get creative and figure out how to quickly re-use and, more broadly, deploy your proven digital workforce assets.

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Learning to share during the pandemic—toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and automation assets

We’ve all seen unsavory images and headlines showcasing human nature at its self-centered worst—hoarding toilet paper, buying up 10 years’ worth of hand sanitizer (just in case!), and creating a dearth of surgical masks when healthcare professionals urgently need them. We need to remember how to share and be equitable despite the uncertainty. As we evaluate how enterprises built their automation programs over the past few years, we see loads of siloed activity—functional groups fending for themselves. On the one hand, there has been a notable surge of business operations leadership playing an active role in technology-led change. However, many of these siloed initiatives are those that have stalled or plateaued, stuck at low levels of task automation with little to no process change. The pandemic has presented an urgent need to break down enterprise silos and share proven digital workforce assets.

Operations leaders currently don’t have time to develop new digital workforce solutions. Anything that’s in the planning, pilot, or implementation stage is on indefinite hold while operational triage takes place. Enterprises need to take swift inventory of what they have amassed in terms of Triple-A Trifecta assets, determine cross-functional potential, and deploy them. This task-focused rollout is not fulfilling the grand vision of orderly enterprise digital transformation; it is being practical and opportunistic when we need it the most.  And practical and opportunistic is what is clearly on the minds of many enterprise leaders as they realize they should have paid a lot more attention to changing and automating processes to support real business needs.  But better late than never...

Tactical, practical task automation inspiration from the trenches

For those enterprises who have invested in Triple-A Trifecta technologies and have proven assets to work with and disseminate, here are what some of your compatriots are doing as part of their now and near-term strategies:

  • Cross-functional assets are king. Operations leadership from one global financial institution described deploying cross-functional AI platforms to new functions or similar functions in new departments for tasks such as document digitization, email management, and automated exception resolution. We are playing a leverage game at the moment—take the proven digital workforce assets you have and find ways to deploy them to a wider user base, generating leverage through repurposing.
  • Bots built with reusable code and accelerators. Reusable components are helping enterprises in a diverse array of sectors, including airlines, healthcare, financial services, and retail, deal with massive spikes in volumes of calls, emails, and forms. The replicated skills cover functionality such as reading, categorizing, routing, prioritizing, responding, and consolidating, and enterprises (or helpful service partners) can spin them up relatively quickly to address massive peaks and atypical working conditions. Here is a link to a public domain example from the NHS. There are also loads of downloadable assets available on various marketplaces to complement existing implementations, such as UiPath’s health-screening bot.
  • Donated resources. We’ve seen some examples of service providers and automation technology firms offering gratis access to their resources and technology to help those in need. We could use more of this! Accenture supported the NHS example above; Appian is offering complimentary access to its COVID-19 Response Management application for customers and any enterprise over 1,000 people, and Blue Prism just announced it would donate resources and digital workers to automate processes related to COVID-19.
  • Digital assets can remain on site. We’ve heard a few instances where remote workers are unable to access legacy systems off-site and are leveraging onsite bots to remotely manage access systems, enabling work to continue.
  • Cloud-based business process platforms with intelligent workflows. Many service providers have sizable operations centers in offshore, nearshore, and onshore locations. Aside from a lack of laptops, many service providers have been successful in allowing client-facing resources to work from home due to secure access to cloud-based business process platforms enabled by Triple-A Trifecta-enabled technologies. Resources are supporting functions such as finance and accounting, procurement and sourcing, and customer experience.
  • Leverage analytics and process mining to understand what’s working. Meanwhile, while you are more broadly disseminating your digital workforce, you can leverage analytics to help you quickly understand what’s working and what’s not so you can make informed choices about where to spend your time and effort. Tools such as workforce analytics, process mining, and predictive analytics are proving particularly helpful here for many enterprises.

The Bottom Line: This wasn't the digital workforce revolution we'd hoped for, but let’s harness what we can now and ensure we make re-invention happen post-pandemic

The global pandemic is making us realize just how reliant we still are on humans and antiquated processes and technology. Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in "digital transformation" and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. Thus, here we are, knee-deep in the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history, and we’re being laid low by our unwillingness to change how we execute work.  Which has now come back to slap us in the fact with one very slippery wet kipper... and over half of you intend to do more with automation than any other tech investment bar cybersecurity. 

