Tag: Microsoft

Microsoft Acquires Softomotive to Accelerate Its Dominance in RPA | Blog

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.

What Softomotive brings to Microsoft

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:

  • Attended and unattended RPA for organizations of all sizes, through
    • WinAutomation, Softomotive’s desktop automation product, used primarily for attended RPA use cases. Robots are typically installed and executed on a user’s desktop in attended mode. It doesn’t have centralized control, monitoring, or governance capabilities, and is primarily suitable for small and medium-sized businesses
    • ProcessRobot, Softomotive’s enterprise RPA offering, delivers both attended (SideBot) and unattended (SoloBot) RPA capabilities along with centralized control, monitoring, and governance functionalities
    • Robin, Softomotive’s open-source RPA language for programmers. Microsoft’s immense presence and installed base could help make it popular enough in the developer community to force several other vendors to adopt it. And it could become a new standard for RPA programming and help Microsoft establish its thought leadership in the market
  • A comprehensive set of RPA features built over the past 15 years will help Microsoft expand the scope of its automation use cases
    • Drag-and-drop design studio with 300+ pre-built actions for developing automations
    • Web-based centralized interface for controlling and monitoring robots and features such as scheduling, queuing, and dynamic load balancing based on SLAs and priorities
    • Ability to multi-task/execute multiple automations in parallel on the same machine for higher resource utilization
    • Role-based access, version comparison tool, visual exception recording for enhanced debugging, and automation lifecycle management capabilities for higher collaboration across development, testing, and production stages
  • Pre-built connectors and integrations for greater ease of use
    • Softomotive has pre-built connectors with enterprise applications such as Java, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Siebel, and mainframes, and support for major browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and IE, making it easier to automate tasks that involve these applications
    • Pre-built integrations with complementary capabilities such as cognitive/AI services from ABBYY, Google, IBM Watson, and Microsoft
  • An installed base of over 9,000 clients and recognition as a mainstream RPA player

What the acquisition means for the market

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:

  • Consolidation/M&A activities – RPA is becoming a critical component of the enterprise software ecosystem for driving digital adoption and automation. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen multiple acquisitions such as Appian/Jidoka, Blue Prism/Thoughtonomy, Nintex/Foxtrot, and SAP/Contextor. These deals demonstrate that entry into this space isn’t very expensive, as there are many small RPA vendors with good offerings. This latest deal could encourage acquisition of RPA capabilities by other tech giants, BPM, and ERP companies in the coming months to offer a more holistic solution to their clients. On the flip side, just as UiPath did with its acquisitions of Step Shot and ProcessGold, there could be more instances of big RPA companies acquiring complementary capabilities to expand the scope of their solutions and increase their value propositions
  • Democratization of RPA – Microsoft products are used by most knowledge workers around the world. By making RPA another tool in its list of its Power products, Microsoft could accelerate the democratization of RPA and the concept of citizen developers. Because Microsoft Power Automate is available at much lower than the median pricing, other vendors will feel pressure to reduce their prices. To accelerate its adoption, it could also offer its RPA bundled with other Microsoft products without additional cost, making RPA more affordable and its business case more lucrative for organizations of all sizes. This move could accelerate RPA adoption among small and medium-sized businesses, where adoption has been growing at a relatively slower pace. Access to RPA as a plug-in directly from Microsoft’s products such as Excel, Outlook, Teams, Dynamics, and SharePoint would make it easy for business users to automate repetitive tasks. Instances of RPA being sold as a commodity are gaining momentum, and this could further accelerate that trend

What the acquisition means for other RPA vendors

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.

Other things to watch out for

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?

How Microsoft Positioned Itself for Hybrid Cloud Leadership | In the News

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

Love Thy Enemy to Float in the Cloud | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

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:

  1. How does a partnership with an erstwhile competitor change the product lifecycle, commitment, and roadmap?
  2. Should I be wary of a “tacit understanding” between these newfound partners that impacts my ability to buy the best business solution?
  3. Does this affiliation give technology providers a perverse incentive to unofficially agree not to rock the boat of enterprise computing?
  4. Does this partnership dent technology providers’ capability to innovate to stay ahead of the competition? If yes, then how does this lack of innovation affect my technology landscape?

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.

What If the Hackers Had Attacked Sony Through Microsoft Azure Instead of Amazon’s EC2? | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

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:

  • Microsoft plays a different role in championing cloud than Amazon. Azure is the Microsoft answer to the Windows operating system (OS) and bundled IP provided through the cloud. As such, it represents Windows and the dominant OS at this time.
  • As the dominant OS provider, Microsoft appears to be held to a different standard than most other providers; if there is a hole in Windows, we are all vulnerable (except, of course, Apple fanatics).
  • Microsoft acts as a lightning rod like no other, drawing negative attention from all quarters.
  • There seems to be a preference to excoriate past monopolists in favor of newer entrants that may yet gain similar market power, akin to market behavior that favored the Microsoft upstart over the established IBM in the 1980s.

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?

Microsoft Confuses Economies of Scale with Next Generation Data Centers | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

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.

Cloud Services and CFOs’ Triple Hat Role | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

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:

  • Cloud ERP and accounting solutions from vendors like NetSuite and Intacct have been traditionally focused almost exclusively on SMBs. Though still early, enterprise options are emerging from cloud-focused vendors such as Workday. CFOs need to keep on top of the rapidly evolving set of alternatives that exist for the F&A function.
  • New cloud deployment models are emerging for ERP, such as the ability to run SAP on virtualized private clouds, and availability of select modules through public multi-tenant models. CFOs need to realize that it’s not just SaaS or nothing – new models are being introduced that capture virtualization and private cloud benefits without the perceived risks of moving sensitive financial data to the public cloud.

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:

  • CFOs should give strong consideration to “Cloud First” policies such as one recently announced by Vivek Kundra, CIO of the United States, who is seeking to move 25 percent of the Federal Government’s IT budget to cloud services. The policy doesn’t say that cloud should be adopted whenever available, but rather that it be strongly considered “whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists.” Sounds like a smart policy for the private sector as well.
  • CFOs should also work with CIOs and business owners to ensure that a comprehensive assessment has been made of the potential value of migrating to cloud services at the SaaS, IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) and PaaS (platform-as-a-service)levels, and that an overall transformation plan exists. Many experiments currently exist, but there is little understanding of where adoption goes after that.

CFO as Fiduciary – the panel also explored the impact of the cloud on CFOs fiduciary responsibilities for the organization.

  • Duke Skarda, CTO of Softlayer, described the four categories of risk in the cloud that CFOs need to evaluate: compliance, governance, security, and disaster recovery. As with cloud services overall, there’s no one right answer – organizations need to understand their risk posture, requirements, vendor capabilities, and supporting SLAs and contractual agreements. It was also noted that, in some cases, cloud services can actually serve to decrease organizational risk profiles.
  • CFOs need to understand any potential impacts of applicable compliance or data privacy regulations (especially in Europe) on where and how they can leverage cloud services.
  • IT policies and controls themselves don’t necessarily change with cloud services, but how they are implemented likely will. CFOs need to ensure IT has taken the right steps to implement appropriate governance and control of cloud services.

Overall, it was a great discussion, with interesting questions and comments from a very engaged CFO audience.

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