At Microsoft’s Build conference this week, CEO Satya Nadella announced the acquisition of Softomotive, which is a top RPA (Robotic Process Automation) vendor. This technology allows for the automation of repetitive and tedious processes, such as with legacy 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 in an AI-based RPA company, FortressIQ (here’s a Forbes.com post I wrote about it).
So let’s get a quick background on Softomotive: Founded in 2005, the company was one of the pioneers of the RPA industry. It initially focused on developing a visual scripting system, using VBScript, for desktop automation. Softomotive would then go on to evolve the platform, such as by creating ProcessRobot for larger enterprises.
As of now, there are over 9,000 customers across the globe. Interestingly enough, Microsoft will make the Softomotive’s WinAutomation application free for those who have an attended licence for Power Automate.
OK then, so what are some of the takeaways of this deal? What might this mean for RPA? Here’s a look:
Param Kahlon, the Chief Product Officer at UiPath:
Microsoft has long talked about their interest in RPA. As the fastest growing software category per Gartner, this has never really been a surprise. First, Microsoft had Microsoft Flow for a number of years. And then they renamed it to Power Automate last year. And, now they are going to integrate another tool. The reality is that making RPA work easy and at scale for enterprise customers is not easy.
We are happy to compete with a company like Microsoft in this space. We do not underestimate Microsoft. This will force us to invest even more in R&D.
Adam Mansfield, the commercial advisory practice leader at UpperEdge:
Given Microsoft’s acquisition of RPA vendor, Softomotive, the most obvious takeaway is that it further legitimizes the technology or at least for those that were still on the fence. Will RPA be able to ramp or become more legitimate and utilized? That question has just been answered. Historically, when Microsoft makes an investment, it is a strong indicator that the technology is being taken seriously at a much larger scale.
There have been questions around the full value of Microsoft’s Power Automate solution, so it is no coincidence that Microsoft is instantly adding value at no cost to users through the acquisition. One of the biggest gaps that Microsoft had to fill is addressed by this and they can now provide desktop automation tools to their Power Automate customers.
In addition, Microsoft most definitely acquired Softomotive with the goal of driving increased Azure consumption, along with the associated revenues that would bring. Providing the extended capabilities to their customers will inevitably ramp Azure consumption and cause the ‘flywheel effect’ that comes with Azure acceleration.
Brad Kirby, the Sr. Director of Product Management at Quest Software:
It’s good to see Microsoft focusing more attention on simple automation with the acquisition of Softomotive. When a lot of people hear “automation” they think of improved productivity. But creating automation that works often requires deep technical experience that many organizations don’t have. With this acquisition Microsoft is taking a step toward delivering flexible and functional automation to a broad spectrum of organizations with differing technical skill sets.
Bruce Orcutt, the VP of Product Marketing at ABBYY:
The acquisition validates the importance of desktop automation and certainly demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to take a leadership role in automating all aspects of process. Sofotomotive, which is a current licensee of ABBYY FlexiCapture, nicely complements Microsoft’s existing capabilities to deliver a unified automation solution within Power Automate. This expands the use cases and competitiveness of Microsoft to address all automation facets with Power Automate.
Sanchit Mullick, the Associate Vice President of AI & Automation Services at Infosys:
This deal comes at a time when demand for automation technology is rapidly increasing across industries amid COVID-19. For example, healthcare and insurance firms are facing a huge influx of claims, and are looking to expand their use of robotic process automation to help automate the initial vetting process and increase productivity.
The addition of Softomotive’s WinAutomation platform to existing Microsoft Power Automate capabilities will power the democratization of automation by adding new attended automation capabilities. This is particularly important in the current context as a large population of first line workers (bank clerks, contact center agents) are working remote for the very first time and desktop automation will be a much-needed capability that can help organizations create a positive, more fulfilling employee experience during this global adjustment to remote work.
Muddu Sudhakar, the CEO and founder of Aisera:
This acquisition is for low code design, which enables 98% of the population that does not write code. Low code solutions enable business users to develop workflow automation without depending on the less than 2% of the population that can write code.
Jay Jamison, who is the Product & Technology Officer at Quick Base:
Today, challenges that existed before COVID-19, like disconnected legacy systems, inefficient manual workflows and scarce development resources, are magnified. Every business is under incredible pressure to evolve and adapt at a pace that their resources were never intended to support. The result? Adoption of RPA and low-code platforms is growing—the market opportunity is enormous, demonstrated by Microsoft’s announcement, and other recent investments by tech giants like Google and Amazon.
Burley Kawasaki, the chief product officer at K2:
It’s a good move and was an expected move from Microsoft. Their initial venture into RPA was with a pretty basic offering for automation of web based scripting. This latest acquisition fills in the gap by adding in support for Softomotive’s desktop automation. This gives Microsoft a more competitive offering as part of their Power Automate strategy.
Pankaj Chowdhry, the CEO and founder of FortressIQ:
Microsoft’s acquisition of Softomotive plays to their strengths. Microsoft has run this playbook before. A lot of people forget that in the early 90s Microsoft licensed the source code for a database from Sybase, what some would call a second-tier player in the database market. It was a classic wrap and roll strategy: Wrap the product in with other adjacent offerings and roll it out through your channel. Microsoft turned that second-tier code base into the SQL Server juggernaut that we know today.
As for Softomotive, the deal sets up the company even better. In addition to the technology, they get an engineering group intimately knowledgeable about the ins and outs of legacy Windows automation, and an installed base of 9,000 customers. Combine that with Microsoft’s vast reach in the enterprise, and you have a turbocharged strategy to get competitive in the RPA space, quickly.
Sajesh Gopinath, the General Manager & Go to Market Leader at UST Global:
Given the recent major growth they have on Azure, Microsoft can tap into their huge customer base who are starting or are in the early stage of the RPA journey and will further disrupt the RPA market. However, this space is still evolving and has several opportunities. We see customer focus being shifted towards unlocking broader business value which requires hyper-automation capabilities like NLP, Workflow orchestration, Intelligent document understanding, AI/ML in addition to RPA, or collectively called IPA.
Tom (@ttaulli) is an advisor to startups and the author of The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction. He also has developed various online courses, such as for the Python programming language.