Despite Robotic Process Automation (RPA) being around for several years now, more and more vendors are delivering RPA capabilities as customers get serious about embracing the technology.
A report by Forrester predicts that robots will replace or augment over 300,000 office and administrative positions and 260,000 sales positions in 2018 alone. The same report estimates the value of the RPA software market to nearly double, to $1 billion (£765 million), by the end of the year.
Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism and NICE are all big names in the RPA space, yet each provides a different service – or at least, in a different way.
So what exactly differentiates some of the big RPA vendors? We examine the features that might help in selecting the right one.
Attended vs Unattended
The two main aspects to RPA are attended and unattended automation. Vendors tend to offer services focused on one or the other, and in some cases, the features could be a blend of the two.
Simply put, attended automation software requires human intervention, so is often deployed in the front office of an organisation. This is more commonly used in contact centres, and tends to run on an agent’s desktop or system and is triggered by the user as and when specific events occur. Think of it like an assistant bot.
Unattended automation is the opposite: it runs without human intervention, with the robot scheduled to run automatically depending on a set of rules that allow it to trigger certain actions, making it well suited to back office settings. However it is increasingly being applied to repetitive or mundane tasks in the front office.
Making the decision to choose one RPA vendor over the other more or less comes down to your specific business needs and what form of automation can help to meet your criteria.
Founded in 2001, Blue Prism claims to have invented the term Robotic Process Automation. It offers a software platform to help organisations develop a digital workforce while making business operations more agile and cost-effective.
Blue Prism offers a mix of attended and unattended automation solutions, making it fairly unique in the space, with both automation for back office processes while also supporting employees with repetitive tasks.
The product roadmap includes an Intelligent Automation Skills concept and is expected to include product enhancements which will provide customers with growing access to AI within their RPA solution.
“We don’t see a difference in how automation is instigated, whether by a person or an electronic trigger from another application or workflow. Our difference is that we do not execute on the agent’s desktop which is more fragile, difficult to manage and creates security and audit issues,” said Pat Geary, chief evangelist at Blue Prism.
Customers include nPower, Telefonica O2 and various others. “It’s been very exciting to watch our client base grow in the 10 years I have been with the company. What has been most exciting is to see how business operations functions have taken Blue Prism and used it in so many ways that we had never initially considered,” he added.
Blue Prism’s RPA services and pricing is available on request.
NICE also offers a mixture of both attended and unattended automation solutions to help organisations make smarter decisions and deliver better customer service.
The vendor officially began to specialise in RPA after acquiring Eglue in 2011 and expanded across Europe and the US to deliver advanced robotic automation.
The services include unattended robotic automation, which enables organisations to automate processes for fast error-free resolution. Once installed on virtual servers, the robots handle all end-to-end processes that it is assigned.
It also offers desktop automation, which acts as a digital assistant – otherwise known as attended automation. This can be deployed to automate repetitive desktop tasks and feedback to employees with links to data in real-time to help perform work more efficiently and accurately.
“A lot of people refer to it as ‘attended,’ but it’s not really attended, it’s more of a virtual assistant if you like. It’s a capability for helping people and that’s quite different to what other vendors talk about when they talk about attended,” said Gareth Hole, solutions sales manager at NICE.
NICE began with a core focus on the contact centre space, where it noticed the fast-paced environment required automation to help employees hit their targets. However, it later noticed that all its collected data could support other processes, specifically around documentation, and began to offer unattended services as well.
The company has a number of UK customers such as Thomas Cook, which recently adopted NICE’s advanced process automation solution to use unattended and attended robots to improve customer service and back office activities.
“We tend to realise that other companies are not so strong on the attended space and their strength is unattended. It’s only when customers begin to look at the more complex processes that they need to automate that they realise some shortfalls in the company, and will choose us,” John O’ Hara, president at NICE EMEA told Computerworld UK.
NICE RPA pricing is available on request.
Automation Anywhere was founded in 2003 to provide an enterprise platform where software bots work with employees to handle repetitive tasks. In other words, it specialises in unattended automation.
It also combines cognitive machine learning and analytic technologies to help organisations manage their business processes faster.
“Cognitive and AI are one of the fastest growing revenue streams as you can imagine, because in two ways they are complementing each other. With RPA a lot of people take the bot out of a human, and with cognitive it allows you to take out the human and process it into a machine. So when you combine both of these technologies you can automate any process end-to-end,” said Ankur Kothari, CRO and co-founder at Automation Anywhere.
Customers of Automation Anywhere range across financial services, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing and more. It also completed a Series A funding round of $250 million (£192 million), led by Goldman Sachs, General Atlantic and other big names.
“One way we have differentiated is first, we combine these different technologies and second is that we want to truly democratise our technology in the sense that we believe that automation cannot just be for developers or IT, but can be used across business,” he added.
The pricing is available on request.
Founded in 2005, UiPath provides an open enterprise and IT RPA platform to automate business processes across front and back office operations.
With over 1,800 business and government agency customers, they tend to adopt UiPath’s Enterprise RPA platform to deploy software robots that emulate and execute repetitive processes.
The UiPath robot provides both human-led and robot-led automation, so customers can benefit from attended or unattended automation.
According to UiPath, which recently raised $225 million (£173 million) in Series C funding, it is now valued at $3 billion (£2.3 billion). This gives it more funding than rivals Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism.
It also claims to be the most widely adopted RPA platform and was named a leader, with the highest score in ‘current offering’ and ‘market presence,’ in the Forrester Wave RPA for 2018.
“UiPath is driven by the incredible potential for our platform to be the gateway to transform our customers’ digital business operations with machine learning and AI,” Daniel Dines, CEO and co-founder at UiPath said in a statement.
The pricing is available on request.
The vendor is looking to include RPA capabilities within its Leonardo Machine Learning portfolio, and also combine it with conversational artificial intelligence to deliver what it calls Intelligent RPA - or IPA.
“SAP is working on an intelligent approach to RPA, with the idea that we’re bringing together the classic RPA capabilities to drive connections and automate clicks in software applications with a deep knowledge of the SAP machine learning stack,” Markus Noga, head of machine learning at SAP told Computerworld UK.
“Our overall focus is the vision of the intelligent enterprise, helping companies going from digital, where all the information is available digitally at the point of origin, to actually using the information to learn and augment human and business processes based on the new capabilities that machine learning and AI provide to enterprise software.”
The acquisition of Contextor has helped SAP get a jump start on its RPA capabilities, and the vendor is looking to provide customers with a set of use cases around common enterprise business processes that can be automated with RPA.
“Intelligent RPA is about triggering actions and enterprise applications while automating activities, which we started development on in early summer 2018 and we’ve now recently augmented with the acquisition of Contextor,” Noga said. SAP will also include RPA capabilities into its key solutions, such as S/4HANA, from the first half of 2019.