Far-Reaching Impact of Microsoft’s Entry into RPA
from Analytics Insight
July 20, 2021
Without question, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the fastest growing market for enterprise software, so it’s only natural for a huge and powerful technology provider like Microsoft to join in with Power Automate’s free integration with Windows 10.
In truth, however, Microsoft may have been spurred on by both the frustration many RPA users are currently experiencing with their automation providers and market demand. While there has been great hope that artificial intelligence coupled with RPA would produce higher quality and higher quality automation, this has largely failed to materialize as far too many of the tools in this area are simply not ready for prime time.
Most users’ disappointment can be attributed to four main causes:
• Insufficient Returns – Many companies have been unable to scale RPA and get the promised value due to brittle bots and crippling maintenance and support for automation. The realization that RPA is not as easy as they believe has led many companies to wonder if they chose the wrong tool and maybe better to switch to a different automation tool.
• Unfulfilled Promises – Many automation vendors have over-promised and under-delivered about how easy it was to implement and run RPA. Organizations everywhere have been persuaded by the idea that citizen developers could drive automation. This just wasn’t the case because of the demands on the technical knowledge and skills to automate. Now companies want to try their luck with another RPA provider that can actually show that it empowers the citizen designer.
• Automation islands – Without intending to, some companies have launched separate, independent automation initiatives in different business areas. This has led to the adoption of different automation design practices and the excessive cost of obtaining multiple RPA tools.
• Incompatible version upgrades – A large proportion of Automation Anywhere customers are using V11 and have had difficulty upgrading to the newer A2019 version. With maintenance coming to an end for V11, companies in need of an upgrade have been forced to create bots from scratch in A2019. The frustration caused by this lack of support has led companies to seriously consider switching to another provider.
Microsoft’s entry into the RPA wars can potentially take advantage of this general frustration by offering users an alternative: a free automation tool, already bundled with Microsoft’s existing suite of products and services, that enables the automation of business processes that are common to existing Microsoft -Products can interact relatively easily.
Building on the fact that most companies are already using Microsoft software and the company’s reputation as a proven brand with the resources and talent to build a competitive RPA platform, Microsoft acquired Softmotive – which already has software for RPA Authoring had developed – in May 2020.
The move triggered shock waves over the already overcrowded RPA market and at the same time gave Microsoft the opportunity to get in touch with customers and learn for themselves which RPA features are actually needed. By equipping citizen designers with the tools necessary to create their own bots, it was also a huge step towards the promised (but never realized) usability of RPA.
“If you really want to democratize RPA, don’t talk about millions of users. You have to speak of a billion users. There’s no better way to do this than tapping into the Windows community, ”said Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president of Microsoft, in a recent interview with RPA Today.
While one of the more technical offerings from Microsoft, Power Automate has a very intuitive user interface that uses drag-and-drop functionality to allow for a simplified approach to creating automation scripts in a step-by-step, text-based canvas. It also offers a range of supported connectors that accelerate the user’s ability to build simple automation with an RPA and Artificial Intelligence workflow solution, and enable companies to reduce manual costs by taking full advantage of the Office 365 ecosystem and tools exploit.
In addition to this expanded functionality, Power Automate makes it easy to integrate RPA into a company’s enterprise architecture and interact with legacy systems by reducing costs and enabling smoother automation options.
From a purely price point of view, Power Automate is far cheaper than other RPA platforms. In this way, companies can lower their operating costs by replacing third-party business process management tools and other expensive automation technologies.
With so many Microsoft products and services already intertwined with every company, Power Automate is also an ideal solution for countless companies already using Azure services, Office 365 and SharePoint. Not only does it fit seamlessly into the existing architecture, it also offers considerable expandability. For example, companies can expand the online capabilities of SharePoint using Azure Cognitive, Machine Learning and Microsoft’s AI services.
The introduction of Power Automate clearly has a significant impact on the RPA market and boasts several distinct advantages over its competitors. Still, numerous challenges remain that could potentially cause even a free, easy-to-use automation solution to fail. First up is the fact that bots still need to be put together to convert them from one RPA platform to another, despite Microsoft’s efforts to adjust functionality.
This problem can be traced back to a number of issues. The significant number of commands and actions that are not supported between RPA tools, for example, makes it extremely difficult to move bots from one platform to another. Likewise, the system credentials associated with each bot are not shared if a company changes automation provider.
Platform migration can also be impacted by the loss of historical versions of bots during migration, affecting both compliance and impact analysis activities in the target RPA tool. And since audit logs are not stored the same way in different RPA tools, they can be completely lost if you attempt to migrate.
In addition, there is also no effective way to perform output comparisons of bots migrating between different RPA tools, making it difficult to test the completeness and quality of bots after the migration to ensure that they continue to do what they do should do.
Despite such issues, RPA migration is no longer the non-starter it used to be. The introduction of Power Automate with third-party migration solutions changed the equation forever, allowing users to migrate entire digital workforces without having to build their existing bot portfolio from scratch, at a fraction of the cost normally required.
And while the automation market is likely still to be dominated by a relatively small group of specialized RPA vendors, the entry of Power Automate signals the advent of the citizen designer and the adoption of RPA as a standard feature to support business automation initiatives.
As President and Chief Executive Officer of Blueprint Software Systems, Dan Shimmerman is responsible for establishing Blueprint’s Enterprise Automation Suite as the world’s most powerful digital process design and management solution. With a passion for helping organizations more efficiently design and develop digital solutions that drive their digital transformation and the achievement of business goals, Dan has a proven track record in delivering the strategic vision, execution and value to all stakeholders. Prior to joining Blueprint, he was President and CEO of Varicent Software, a global sales performance management solutions company that was acquired by IBM in 2012. Further information can be found at https://www.blueprintsys.com/
By Dan Shimmerman
President and CEO, Blueprint Software Systems