Image by: Bplanet, ©2018 Getty Images

In July, we looked at the surging interest in robotic process automation (RPA) software and the evolving market of task automation in general, evidenced by the double-digit growth seen in this market. It’s no surprise that these vendors and their customer events are making their mark on the industry, as partners and customers alike look to capitalize on the benefits of a digital workforce.

Earlier this year, we attended three RPA software vendor events held in New York City, including WorkFusion Ascend, Blue Prism World 2018, and Automation Anywhere Imagine. In addition to product updates, there were some common themes across all three of these customer and partner events.
  • RPA is more than RPA: Some vendors extend the definition of RPA to incorporate other elements of subtask automation that is executed server side, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine/deep learning, decision automation and optimization, as well as other technologies more closely aligned with workflow and case management. All three vendors include (or partner for) capabilities related to AI and process orchestration, as well as optical character recognition (OCR) and analytics.
  • Business-led and IT-supported: All three vendors showcased solutions designed for business users while acknowledging that information technology (IT) expertise and support are required for implementation, deployment, and ongoing security and maintenance. All vendors offer professional services and partner with a number of business process outsourcing (BPO) and IT services providers. WorkFusion's free Automation Academy offers learning paths for the power user, specialist, developer, and architect. Automation Anywhere University also offers an extensive, free training curriculum.
  • Treat digital workers like human workers: Operational analytics and automation governance were extensively covered at all three events. Software bots must be accountable for the same factors as human workers, especially regarding security parameters including access, control, and auditability.
  • Augmentation, not replacement: All the vendors positioned RPA as a technology to offload repetitive, mundane tasks, leading to increased worker productivity and job satisfaction. In some case studies, backlogs were eliminated and throughput was increased without reducing (or increasing) the number of human workers. In other case studies, the human impact was not as clear.

WorkFusion Ascend

With 425 attendees at WorkFusion Ascend (a 40% increase from last year's event), the company announced major upgrades to its flagship AI-enabled RPA product, Smart Process Automation (SPA), and its free starter product, RPA Express. RPA Express also now offers a paid professional subscription, which allows multiple users to run multiple processes with unlimited bots on a single machine and more OCR pages.

WorkFusion SPA brings together RPA, OCR, AI, workflow, and analytics in a single platform (see figure below), which WorkFusion promotes as a key differentiator. Its recent Lumen release combines simpler RPA and out-of-the-box machine learning models. The platform also enables business users to easily create and train models and automate bot testing. Analytics tools provide deeper insights that help predict cost, quality, and productivity.

©2018 WorkFusion

Blue Prism World

Unlike WorkFusion, Blue Prism is taking an ecosystem approach, offering OCR, AI for intelligent automation, and other capabilities via its Technology Alliance Program (TAP). Partner technologies can be accessed within Blue Prism's task automation modeler and directly added to models. Blue Prism plans to launch Digital Exchange, which will allow users to search by business problem, technology, or application to find technologies proven to work with Blue Prism.

©2018 Blue Prism
Boasting more than 1,200 people at the event, Blue Prism introduced the six intelligent automation skills for digital workers that provide a foundation for enterprise RPA.

In parallel with its event, Blue Prism announced that it has been selected to provide access to Microsoft's AI technologies, expertise, advice, and support, as the company incorporates Microsoft AI into its Digital Workforce. Blue Prism also announced that it will offer AI, machine learning, and data analytics tools powered by Google Cloud to its customers. Blue Prism will integrate with Google Cloud Vision API, Cloud Natural Language API, Cloud ML Engine, Cloud Translate API, Google Cloud Storage, and Pub/Sub.

Automation Anywhere Imagine

Automation Anywhere, the largest RPA software provider, also hosted the largest audience with well over 1,200 attendees, tripled from the previous year. In addition to the Automation Anywhere Enterprise RPA platform, the company offers IQ Bot for AI capabilities, Bot Insight for operational and business analytics, and Bot Farm for cloud-enabled, on-demand RPA as a service.

©2018 Automation Anywhere

According to Automation Anywhere, its Bot Store is the industry's first online automation marketplace for off-the-shelf, plug-and-play bots developed by the company's partner, developer, and customer communities, as well as Automation Anywhere itself. Since its launch in March 2018, the store has grown to over 300 bots.

Automation Anywhere also notes that the most popular bot category in the Bot Store is artificial intelligence with 24 bots, while the speech-to-text bot leads the way in downloads. The most common business process is finance and accounting, with the "allocate payments against outstanding invoices" as the most visited bot. SAP is the most prevalent application with 31 bots listed. At the New York City event, Automation Anywhere announced that the Bot Store is now open to artificial intelligence and machine learning developers with the addition of cognitive IQ Bot technology. Developers and partners can offer pretrained cognitive bots.

As you can see, the value proposition of RPA software is compelling, as demonstrated by the growing interest in these three vendor events.

Holly Muscolino is the Research Vice President of the Content Technologies and Document Workflow group at IDC and is responsible for research related to enterprise content management, including records management and case management. Follow Holly on Twitter @hmuscolino.