We're definitely not building the digital workforce revolution we thought we were, but now we have no choice but to digitize global digital workplaces and technologies such as process mining and RPA are crucial to support these transformations. But we need to leverage what we do have, so get to work and repurpose task automation and algorithms and other gems you may have cultivated. Remember to share and get creative across your enterprise and externally where needed. And, above all, when we start to have a line of sight to the other side of the pandemic, we must be resolute in changing. For real this time.

Automation Anywhere leads the RPA market as the industry transitions to the Triple A Trifecta
January 29, 2020 | Phil FershtElena ChristopherMiriam DeasyErica Bisognano

We can finally draw a line under the market that was RPA as we transition to the broader value of integrated automation, AI and analysts solutions (the "HFS Triple A Trifecta" - see definition below): 

Our analyst team conducted the most exhaustive research process ever conducted in this space... here's the overview:

RPA Customer Experience Survey.  HFS fielded a detailed RPA satisfaction study with 255 super users of RPA (enterprise clients and product partners) that yielded 311 product ratings across 30+ CX dimensions

Detailed References. HFS conducted reference checks with 75 active clients of RPA product companies, including detailed interviews with ~20% of the sample

RFIs.  Each participating vendor completed a detailed RFI

Vendor briefings.  HFS conducted briefings with executives from each vendor

Download your copy of the 'HFS Top 10 RPA Software Products 2020'

 

So without further ado, let's hear from our lead analyst, Elena Christopher, for this Top 10 exercise:

Phil Fersht, CEO & Chief Analyst HFS Research: Elena... 7 years on, is the RPA bubble bursting or is something else happening?

Elena Christopher, SVP HFS Research: In 2012, HFS launched the concept of robotic process automation (RPA) to the world via a seminal report and blog. In the seven years since, the ugly truth is that we’ve simply succeeded in using RPA to move data around enterprises faster with less manual intervention rather than to rewire our business processes and create new thresholds of value. We are largely missing the opportunity to transform business operations. RPA gets loads of guff for creating technical debt. But the reality is that it has the potential to clear enterprise decks of years of process debt! Process transformation is the still unfulfilled mission. As we said last year, RPA is dead, long live integrated automation platforms. RPA alone is a great tool. But no singular tool can deliver broad transformation. As I’ve been saying of late, RPA needs friends. Sort of my own weird children’s show – RPA bot, cognitive capture, machine learning algorithms, APIs etc all work together to reinvent processes and create value. But honestly this is just another way of reflecting our Triple-A trifecta of automation plus analytics plus AI. Powerful alone, but better together.

With transformation on the brain, we focused our 2019 RPA Software Product Top 10 on how the RPA product companies are supporting and enabling their clients to scale their automation programs and drive real change. We looked at our normal mix of execution, innovation and voice of the customer criteria with special emphasis on factors such as customer scale, richness of ecosystem partners, product roadmap and R&D, embedded intelligence, and ability to drive business outcomes.

We expect that vendors can talk well and compellingly about their capabilities, thus we also conducted deep due diligence with their customers to get a straight story

What stood out during the Top 10 analysis? Who are winners and who needs more development, Elena?

Well before getting specific, the most important point to make is that no single RPA software vendor is truly leading compelling process transformation at scale. Those that are headed in the right direction have clear roadmaps and deliver enhanced product functionality that clients need to grow their automation programs, have strong ecosystems of well-trained implementation partners and technology partners that extend functionality, and they focus on driving success beyond the sale. Technology may be the enabler, but getting companies to change how people work and processes are executed is tough business.

Now for specifics – Overall, the big three (Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath) all had a strong showing. Automation Anywhere prevailed overall buoyed by a decent base of scaled, or perhaps more fairly, scaling customers. Of the big three, they offer the most native capabilities and have actively been working to address unstructured data for a few years. UiPath, who was the media darling of 2019, came in second overall. While they are doing many things right, its lower level of scaled customers and unrealized vision for the future of RPA set them back. Blue Prism took the three spot. While it exceled at execution, it fell behind in innovation criteria after a year of major announcements but limited actual impact on clients.

