What Does This Deal Mean For RPA (Robotic Process Automation)?

BERLIN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 27: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, speaks to Herbert Diess, CEO of … [+] Volkswagen AG (not pictured) during a “fireside chat” with the media about a joint project of the two companies called Volkswagen Automotive Cloud on February 27, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. Microsoft is working with several automakers to help digitize automakers. (Photo by Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

Getty Images

At Microsoft’s Build conference this week, CEO Satya Nadella announced the acquisition of Softomotive, a leading provider of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology enables the automation of repetitive and lengthy processes, for example with older IT systems.

Keep in mind that Microsoft recently launched a new version of its own platform called Power Automate and also led a venture round at an AI-based RPA company, FortressIQ (here’s a Forbes.com post that I wrote about it).

So let’s come briefly to Softomotive: The company founded in 2005 was one of the pioneers in the RPA industry. It initially focused on developing a visual scripting system using VBScript for desktop automation. Softomotive then develops the platform further, for example by developing ProcessRobot for larger companies.

There are currently over 9,000 customers worldwide. Interestingly, Microsoft will be making Softomotive’s WinAutomation application available free of charge to those who have a supervised license for Power Automate.

Okay, so what are some of the takeaways from this deal? What could that mean for RPA? Here’s a look:

Param Kahlon, Chief Product Officer at UiPath:

Microsoft has long talked about their interest in RPA. As the fastest growing software category after Gartner, this was never really a surprise. Initially, Microsoft had Microsoft Flow for several years. And then they renamed it Power Automate last year. And now they’re going to add another tool. The reality is that making RPA simple and scalable for enterprise customers isn’t easy.

We’re excited to compete with a company like Microsoft in this area. We don’t underestimate Microsoft. This will force us to invest even more in research and development.

Adam Mansfield, Head of Commercial Consulting Practice at UpperEdge:

With Microsoft’s takeover of RPA provider Softomotive, the most obvious finding is that it continues to legitimize the technology, or at least to those who were still on the fence. Will RPA be able to step up or become more legitimate and used? This question has just been answered. Historically, an investment from Microsoft is a strong indicator that the technology is being taken seriously on a much larger scale.

There have been questions about the full value of Microsoft’s Power Automate solution, so it is no coincidence that with the acquisition, Microsoft is adding value immediately and at no cost to users. This will fill one of the biggest loopholes Microsoft has had to fill and will now enable them to bring desktop automation tools to their Power Automate customers.

Additionally, Microsoft has definitely acquired Softomotive with the goal of increasing Azure consumption and related revenue. Providing the advanced capabilities to their customers will inevitably increase Azure consumption and create the “flywheel effect” that comes with Azure acceleration.

Brad Kirby, Senior Director of Product Management at Quest Software:

It’s good to see that Microsoft is paying more attention to simple automation with the acquisition of Softomotive. When a lot of people hear “automation” they think of improved productivity. But building automation that works often requires extensive technical experience that many companies do not have. With this acquisition, Microsoft is taking a step towards flexible and functional automation for a wide range of companies with different technical skills.

Bruce Orcutt, VP of Product Marketing at ABBYY:

The acquisition confirms the importance of desktop automation and certainly demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to being a leader in automating all aspects of the process. Sofotomotive, a current licensee of ABBYY FlexiCapture, complements Microsoft’s existing capabilities to provide a unified automation solution within Power Automate. This expands Microsoft’s use cases and competitiveness to address all facets of automation with Power Automate.

Sanchit Mullick, Associate Vice President of AI & Automation Services at Infosys:

This deal comes at a time when the demand for automation technology is skyrocketing across all industries amid COVID-19. For example, health and insurance companies are facing a huge influx of claims and want to expand their use of robotic process automation to automate the initial verification process and increase productivity.

The addition of Softomotive’s WinAutomation platform to existing Microsoft Power Automate capabilities will drive the democratization of automation by adding new supervised automation capabilities. This is especially important in the current context as a large number of employees primarily (bank tellers, contact center agents) are working remotely for the first time, and desktop automation will be a much-needed feature that can help businesses achieve a positive, more fulfilling employee experience during this global move to remote working.

Muddu Sudhakar, CEO and Founder of Aisera:

This acquisition is for low code design which prevents 98% of the population from being able to write code. Low-code solutions allow business users to develop workflow automation without depending on the less than 2% of the population who can write code.

Jay Jamison, Product & Technology Officer at Quick Base:

Nowadays, challenges that existed before COVID-19, such as disconnected legacy systems, inefficient manual workflows, and scarce development resources, are even greater. Every business is under incredible pressure to evolve and adapt at a pace that its resources should never support. The result? The adoption of RPA and low-code platforms is on the rise – the market opportunities are enormous, as demonstrated by the announcement by Microsoft and other recent investments by technology giants like Google and Amazon.

Burley Kawasaki, Chief Product Officer at K2:

It’s a good move and was an expected move from Microsoft. Her first entry into RPA was with a fairly simple offering to automate web-based scripting. This latest acquisition bridges the gap by supporting Softomotive’s desktop automation. This gives Microsoft a more competitive offer as part of its Power Automate strategy.

Pankaj Chowdhry, CEO and Founder of FortressIQ:

The takeover of Softomotive by Microsoft shows its strengths. Microsoft has run this playbook before. Many people forget that Microsoft licensed the source code for a database from Sybase in the early 1990s, which some would consider a secondary player in the database market. It was a classic wrap-and-roll strategy: paste the product with other adjacent offerings and run it through your channel. Microsoft turned this second-level code base into the SQL Server juggernaut we know today.

As for Softomotive, the deal positions the company even better. In addition to the technology, you get a group of engineers who are very familiar with the specifics of legacy Windows automation, and an installed base of 9,000 customers. Combine that with Microsoft’s enormous reach in the company and you have a turbo strategy to quickly become competitive in the RPA space.

Sajesh Gopinath, General Manager & Go to Market Leader at UST Global:

Given Azure’s recent strong growth, Microsoft has access to its huge customer base who are just beginning or beginning the RPA journey and will continue to transform the RPA market. However, this space is still evolving and offers several possibilities. We’re seeing the customer focus shift to unlocking broader business value, which requires hyper-automation features like NLP, workflow orchestration, intelligent document understanding, AI / ML in addition to RPA or, in summary, IPA.

Tom (@ttaulli) is a consultant for startups and author of The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction. He has also developed various online courses, for example for the Python programming language.

June 6, 2021