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Microsoft Softmotive Acquisition: Industry Shakeup or Stabilization in Business Process Automation?

Microsoft Business Process Automation with Softmotive Acquisition Series

Announced at Microsoft Build this year in Satya Nadella’s keynote, we heard that they finalized their acquisition of a Robotics Process Automation (RPA) software vendor called Softmotive. In this three-part series, I will unpack what this means for the industry, Microsoft trajectory and, most importantly, what this means for you as you modernize your business processes and application. I aim to give you some food for thought to explore the efficiencies brought to us by the intersection of digital process automation (DPA), robotics process automation (RPA), and Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence (MLAI).

Three-Part Series

  1. Industry Shakeup or Stabilization in Process Automation?
  2. Microsoft Future in Process Automation
  3. Democratization of Process Automation

Part 1 of 3: Industry Shakeup or Stabilization in Process Automation?

Let’s start by saying we should have seen this coming. Towards the end of last year (2019) Microsoft made two (2) distinct moves which signaled to me that something big was coming:

  1. Microsoft rebranded Microsoft Flow to Power Automate
  2. Microsoft added RPA features to Power Automate

On November 4th, 2019, Charles Lamanna, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, announced “Robotic process automation now in preview in Microsoft Power Automate” in announcing a preview of UI Flows, which added RPA capabilities to Power Automate. One of the things I’ve been speaking about for some time now is the ‘last mile’ of DPA, where the fingers actually touch the keyboard. If you are looking for a single point of failures in any automation initiative, look no further than the human actor. What UI Flow and RPA, in general, gives us is the ability to record clean discernable and repeatable steps a human takes to perform an action or activity [think Excel Macros on steroids] and thus does a couple of things:

  • Increases efficiencies
  • Reduces errors and omissions

This is not without some forethought and it’s certainly not by accident. Microsoft has an Office Platform Suite of Products, namely Excel, as mentioned earlier, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, etc. RPA vendors have been providing RPA capabilities against their product for years and this is not new. While this was on premises, Microsoft may have seen this as a benign play, but now that we are in Microsoft 365, where we have the power of the Graph as well as Search Substrate and Cognitive Services – well it’s a brand new opportunity to add value using data as the driver.

Why Softmotive?

Founded in 2005, Softmotive is one of the leading RPA providers in the desktop automation space by way of its popular WinAutomation Windows-based application and supporting technologies/languages. Softmotive boasts over nine thousand (9,000) clients in a global market arena. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of their capabilities:

  • Attended and Unattended Bots
    • WinAutomation is primarily used for the attended RPA space and the Bots installed on a user’s computer and works ‘hand in hand’ – attended – with the human actor by delegating some task to the robot and some to the human.
    • ProcessRobot is another offering more enterprise-scale and it provides attended and unattended bots named SideBot and Solobot, respectively. This offering distinguishes itself in that it typically runs centrally and allows for monitoring and governance.
    • Robin is where I think the deeper fit lies; this is an open-source RPA language for programmers from Softmotive (I’ll get into this more later).
  • Feature Rich with Pre-Built Connectors
    • Like most RPA vendors Softmotive has a drag and drop design canvas with hundreds of prebuilt actions and activities for its end-users ease.
    • Rich integration with cognitive MLAI services such as Google, IBM, ABBYY and of course Microsoft.
    • As mentioned in ProcessRobot, the central management is via a Web-Based interface like what you also see from other ISVs in this space.
    • Connectors are already there for Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, etc. same things you see in Logic Apps and Power Automate.
    • Browser support is there for Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox.
For questions or further assistance, please contact a member of Withum’s Digital and Technology Transformation team.

Validation of the Market

If Microsoft is making acquisition moves, there’s no more unambiguous indication that the RPA market is a valid growth space and is sticky. Other ISV’s have bet heavily in this space cumulatively investing billions in cash to expand market footprint, accelerate technology and promote brand awareness and adoption. On that note, however, this move does show an encroachment on ISV’s which in my opinion, does nothing but drive innovation for everyone involved.

One distinction and leverage Microsoft has is the fact, as I mentioned before, is that not only are they in the space of RPA, but they also own a vast majority of the applications that are candidates for automation. You can already see the major ‘traditional’ RPA players investing in complementary areas such as MLAI with OCR processing, process mining, etc. Namely, UiPath acquired ProcessGold, BluePrism has a relationship with ABBYY, Nintex acquired EnableSoft RPA product Foxtrot, so you can see this happening on both ends of the spectrum. RPA companies expanding and DPA companies expanding into RPA.

Summary

In this post, I hope you see that this news shows the earth shifting under feet, and plays are being made that will have a huge impact on the way we all do business, especially post COVID-19, where our workforce is increasingly distributed and adhoc. Work is no longer confined to a building and badged employees – we all need a space where we can safely and securely communicate in a hyper distributed medium.

Digital and Technology Transformation
Additional References: https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/robotic-process-automation-now-in-preview-in-microsoft-power-automate/

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