While we share overall rankings, the goodness is really in our subcategories where we showcase different facets of each provider’s strengths. This is our “choose your own adventure” approach to rankings. Consumers of this report can leverage the overall rankings or review the subcategories that are most important to their business needs. For example WorkFusion and AntWorks were recognized as leaders for their embedded intelligence. Kryon and Softomotive were recognized for their ease of use, NICE and Pega snared the top spots for delivering business outcomes, and EdgeVerve was a leader in security and governance.

So what's your expectation for this market as it matures? Are we settled with the key players, or do you expect this market to turn upside down?  What must these current firms need to do to survive?

RPA really is the gateway drug for AI and cognitive tech. As we move deeper into 2020, we expect to see more examples of Triple-A trifecta integrations emerge. Right now most enterprises are Frankensteining these, piecing together various tools and components to create the solutions they need – either directly or with service partners. We’ll see more integrated platforms come to fruition - some natively developed and some acquired a la Appian’s acquisition of Jidoka earlier this year. We’re also keeping a close eye on enterprise software vendors like Microsoft who announced Power Automate as its entry into RPA and let us not forget SAP bought Contextor in late 2018.

Meanwhile, enterprises can take a gander at our RPA Manifesto for Success for the Next Seven years. Among the recommendations, it reminds us that technology alone cannot drive business transformation.

Great insights Elena... Now have a stiff drink =)

Damn dry(ish) Jan!!!

Appendix

 

The Trifecta elements intersect with each other. While each element of the Trifecta has a distinct value proposition (RPA drives efficiency, Smart Analytics improves decision-making, and AI can solve business problems), there is increasing convergence between the three elements. For instance, smart analytics are increasingly reliant on AI tools such as NLP to conduct search-driven analytics, neural networks to do data exploration, and learning algorithms to build predictive models. In fact, the Holy Grail of service delivery transformation is at the intersection of automation, analytics, and AI

The Trifecta is nonlinear without a definite starting point. Transformation is not a linear progression. Enterprises can start anywhere across the Trifecta. It is not necessary to start with basic automation and then advance to AI-based automation. However, it is critical to understand the business problem that you are trying to solve and then apply the relevant value lever or a combination of value levers.

Big 3 RPA vendors: it’s time to show your strengths in co-opetition because Appian just bought Jidoka for full stack automation
January 09, 2020 | Miriam DeasyElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

The recent HFS predictions for 2020 boldly state that none of the big three RPA vendors will get acquired this year. By logical extension, this means smaller and less expensive RPA vendors have a higher chance of exiting to the comfort of bigger players with broad shoulders and deep pockets, especially where they fit a pressing market need and round out an existing integrated automation proposition. HFS also predicted the continuance of technology convergence as low-code / no-code platforms continue their surge.

Barely days into 2020, Appian, a low-code development platform vendor, announced the acquisition of Novayre Solutions SL, the developer of the Jidoka RPA platform. Appian recognized relatively early the complementary nature of BPM and RPA, establishing partnerships and agnostic no-code integrations with Blue Prism in 2017 and later with Automation Anywhere and UiPath. Now it has its own RPA and it’s talking about a compelling pricing strategy for its enterprise customers to boot. We’re curious to see how the dust will settle here with the “big three” RPA leaders.

Appian probably snagged a bargain here, in comparative RPA vendor purchase terms

Financials were not disclosed, but it’s likely this acquisition is at a very favorable price for Appian as compared to the astronomical valuations of some of its RPA brethren. Despite being on HFS’ radar in recent years, it was becoming increasingly hard to see noticeable progression in terms of Jidoka’s customer base and ecosystem development. So, it comes as little surprise that Jidoka was keen to sell. Appian is one of the low code players that actively embraced RPA as part of the overall conversations they have with customers about process automation. It describes Jidoka as the platform it would have built itself if it were building an RPA platform, citing its proven strength in unattended automation coupled with attended (albeit nascent) capabilities, along with its cloud-native development and java architecture.

Hailing from Seville Spain, with less than 20 employees, Jidoka’s customer are mostly small and midmarket firms spanning financial services, outsourcing, utilities, consumer products and other broad markets in Spain and Latin America (Jidoka robots operate in Spanish and English). A notable big logo client, Pepsico, uses Jidoka’s RPA in its finance department.

