Near the end of 2019, Microsoft added various RPA features to Flow, its automated workflow service, and rebranded it as Power Automate. It wasn’t surprising to see Microsoft getting into this space to embed RPA into its products such as Excel, PPT, Outlook, Teams, and SharePoint, and enable business users to automate tasks directly from these products. Now, with its acquisition of RPA software vendor Softomotive, it’s staking its claim in the US$1 billion RPA software market, accelerating its positioning in the RPA space, and offering greater depth and breadth of RPA capabilities to its customers.
This acquisition has come at a time when the demand for automation is being amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and automation at scale is gaining pace. And it positions Microsoft as a serious contender for automation software needs as organizations are rethinking their automation strategies.
Here’s our take on the deal.
Founded in 2005, Softomotive is a leading RPA software vendor with roots in desktop automation. Its popular desktop automation product, WinAutomation, helps automate tasks running on Windows-based applications and technologies. We positioned Softomotive as a Major Contender and a Star Performer in our 2019 RPA Products PEAK Matrix assessment for multiple reasons including:
This acquisition validates the RPA space and reinforces the point that RPA will stick around for much longer than some have been predicting. It’s a big moment for the RPA market as a whole and could accelerate technology maturity, awareness, adoption, and development of RPA skills. It could drive or accelerate key market trends:
With Microsoft going all-in on RPA with this acquisition, other RPA vendors will need to up their game to remain competitive. Microsoft will be able to deliver RPA that’s tightly and seamlessly integrated with its vast suite of business applications. To combat this move, other vendors will have to position themselves as specialists and best-of-breed providers of enterprise automation capabilities. Also, going forward, growth may elude pure-play RPA vendors; in order to thrive, they will have to either invest in other complementary areas such as AI and process mining, or be acquired. Note that today, most RPA players, including the big three, are offering complementary products in addition to RPA.
Additionally, Microsoft has deep integration, joint functionality development, and go-to-market partnerships with big RPA vendors including Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath. These partners also contribute to Microsoft’s revenue through collaborations, such as Azure, and it’s likely that those partnerships will continue, and clients will be given flexibility to choose, as co-opetition it is becoming quite common in the enterprise software space. For example, UiPath acquired a process mining vendor, ProcessGold, but has maintained its partnership with Minit. Similarly, Blue Prism announced an Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) solution called Decipher, but has maintained its partnership with ABBYY.
It will be interesting to see how well Microsoft is able to leverage this investment. It could take the company up to a year to come up with its integrated RPA offering and embed Softomotive at a technical level across its suite of software products. In the meanwhile, Microsoft has made WinAutomation available for free to all of its Power Automate customers. However, it remains to be seen how Microsoft plans to leverage Softomotive’s ProcessRobot and Robin. Some say Microsoft gets it right the third time. Flow was Microsoft’s first attempt at RPA, Power Automate was its second, and Softomotive is its third. So, will the third time be the charm for Microsoft?
Going forward, Microsoft could follow on with more acquisitions in other automation areas such as Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA), process mining, and analytics to further establish itself in the intelligent automation space. An indication of this possibility is Microsoft’s late 2019 launch of Power Virtual Agents, a chatbot/IVA offering that’s based on its Bot Framework. Might IVA be the next area where Microsoft could make an acquisition, perhaps of one of the 16 IVA software vendors we assessed as part of IVA Products PEAK Matrix?
Microsoft graduated from its rebellious, ’90s, teenage years to become an enterprise leader across some of the hottest computing domains, from software and cloud to analytics and AI.
It was a journey not without bumps, but one that has solidified Microsoft at the top of a market largely dominated by consumer-focused tech companies. Smart is the new sexy, and Microsoft has expertly played the market.
Six years ago, Abhishek Singh, vice president at the Everest Group, would not have expected Microsoft to hold the position of power it does today, he said in an interview with CIO Dive. But the company has pivoted from trying to be a dominant platform player to establishing a presence across platforms, reacting to a cloud market where customers can tap into new sources of storage, compute and platforms.
Read more in CIO Dive
Many nations celebrate Friendship Day on the first Sunday in August, with citizens spending time together, exchanging gifts, cards, and wristbands to proclaim their friendship to each other. And when Oracle, an organization that trashed cloud earlier, partners with bête noire Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and NetSuite, and when Microsoft extends olive branch to its rival Engine Yard, and adds its platform to Windows Azure marketplace, it’s a clear sign that technology company “frenemies” have inaugurated their own variant of Friendship Day a little in advance of the official date.
These newfound friendships are testimony to the fact that the market for cloud services is driving these companies to bury their hatchets and think about computing in a totally different way. While money, (e.g., Oracle’s poor performance in selling new software licenses, Microsoft’s issues in traditional software sales,) is one of the key drivers, these technology providers now also realize the disruption in the competitive landscape, and appreciate, accept, and are evolving along with the changes in the market dynamics and requirements.
As an example, consider that Salesforce.com always ran on an Oracle database. Although it investigated competing open source technologies, (e.g., NoSQL,) it is now committed to Oracle’s hardware and middleware, perhaps moving away from commodity infrastructure. Similarly, Oracle is partnering with NetSuite to target the mid-market and ensure that its Fusion human capital management (HCM) works with NetSuite’s ERP. If they enter into a distribution agreement, Salesforce.com and NetSuite may get access to Oracle’s direct sales channel, resulting in interesting competitive dynamics.
