Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a key component of the automation ecosystem and has been a rapidly growing software product category, making it an interesting space for potential acquisitions for a while now. While acquisitions in the RPA market have been happening over the last several years, three major RPA acquisitions have taken place in quick succession over the past few months: Microsoft’s acquisition of Softomotive in May, IBM’s acquisition of WDG Automation in July, and Hyland’s acquisition of Another Monday in August.
These acquisitions highlight a broader trend in which smaller RPA vendors are being acquired by different categories of larger technology market players:
Recent RPA acquisitions timeline:
The RPA product market has grown rapidly over the past few years, rising to about US$ 1.2 billion in software license revenues in 2019. The market seems to be consolidating, with some of the larger players continuing to gain market share. As in any such maturing market, mergers and acquisitions are a natural outcome. However, we see multiple factors in the current environment leading to this frenetic uptick in RPA acquisitions:
Acquirers’ perspective – In addition to RPA being a fast-growing market, new category acquirers – meaning big tech product vendors, service providers, and larger automation vendors – see potential in merging RPA capabilities with their own core products to provide more unified automation solutions. These new entrants will be able to build pre-packaged solutions combining RPA with other existing capabilities at lower cost. COVID-19 has created an urgency for broader automation in enterprises, and the ability to offer packaged solutions that provide a quick ROI can be a game-changer in this scenario. Additionally, the adverse impact of the pandemic on the RPA vendors’ revenues, which may have dropped their valuations down to more realistic levels, is making them more attractive for the acquiring parties.
Sellers’ perspective – There is now a general realization in the market that RPA alone is not going to cut it. RPA is the connective tissue, but you still need the larger services, big tech/Systems-of-Record and/or intelligent automation ecosystem to complete the picture. RPA vendors that don’t have the ability to invest in building this ecosystem will be looking to be acquired by larger players that offer some of these complementary capabilities. In addition, investor money may no longer be flowing as freely in the current environment, meaning that some RPA vendors will be looking for an exit.
The RPA and broader intelligent automation space will continue to evolve quickly, accelerated by the predictable rise in demand for automation and the changes brought on by the new entrants in the space. We expect to see the following trends in the short term:
There are several open questions on how some of these dynamics will play out over time. You can expect a battle for the soul (and control) of automation, with implications for all stakeholders in the automation ecosystem. Questions remain:
Only time will tell how this all plays out.
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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?
Appian announced its intent to acquire the Spanish vendor Novayre Solutions SL and its Jidoka RPA platform on January 7. With this acquisition, Appian, best known for its low-code process management and orchestration software, will be able to offer extensive automation capabilities natively, while it did so previously with partners’ software such as Blue Prism and UIPath.
So, what does the acquisition mean for the market?
Our estimates show that the RPA third-party software market is expected to grow by 80 percent to reach $2.5 billion this year. With this phenomenal growth rate, it’s not surprising that non-RPA companies want a slice of the pie.
Appian has been active in this market for a while and has benefitted from many new clients thanks to its partnerships with RPA vendors. It is also a reseller for Blue Prism and has experienced growing demand for RPA first-hand through that channel.
In addition, technology giants are increasing their activities in this market. SAP acquired Contextor back in 2018. And most recently, Microsoft announced UI flows to add RPA capabilities to Microsoft Power Automate (previously Microsoft Flow). It combines digital process automation (DPA) via APIs with UI-based automation. Pega is another competitor that has also invested in this market; it took over OpenSpan back in 2016.
We have assessed Jidoka as part of our RPA Technologies PEAK Matrix for a number of years and most recently positioned it as a major contender in our 2019 assessment. Jidoka is a Java-based platform where robots are designed and managed by a web-based console. There is a design studio for workflow and orchestration of robot operations. A console centralizes monitoring, audit, and exception handling features along with secure user permission and authorization capabilities. It has proprietary image recognition technology, Hawk Eye, to support Citrix automation. The platform offers capabilities such as auto-scaling of robots, a secure credentials vault, roles-based access controls, execution logs, audit trail, robot performance analytics, and ROI calculator. It also offers a chatbot capability that is available from the console. Real-time human-robot collaboration is provided via chat interface from the console (and Google Home,) the Jidoka mobile app (voice and chat,) and via IoT devices.
Appian intends to rebrand the product as Appian RPA. It will turn it into a low-code environment and integrate it with its own solutions to be offered on the cloud on a competitively priced subscription basis. While growing in Spain and Latin America, Jidoka has limited presence in other geographies. This is something that Appian can address with its presence in major tech markets.
As for its partnerships, Appian is keen to keep them going and offer clients choices. It remains to be seen how partners such as Blue Prism and UiPath will react to this news. It is not unusual for partners to go for co-opetition. For example, last year Blue Prism announced an Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) solution called Decipher, but has maintained its partnerships in the IDP segment, e.g., with Abbyy.
We have been expecting M&A activity in this sector to increase with market maturity and as RPA becomes a key tool for process efficiency and productivity. RPA is also commoditizing, and the fact that Appian is acquiring a very small vendor shows that entry into the market is not expensive. The news of this acquisition could encourage other tech companies, particularly those in the process management and orchestration space, to act too. There are many small RPA vendors with good offerings. The big RPA players with their current large valuations could suffer if a wave of acquisitions materialized and bypassed them; but at the same time, they have an awful lot of customers and a huge global footprint among them. Furthermore, private equity investors continue to invest in the market, as evidenced by Automation Anywhere’s last round of funding. This market remains buoyant and dynamic.
With Microsoft getting into the RPA business, all vendors have to up their game to remain competitive. As for the RPA scale challenge that many enterprises are facing, vendors are working on this with new, improved offerings in the areas of robot management and controls, ease of use, and increased robot resiliency. With its existing and new capabilities, Appian will be well placed to address the scale challenge to make RPA adoption and operations smoother and, in so doing, edge ahead of the competition.
Buying criteria: relative importance of metrics and extent of differentiation in RPA