Appian RPA will come as an additionally priced feature of the Appian platform

Appian will rebrand Jidoka as Appian RPA once the acquisition dust settles. Much of rebranding effort has in fact been completed before this acquisition announcement in the months since the letter of intent was issued. There are no plans to launch it as a standalone feature or product, so don’t anticipate a pureplay RPA product coming from Appian. Existing Jidoka customers will be supported whether they are using Appian’s other products or not. One of its immediate integration priorities is with its recently launched Robotic Workforce Manager.

Appian RPA will be offered as an add feature for Appian Cloud platform customers for $5,000/month maxing out at $60,000 / year for unlimited use. This should be attractive at the enterprise level, especially to those looking to use RPA extensively. More importantly Appian can’t lose out with this pricing strategy as it is guaranteed the license revenues from the Appian platform itself, which are applied per user, per application.

The Bottom Line: Long live integrated automation. Appian’s acquisition of Jidoka is the latest example of the push towards full stack automation.

Low-code and RPA are a solid tool combination to tackle process automation, with each hitting their own sweet spots. Appian has born this out via partnerships over the past couple of years. We expect to see more examples of it in action as organizations progress their journeys beyond initial RPA-in-isolation piecemeal attempts into organization-wide impactful automation programs. While RPA has been dominating conversations around process automation for the past several years Appian is seizing the opportunity to bring low-code and RPA together. Its inherent process automation capabilities are complemented by RPA for hard to reach systems and as an alternative route instead of API development when speed is needed.

We see this acquisition as evidence of push towards what HFS terms the Triple-A trifecta of automation, AI and analytics into integrated automation. The BPM and low code players were super sane about embracing RPA rather than fighting it. And we see a lot that makes sense in this purchase if everyone can play nice and get along.

This acquisition has similarities with SAP’s acquisition of Contextor in 2018 as a technology tuck in and is closest in direct competitive terms to Pega’s Infinity platform encompassing RPA as a standard capability since Openspan opted to become part of something bigger in 2016. The essence of each is a holistic approach supplementing the rigor of low-code and APIs with the flexibility and speed of automation at the surface level as a tactical tool.

However, Appian will be bumping up against RPA vendors, and how this plays out remains to be seen. Appian says it does not intend to supplant its partners’ (e.g. Blue Prism) technology, but RPA vendor partners will have to make a call on how these relationships work moving forward with an all-important eye on avoiding customer disruption. Coopetition isn’t for everyone. Appian has been through this scenario before with Mulesoft before developing its native integration capability. The integration and shared standards live on but not the formal partnership.

UiPath hyped a market that simply wasn’t there. Now we must build one that's REAL - one we can TRUST
October 26, 2019 | Phil FershtElena ChristopherSaurabh Gupta

Let’s make no bones about it, this has been one sorry saga.  All we could do was warn the industry that cheesy marketeers, some lousy paid-for analysts and poorly-informed investors were forming a vicious web of bullshit that would take a solution with real potential and fake a market that bore no reflection of the one we originally dreamed up seven years ago.

And don’t say we didn’t warn anyone over the past year that the RPA market was in grave danger of being hyped out of existence:

So how can UiPath recover from this capitulation, a week after drawing the entire attention of the industry with its $8 million extravaganza in Las Vegas?  The trust is wafer-thin (or pretty much evaporated), people are worried, and some fired employees are sharing their agony and disappointment freely.  

10 ways UiPath's leadership can recover the trust of an industry that trusted them

1. Treat the market you help build with more respect.  Customers, prospects, partners, and the 500+ employees (or whatever number ultimately turns out to be real) you just sacked who believe(d?) in the vision and the brand.  Read from some of the employees who have risked their careers and families' livelihoods, just to see it all blown away in a few months.

2. Ask for help. Scaling a company and a scaling a relatively new software category are distinct challenges, made harder by them existing within the same company. Don't imperil a fledgling industry with your lack of experience in the former while you trailblaze the latter.

3. Be honest. We should not have to say this.

4. Stop taking schoolyard potshots at competition. Competition gives your brand context and creates a healthy market.

5. Stop counting customers. We will repeat this forever. Start showcasing scale of customers. We are all still learning.

6. Charge for what's valuable. Giving your product away or undercharging for it to create stickiness (while touting obnoxious customer numbers) is a road to nowhere. No one values free.