Further, as cloud adoption grows more pervasive and complex, partnerships are emerging to provide buyers with the requisite ecosystem to enable enterprise computing with cloud DNA. For example, Microsoft is partnering with Engine Yard in an acknowledgement that developers need more capabilities and require application and infrastructure abstraction to work across multiple clouds. While many may view these strange bedfellow affiliations as an indication of large technology companies’ inability to compete with nimbler players, Everest Group believes this is a positive development that enables enterprise buyers to leverage the best of the cloud delivery models.
Yet, when competitors become partners and it becomes fashionable to be frenemies, should buyers worry about collusion? To guard against possible challenges, every buyer needs to ask itself and its technology providers:
On the surface, everything may look great as vendors pitch broader solutions citing partnerships. But enterprise buyers need to have laser precision vision – and more than a sprinkling of clairvoyance – on their business objectives in segregating the high pitch, (and sometimes false,) marketing spiel of the provider community.
There is widespread speculation that the recent attack on Sony was accomplished by utilizing credit card information stolen via compute resources purchased from Amazon’s EC2 cloud offering. This high profile incident has attracted attention in the mainstream press and in the blogosphere, underscoring the interconnected and anonymous nature of cloud computing, as well as the need for vigilance and improved security. Interestingly, there has been little attention paid or blame allocated to Amazon’s EC2 offering in the public discussion. Amazon, rightly or wrongly, has largely escaped unscathed, and the cloud infrastructure services sector – of which EC2 is the most visible champion – continues to enjoy increased adoption, favorable press, and commentary largely unaffected by this incident.
There are many good reasons why Amazon’s EC2 has not been vilified and cloud adoption continues at its frenetic pace. But what if the circumstances had been different? What if the credit card information had been stolen utilizing Microsoft’s Azure platform? Would the world have responded with the same collective yawn? Would there have been an attempt to hold Microsoft accountable for the nefarious use of its compute power? Would open source enthusiasts have suggested it to be another reason to move to open source from Microsoft products? To explore this, let’s first examine why it might have made a difference:
So, what would have happened? Would the steady march to the cloud be delayed as we criticized Microsoft and questioned more deeply not only its culpability for how its service is utilized, but also the requirements for security in the cloud more broadly? Would regulators be initiating inquiries threatening further changes in compliance security laws, or attempting to add responsibility to providers of compute power? Or would there have been a similar yawn? It’s interesting to speculate… and as we do, what does this tell us about where we are headed and where we have been?
In a recent article in Information Week, a Microsoft executive made the claim that the economies of scale of cloud data centers were so compelling that few companies, if any, would want to continue to operate their own. He went on to offer Microsoft’s cloud data centers as the proof point. He stated the Microsoft cloud data centers operate on next generation architecture. Instead of housing servers in hardened data centers, which are expensive to build, cool and maintain, Microsoft utilizes new hyper-scalable architecture that jam packs servers and storage into vapor-cooled containers similar to those you see on the interstate being pulled by semi trucks. Microsoft achieves resilience exceeding that in the hardened data centers by duplication of assets in multiple locations. And when combined with the flexibility of virtualized cloud offerings, the net result is dramatically lower cost – to the tune of as little as 25 percent of the cost to build and run their level 4 hardened cousins.
Our counterpoint: we have been conducting extensive research, and our analysis confirms that many next generation data centers are significantly less expensive than many cloud offerings. Further, they are mature enough to support enterprise-class computing today, and are far more flexible than traditional legacy data center infrastructures. When enterprises combine these benefits, they can indeed achieve dramatically lower computing costs. It’s important to recognize that these are not driven by economies of scale; rather, they arise from the advantages of radical new architecture and technology. Everest Group’s work strongly suggests that whereas economies of scale do exist in next generation data centers and their related cloud offerings, most of the benefits are reached quite quickly.
A vital distinction – next generation data centers and private cloud are available to most mid to large enterprises at a cost comparable to that of mega Microsoft. Enterprises seeking to capture these benefits should not be seduced by claims of massive gains provided by ever increasing size, but should instead focus their attention on how to leverage the architecture and next generation technologies while adapting their applications and organizations to take advantage of these dramatic new opportunities.
We had the pleasure this week of participating in a CFO Forum hosted by TechAmerica, along with representatives from Microsoft, Softlayer and SOURCE, on the topic of “Navigating the Cloud.” The overall discussion focused on the benefits of the rapidly expanding universe of cloud services, along with key risk, compliance and security considerations for CFOs. During the panel discussion and audience Q&A, it became apparent that CFOs wear three different hats when thinking about the cloud:
CFO as Cloud User – like everyone else, CFOs are potential users of cloud services, primarily via ERP and F&A-related SaaS offerings. Discussion in this area focused on several topics:
CFO as Cloud Buyer – the second major relationship CFOs have with the cloud is as a buyer, given the ownership they have over corporate and IT budgeting processes and spend. Points mentioned during the Forum included:
CFO as Fiduciary – the panel also explored the impact of the cloud on CFOs fiduciary responsibilities for the organization.
Overall, it was a great discussion, with interesting questions and comments from a very engaged CFO audience.