Is £100 million enough? Earlier this year, British RPA company Blue Prism announced a £100 million fund raising, via the placing of shares with new and existing investors. The company differs from other key players in the RPA space, such as UiPath and Automation Anywhere in one key respect. It is listed on the stock market. (Automation Anywhere and UiPath are still private, although when you ask senior executives at the two companies if an IPO is planned, you are met with a swift change of subject, one suspects it won’t be long before you can buy shares in all three companies from a stock exchange).
It differs in other ways too. It is the older of the three, indeed the acronym RPA, which stands for Robotics Process Automation, was invented by Blue Prism’s chief evangelist, Pat Geary. Blue Prism focuses on RPA as a tool for helping automate processes — typically sitting in the back office, what is known as unattended RPA. It worries less about attended RPA, which is more like a personal assistant, something which it tends to dismiss as robotic desktop automation — RDA — and not proper RPA at all.
There is one other difference, it hasn’t raised as much money as it’s two big rivals — even after the latest £100 million.
That’s RPA these days. An industry that has big ideas — both Automation Anywhere and UiPath claim to be the fastest growing enterprise software company in history.
Inevitably, given such rapid growth, the industry has been subjected to charges that it offers little more than hype. An accusation that Blue Prism, with its focus on unattended RPA, what it might call proper RPA, is not necessarily keen to deny. After all, goes the implication, the other players are responsible for the over-hype, while it quietly gets on with the job.
Not that there was a lack of glitz at the latest Blue Prism World event, complete with blue lighting, a conference room big enough for a rock concert, and a crowd of delegates that could have gone some way to filling a football stadium.
Maybe though, the accusations of hype miss a trick. The RPA hype was about promise/potential. And now that the big RPA players have raised over a billion dollars between them, the resource is there to start releasing some serious products.
Blue Prism’s Decipher, is an example. The product says Blue Prism “adds AI-powered document processing directly built-in to the Blue Prism platform.”
For example: Decipher will, we are told, be pre-trained and optimised to work with inbound invoices. In this way so called digital workers will be able to input invoices into accounts payable and then match the invoices to outstanding purchase orders…seamlessly” says Blue Prism.
Decipher is OCR software with an AI twist, or maybe, a bit more than a mere twist. But Blue Prism also works closely with OCR company Abbyy. How will Decipher affect the relationship with Abbyy, asked Sarah Burnett, distinguished analyst at Everest Group at the press and analyst conference accompanying the Blue Prism World event? “As a company, we don’t want to go and re-invent lots of technologies just so that we can say we do this stuff,” responded Dave Moss, Blue Prism’s CTO. He said that Decipher has been designed in such a way that “you can plug products in from other vendors into the workflow.”
Burnett: Look beyond RPA hype
Despite talk that RPA is over hyped, Sarah Burnett, a guru on automation technologies, says that it can cut process costs by 30%, but there is another benefit, not so obvious, and it lies with creating data we can trust
It all ties in with what Blue Prism calls it’s connected-RPA vision — Decipher and a feature providing support for Google Analytics are initial examples.
Blue Prism also puts emphasis on what it calls the Blue Prism Digital Exchange, a kind of market where an organisation can select products or services that dovetail with the Blue Prism offering. Blue Prism itself describes its Digital Exchange as an intelligent automation marketplace comprising of customers, technology and channel partners. It’s got 3,000 registered users and over a “100 assets to accelerate a company’s time to market for intelligent automation projects.” The exchange was launched four months earlier, that seems like pretty quick work, even by the standards of the super fast evolving RPA space.
So, how else is the £100 million being spent? It’s got PhD’s, not digital workers this time, but clever people, working at its AI Research Lab.
It is not just about spending money, or so Blue Prism was quick to point out.
Understanding the maturing role of AI in RPA
It has been entering into alliances:
- It announced agreements with Hitachi ID, RPA Supervisor, SYSTRAN and Winshuttle, all of whom have joined its Technology Alliance Program as affiliates.
- A strategic alliance with intelligent business automation provider Bizagi, which is participating in the Digital Exchange.
- And an alliance with Ernst and Young to help enterprises worldwide “further unlock digital transformation through intelligent automation.”
Maybe the key to all of this is indeed the phrase ‘intelligent automation.’ Automation is not something that happens via the waving of a magic wand, just because an organisation has installed RPA, this does not mean it is automated. Digital workers need human handlers, there is nothing intelligent about automation that does not have humans working in partnership, nothing can happen without effort, without training. RPA May be able to automate certain processes, but deploying RPA is not, in itself, an automatic process.
RPA: the key players, and whats unique about them
Speaking at the Blue Prism world event, CEO Alastair Bathgate said: “In our industry, phase one was about implementing RPA, eradicating routine tasks, but with the incorporation of cognitive and AI technologies RPA has evolved and has created new value. Now we see an increasing need not only for efficiency and productivity but an intelligent and agile RPA that effects our environment and culture.
“The graveyard of business past is haunted by the ghosts of companies that were eaten alive by digital competitors. To thrive, we must be able to compete with the entrepreneurial innovative new comers, who can more easily capitalise on their digital assets. An agile organisation needs digital and human workers to access, accumulate and decipher data in nanoseconds.”