7. Apologize. Daniel's belated, smug response is insulting to anyone who's done business or is considering doing business with UiPath. Relationships are based on openness. That Daniel letter looks like an attorney wrote it.

8. Stup f-ing up the company and execute on the product roadmap because it's good. Elena's in progress POV after ForwardIII complimented the focus on enabling customers to do more with RPA - enabling functions like process identification and pipeline management, business benefit analytics, and more meat on the AI backbone. 

9. Quit the arrogance.  Releasing a Forrester Wave as the news of its layoffs broke, simply to drown out its layoff noise, where the analyst is clearly biased towards the firm (which also employs his son) just served to anger people who are craving some humility and less bragging.

10. Quit the "robotic butler nonsense". Let’s define what we mean by RPA scale versus counting number of bots.  "A bot for every employee" simply means "buy loads of our licenses". 

The Bottom-Line:  It's a marathon, not a sprint

Let’s build the white muscle capability to run the marathon versus red muscle capability to run the 100m dash.  A few key takeaways for all of us from this:

RPA vendors:  Not all of you are completely innocent of the same behaviors that have led to UiPath's troubles.  Be relieved this didn't happen to you, and make sure it still doesn't.  Focus on value, not potshots and hype.

Service providers and advisors:  Really be careful how you approach RPA alliances, as your choice of partner also reflects on you.

Analyst firm leaders:  If your analysts don't understand this space, then please stop bringing down the analyst industry with clearly flawed research and analysis. I've never seen analyst credibility reaching these depths before.

RPA users:  Use this as a segway to evaluate a multi-product integrated product strategy and do not throw all your eggs in one basket.  There are several excellent RPA, data ingestion, process mining and ML tools out there you need to embrace and integrate into your roadmap.

Crunch time is here for UiPath, AA and Blue Prism... Here are the 25 tenets which will decide who wins this bot war
October 07, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

Well what a week that was in the world that is automation software... while 11 automation leaders at the HFS New York Summit pretty much all agreed that the world that was called RPA is stuck in the mire of making legacy tasks work better, we then were treated to Automation Anywhere's launch of its new platform upgrade A2019 right afterward at the Nasdaq center, where CEO Mihir Shukla declared he wanted a "Digital Assistant for Every Worker".  A2019 claims its ease-of-use in the cloud, its new plug-ins into Microsoft Word and Excel, and its ability to be run from a mobile device make it the best task support tool in the business.  Oh, the timing!  Will UiPath stay safe with its status as the "developers favorite", will Blue Prism stay true to its "friend of the business pro", or will AA's focus on bridging a solution for both business and IT with the day?

So all eyes now turn to UiPath's flagship Forward III event in Vegas next week, where CEO Daniel Dines and his team are under intense pressure to drive an even more powerful narrative for the industry to keep itself at the forefront of robotic software. The onus is on the UiPath leadership, more than ever, to seize the initiative, especially as their noisy competitors are unlikely to keep the brakes off the PR Newswire next week... (Oh and HFS mega analyst Elena Christopher is there speaking, who co-authored the now-infamous "RPA is Dead, Long Live Intelligent Automation" blog. And Kudos to the UiPath folks for having the courage to bring in an untethered analyst viewpoint after some of the recent utter mush we've been subjected to at these things.  Oh and a woman too, thank God! 

Here are the 25 key tenets where UiPath, AA and Blue Prism must draw battle as they look to cross that chasm from RPA to a true digital workforce

Consultants, fellow analysts, here's everything you need to advise your clients... steal away as HFS is just giving it allll away....

1. Stop counting customers. Start counting and showcasing growth with accounts/scale...  40% of engagements are still in pilot mode, so these cannot be considered long term clients until they get into some form of live usage.

2. Stop hiring armies of salespeople who have no idea what they are selling.  Sorry, but we really needed to say that one...

3. Stop amassing as many partners as possible. Prioritize quality not quantity (which would require well thought out partner programs).

4. Stop referring to SaaS as cloud. Seriously just stop. Now.

5. Make the gap between unattended and attended seamless because customers don't actually want to decide what flavor of automation they need, they just want automation.

