Microsoft buys Softomotive

Last week, during his keynote speech at the Build 2020 conference, Satya Nadella announced the acquisition of RPA vendor Softomotive.  Microsoft first entered the RPA market last year at Ignite. At this yearly conference, Microsoft rebranded its existing Microsoft Flow to its Power platform as Power Automate. Microsoft Power Automate is currently used by more than 350,000 organizations. At the time, however, market specialists indicated that this entry was no more than a “tick-in-the-box”. As such, they estimated that this would not constitute actual competition to the well-established and highly valuated RPA companies such as Blue Prism, UiPath and Automation Anywhere.

Microsoft’s reasoning

According to Microsoft, the acquisition will bring about the following benefits:

1. Delivering a comprehensive low-code desktop automation solution. 

By buying Softomotive, Microsoft now has an end-to-end automation platform. The platform covers both robotic desktop automation (RDA) and robotic process automation (RPA).

2. Expanding the out-of-the-box UI automation drivers for commonly used apps and services.

In this way, they can add proven connectors to applications such as SAP, CRM, mainframe and java applications.

3. Enabling parallel execution and multitasking.

This enables the same scaling possibilities from existing Power Automate API automations to UI automations.

4. Offering thousands of additional features.

This allows access to the innovative features built by the workforce of Softomotive as well as access to the workforce itself in order to keep developing new features.

Softomotive – short history

Softomotive was founded  as a scripting technology using visual basic for desktop automation in 2005. This means that Softomotive was one of the pioneers of RPA (true RPA not screen scraping). They started with WinAutomation, their desktop automation solution, before expanding to a full enterprise grade solution including the latest security and controls.

Today, Softomotive has over 8000 customers worldwide. In addition, Gartner and Everest recognized the company as a (major) contender in the RPA market. According to HFS: “Softomotive is an RPA veteran and demonstrates sound thought leadership with its “People 1st Approach” and “made an interesting move last year with the launch of Robin, an open-source RPA language.”

Softomotive – under the hood

  • WinAutomation 

WinAutomation is a Windows-based software that can automate tasks using any desktop or web-based applications with minimal effort. However, what makes it an RDA tool is the fact that it is server-less and installed on the workstation of the user.

Among others, here are some key features of WinAutomation:

  • Attended & Unattended Automation
  • Low-Code with drag-and drop functionalities
  • Includes Macro & Web Recorder
  • Computer Vision to deal with Citrix and other Remote Desktop Environments (= allow the process to locate, search and interact with images found on the screen).
  • Built-in forms and the ability to create custom dialog forms to exchange information between the user and the automated process (easily customizable).
  • No use of interactive functions (= activities that demand a user to be logged onto the workstation, such as launching web applications).

Next to these features they also offer a number of other features designed to increase productivity including: controls repository, images repository, exception handling, parallel execution, concurrency, process queuing, advanced synchronization and the ability to control WinAutomation from the command line.

  • ProcessRobot

ProcessRobot is their server-based enterprise wide solution which can run all processes developed in ProcessRobot or WinAutomation. This product will be explained in a later post.

Market consequences

  • RPA fully legitimized with big software players entering

Gartner positioned RPA as the fastest growing software category in 2019. For those who remained unconvinced, Microsoft’s entrance has further legitimized this assessment. Previously, Microsoft had already concluded a venture with FortressIQ, an AI-based RPA company. They have now taken the next step to democratize all aspects of process automation and establish real credibility in the intelligent Automation market. Moreover, the current pandemic is only underscoring the need to accelerate digital transformations. As IPA will be a central player along with AI and cloud, Microsoft will not be the last big business pursuing this market.

  • Acquisition spray continues, challengers will disappear

However, this market is still forming itself. Last year saw a surge in acquisitions. SAP bought Contextor and rebranded it as SAP’s IRPA, Appian bought Jidoka and Pega bought Openspan… And we don’t expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Automation platforms are starting to emerge with RPA holding a central position. Gartner has coined the term ‘hyperautomation’, defined as  “… involves a combination of tools, including robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent business management software (iBPMS) and AI, with a goal of increasing AI-driven decision making”. We expect that smaller RPA challengers will be unable to compete with these big players. The latter have significant competitive advantages such as their partnerships, platform offering, R&D pockets and established sales channels. As a result, it is highly likely that the smaller players will disappear in the near future.

  • RDA interest will peak

With Blue Prism releasing BP Cloud Interact, UiPath and Automation Anywhere further expanding their RDA capabilities, and Microsoft offering WinAutomation without extra charges, we notice an increased focus towards RDA in the market. This makes sense considering that most organizations have already taken steps towards automation and have integrated virtual assistants in the workforce. Having mainly focused on back-office processes, organizations are now  becoming more confident towards RDA and having virtual assistants interact with their employees in real-time.

Written by Timothy Pauwels