, September 25, 2021

Microsoft cracks the RPA market! ... not really


  •   3 min reads
Microsoft cracks the RPA market! ... not really

Recent news from Microsoft that they are offering free RPA to all users of Windows 10 has been doing the rounds on social media. Microsoft, the great disruptor (yes, that's the spin) is apparently ready to shake-up the market by bundling a free version of Power Automate into the world's most popular operating system. This will offer all PC users the ability to build automations and get rid of the those nasty RPA implementations from UiPath, BluePrism, Automation Anywhere and the rest of the hyped-up RPA vendors.
As Neil Ward-Dutton, leading RPA analyst from IDC explains in this video, the reality is quite different and I couldn't agree with him more ...

Unravelling RPA implementations is not as straight forward as one might assume and replacing technology is not going to replace the outcomes of these automations. In fact, a lot of these automations have taken months and sometimes years to fine tune and link together, a task that corporations would be unlikely to endure, again.

Microsoft's RPA is desktop based, meaning that at this stage it's not up to the job of unattended tasks and will require a 'user in the process loop'. This is not a bad thing, in fact it's one of the most exciting potential uses of RPA, after all, a 'bot helper' can do the grunt work while the human can focus on the 'value' side of the equation. It can increase an individual's efficiency by asking for data points to be displayed, rather than having to go and find them, shortening waiting times and increasing customer satisfaction. This is not spin, it really does offer a level of speed to resolution that was not available a few years ago, but all of the existing RPA technologies offer this.

Without the ability to work 'unattended', Microsoft's bot workforce is just not 'up to speed' compared to the big RPA players. The likes of UiPath offer a level of automation that goes beyond the idea of a 'bot helper' and can replace entire data workflows and system integrations. BluePrism is hardwired into back-office systems that are critical to all kinds of financial outcomes and represents another level of complexity compared to what Microsoft is offering.

The idea that free RPA is something new is a bit out of date. Workfusion offered free RPA more than four years ago and the majority of the major vendors all offer a free version of their own software and have done so for quite a while. They all work with MS products as standard and are not reliant on API's (application programming interface) from other application providers either, so nothing ground breaking there.

Being free doesn't mean that it's easy to use either. One of the reasons for RPAs success has been down the to the huge user communities set up by UiPath and Automation Anywhere. Drop into one of the many forums and you'll quickly realise that while most RPA can be classed as #lowcode or even #nocode, when it comes to building anything more than a 'copy & paste' function, some level of technical ability is required.

The big question is, what do you actually automate as individual users? People, more often than not have no idea what it is they actually want to do with the software. This will change as eureka moments are shared and Windows users begin to understand that they no longer have to produce weekly reports, update databases or populate CRM systems. But this is not a disruptive moment in the history of RPA, it's more akin to a dripping tap eventually filling up the bath.

Microsoft is late to the game, very late. While RPA is new to some and still unheard of by others, it's now considered as a fairly mainstream business software solution, propped up by process discovery, mining and a plethora of consulting firms all benefiting from the success of the technology. Of course the very entrance of Microsoft into the market is much more than 'a bit of news' but it really just validates the potential for RPA to evolve further and might even justify the hype that some find so distasteful and worthy of their online wrath.

Contrary to what the detractors are claiming, most, if not all of the large RPA implementations are delivering high ROI. Technology tends to succeed or fail based on what it delivers. Yes, there are plenty of failed RPA projects to cite as examples but the good far outweighs the bad and more often than not, it's the application of the technology that has failed, not the technology itself.

This enthusiasm for the major RPA vendors to 'come a cropper' seems like more of a wish for others to fail, rather than for Microsoft to succeed. And it's strange. People are usually positive and encouraging about smaller companies taking on tech giants.

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