6. Start addressing governance and meaningful management of bots in the context of broader workflow. Don't let massive attended automation and freedom to automate shift from democratization to chaos. address how attended is managed in a way that does not make the IT shops in all of their clients want to abort mission

7. Bring IT and business visions together as one integrated approach. Education must focus for technical and non-technical resources – into communities and educational institutions globally.

8. Shift focus to an integrated automation roadmap – expansion of functionality beyond RPA/RDA to AI and smart analytics. Badging everything as RPA is definitionally incorrect and fails to give clients a roadmap to follow to advance beyond (legacy) repetitive task automation, desktop and document automation.

9. Provide proven scale and depth of professional service to support the SI/advisor channel.  This is the battleground where the winners and losers will be decided... if you have the support available to train the channel and your major direct clients, you will get your clients into double-bot figures.

10. You must drive digital change management to help enterprises grapple with transformation with its services investments.  Relying purely on Big 4 advisors and service providers for change management will cost clients a fortune and drive many away.  This is a key area UiPath needs to take the lead on.

11. Prove it has the lowest-code capabilities of all the bot players.  The shift from low-code to no-code is on... proving real no-code abilities is becoming increasingly critical as frustration build with the ease-of development of some of these solutions. This is the real key to proving "one bot for every employee" is truly possible.

12. Really demonstrate you can win in the cloud.  This is the impressive push from AA that UiPath and Blue Prism needs to counter... the ability to create public, private and containerized solutions for large automation is one of the main avenues to moving out of pilot mode into a fully industrialized approach.

13. Have the most mobile-enabled bot solution.  Moving bot development into the hands of code-hating business professionals is key and having really cool mobile interfaces is becoming increasingly important.  

14. The developer ecosystem must be expanded to extend functionality, libraries etc.  Commit to specific goals for how much of their codebase will be available on Github et al to build an industry solution skewed against technology-vendor lock-in.  Much of this RPA functionality is not rocket science or any trade secret.

15. Commit specific sums to meaningful partner relationships with leading service providers and consultants, including opensource partner technical support systems, events, education resources, and people to help the industry grow

16. Commit to funding local academies (building on their online academies) especially in blighted neighborhoods near its biggest offices to bring young coders and potential customers together with employees for on the job real-world training

17. Must get focused on core business processes by industry, such as supply chain in manufacturing, core banking in BFS, underwriting in insurance, billing in telecom etc

18. Revisit its client engagement model to ensure it is best serving its customer base – its rapid growth in salespeople may expand capacity, but if sales lacks vision, then clients may not be well served (as per comments in our recent survey above)

19. Commits to drawing down technical debt (Every SW company has it, some more than others).  As illustrated above, our customer surveys point out which elements of their platforms and solution are known to need immediate re-engineering and investment

20. Identify and subsidize hands-on automation industry experts and influencers whose independent thinking deserves funding and not just focus on checking boxes with legacy analysts.  The automation industry is being impacted by many unique stakeholders.

21. Kick off an enduring and sustainable initiative modeled after Salesforce's 1-1-1 program

22. Invest in cross-technology customer events that will expand overall value creation, for example partnering more aggressively with the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc.

23. Spearhead an Automation Industry Technology/Business Roadmap that shows a clear path for enterprise clients to progress from basic robotic task automation through to integrated automation and then to achieving genuine AI value

24. Provide sensible RPA pricing options. A “bot” is not a standard unit of measure. It is an abstract measure and a UiPath bot is different than AA and not the same as Blue prism. Yet most continue to price RPA as some of the function of “bots”

25. Focus on actual business transformation. We are using RPA to run ineffective processes cheaper and faster. That is not transformation and is a short term game.

True leadership will come from those who make the most advancements in these versus fancy rhetorical statements and press events. If you want to be a leader.... then bloody act like one!

Is your Robotic Software really supporting business transformation at scale beyond piecemeal projects? Time to have your say...
July 06, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

Are you as confused are we are with some of the recent analyst matrices floating around the industry this year?  Some products are performing completely differently depending on the analyst and how they "define" the market and whatever methodology they used to score each product.

However, one thing is clear:  at HFS we ensure we rely on a lot more than a briefing and a handful of rose-tinted clients served up by the suppliers themselves.  We reach out across our global network of power users (enterprise clients, advisors, and service providers) to get the true unvarnished experiences of robotic software. 

This is why we scrapped the 2x2 matrix last year and went for a direct ranking of suppliers, based across three critical variables:  execution, innovation and the voice of the customer.  HFS subscribers can click here to access the full 2018 RPA Top Ten report. 

On 2018, we introduced the "Voice of the Customer" to rank the leading RPA products across the experiences of 352 power users

In short, there are growing questions about whether "RPA" can deliver transformation on the promised ROI and outcomes, especially as most RPA initiatives continue to be small and piecemeal, with truly scaled RPA deployments are rare (only 13% of client boast any true scale to date). The industry is still struggling to solve challenges around the process, change, talent, training, infrastructure, security, and governance - hence our shift to re-categorizing and

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Blue Prism buys Thoughtonomy. Clearly a great deal for…Thoughtonomy
June 20, 2019 | Miriam DeasySaurabh GuptaElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

Blue Prism yesterday announced the acquisition of Thoughtonomy, a SaaS-based integrated automation platform with Blue Prism RPA baked into its core. After six years and much flirting with potential suitors, Terry Walby’s Thoughtonomy successfully exits into the welcoming arms of Blue Prism. This was always the logical end-game for Terry's business, which he bootstrapped from day 1 and tirelessly pushed at the automation world. HFS was particularly inspired with the firm's work at the UK's National Health Service (NHS) (which you can read here). 

Essentially Thoughtonomy is RPA + cognitive capabilities + cloud. Net-net, Blue Prism is buying a cloud (SaaS) wrapper for its own product; arguably, it could have (and should have) built that itself, but decided instead to pay a tidy sum. However, this cloud wrapper puts Blue Prism in the ring with Automation Anywhere's V12 cloud product, which is drawing a lot of plaudits from enterprise users (our forthcoming Robotic Transformation Software Top Ten will reveal its performance across several hundred enterprises). More importantly, it increases Blue Prism’s attractiveness as an acquisition target itself by upgrading its cloud-readiness from “available cloud reference architecture” to a legitimate SaaS-based offering.  We touted Blue Prism as a potential target for IBM three years ago, and with a scalable cloud story and IBM/s major pivot around Cloud with its RedHat acquisition, surely this Cloud-ifying of Blue Prism makes the firm even more attractive to them.

Finding the synergies to justify the price tag – cloud with a potential side of cognitive capabilities, but the focus is too UK centric

Now, Blue Prism can contend with Automation Anywhere’s claim that “BotFarm is the first and only enterprise-grade platform for scaling bots on demand”. The midmarket can benefit from Blue Prism’s RPA technology, with very little setup cost or initial investment.  Mid size companies that considered automation out of their reach can enjoy the democratizing effects of cloud, avoiding the hassle of on prem infrastructure.

The shopping basket also contains Thoughtonomy’s gross assets, reported at 31 May 2018 as £5.6m and established relationships with Thoughtonomy’s big-name clients including NHS, AEGON, and Sony. Partner implementation and reseller arrangements are in place across many of the usual suspects in SI and consultancy such as Computacenter (from where Terry Walby moved to IPsoft before setting up Thoughtonomy).

Like Blue Prism, Thoughtonomy is UK based so there’s not much by way of additional footprint synergies to be realized. Blue Prism, therefore, will only be adding a limited new channel and will have to rely on its existing sales and delivery channel to make this acquisition pay off. The US market is where the bulk of new demand for automation solutions is surfacing, and Thoughtonomy isn't adding to Blue Prism's US team, which is under huge

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15 initiatives UiPath and its competitors must take to prove they are serious about transformation
May 07, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

We've been pretty vocal regarding the unfocused direction the industry which has called itself "RPA" has taken, and the obsession some of the firms are having with their self-declared valuations. So let's change the story from how much these firms actually believe they are worth to where they need to invest their funding to show they are serious about being part of a transformative industry.  

Don't get us wrong, in software world, it's common practice to get attention that your company is valuable and investors are falling over themselves to hurl money at it - this is common practice in markets that are very focused on selling to IT executives.  And we've seen far more ludicrous "valuations" than the 35x earnings ones the robotic software firms are claiming (just look at Blockchain and AI). 

So why aren't we seeing firms like UiPath shift the focus to the investments and changes they intend to make to propel a truly transformational value proposition with their products?  Especially where the prime target for growth is the business executive who is far less accustomed to a world where his/her suppliers are obsessed with how much they're worth, as opposed to how they can help you take your business through painful change.

It's critical now to shift the vision to reality of making these bot dreams come true

UiPath, more than its competitors, has always pushed the vision of democratized IT. Literally, RPA or a “bot for every worker” and not just a sanctioned crew of IT professionals (or even a sanctioned crew of enterprises) is a brilliant marketing gimmick. However, with UiPath’s hypergrowth and rapid-fire funding, the time has come to connect the dots between a folksy vision and how UiPath can truly enable the transformation of work.

As HFS recently articulated in our blog “RPA is dead. Long live integrated automation platforms”, RPA is being used to automate tasks and prop up legacy processes. Broad business transformation is decidedly lacking and arguably cannot be achieved without supporting tools like artificial intelligence and analytics as well as digital change management to address how change is driven, managed and perpetuated. The one perhaps notable shift in the change winds is the on the democratization front – RPA is being bought and consumed primarily by business units not central IT. However, as enterprises push towards integrated automation, with a higher order of technical complexity of tools and data challenges, IT once again becomes essential. Integrated automation may drive the ultimate democratization – the balance between IT and business operations.

Despite its growth and funding, UiPath is a very long way from achieving this vision

Our recent survey work with "power-users" of robotic software products (what we were calling RPA and RDA) clearly highlights the top three strengths and challenges of the UiPath solution (with sampled comments):

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

 

The Bottom-line: To democratize technology and drive business transformation beyond task-oriented robotics activities, here are 15 key initiatives UiPath (or its competitors) must take on:

1. Must bring IT and business visions together as one integrated approach. Education must focus for technical and non-technical resources – into communities and educational institutions globally

2. Must shift focus to integrated automation – expansion of functionality beyond RPA/RDA to AI and smart analytics. Badging everything as RPA is definitionally incorrect and gives clients no roadmap to follow to advance beyond basic repetitive task, desktop and document automation

3. Must drive digital change management – help enterprises grapple with transformation with its services investments.  Relying purely on Big 4 advisors and service providers for change management will cost clients a fortune and drive many away.  This is a key area UiPath needs to take the lead on.

4. Must include unattended and attended processes (not just focus on attended)

5. The developer ecosystem must be expanded to extend functionality, libraries etc.  Commit to specific goals for how much of the UiPath codebase will be available on Github to build an industry solution skewed against technology-vendor lock-in

6. Demonstrate commitment to building a stronger QA team, and fully transparent local customer support and customer success teams to drive customers (as per the number 1 challenge outlined above)

7. Commit specific sums to meaningful partner relationships with leading service providers and consultants, including opensource partner technical support systems, events, education resources and people to help the industry grow

8. Commit to funding UiPath local academies (building on their online academies) especially in blighted neighborhoods near its biggest offices to bring young coders and potential customers together with UiPath employees for on the job real-world training

9. Must get focused on core business processes by industry, such as supply chain in manufacturing, core banking in BFS, underwriting in insurance, billing in telecom etc

10. Revisit its client engagement model to ensure it is best serving its customer base – its rapid growth in salespeople may expand capacity, but if sales lacks vision, then clients may not be well served (as per comments in our recent survey above)

11. Commits to drawing down technical debt (Every SW company has it, some more than others.  As illustrated above, our customer surveys point out which elements of the UiPath platform and solution are known to need immediate re-engineering and investment

12. Identify and subsidize hands-on automation industry experts and influencers whose independent thinking deserves funding and not just focus on checking boxes with legacy analysts.  The automation industry is being impacted by many unique stakeholders.

13. Kick off an enduring and sustainable initiative modeled after Salesforce's 1-1-1 program (of which the Notre Dame announcement by Daniel Dines was a great a start) 

14. Invest in cross-technology customer events that will expand overall value creation, for example partnering more aggressively with the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc.

15. Spearhead an Automation Industry Manifesto that shows a clear path for enterprise clients to progress from basic robotic task automation through to integrated automation and then to achieving genuine AI value