Investors splash £100m on robotic process automation vendor in hopes RPA holds up in wake of COVID-19

Cash-flingers see dollars through a Blue Prism

Purveyor of software robots, Blue Prism, has hired a new CEO and bagged £100m in funding, proof of market confidence in the technology concept in the face of strong economic headwinds.

Far from dampening interest in robotic process automation, the field in which Blue Prism specialises, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent global lockdowns are tempting investors to put some money into the area.

Blue Prism, which counts Lloyds Banking Group and Jaguar Land Rover among its customers, said the funding came from new and existing investors, and will be used to protect the company's balance sheet during a period of uncertainty for the wider economy, allowing spending on technology development.

It also took the opportunity to confirm veteran AI exec Jason Kingdon, as the new CEO of Blue Prism, replacing co-founder Alastair Bathgate, who is set to step down at the end of April.

"The capital raised positions us as a strong partner to our enterprise customers as they increasingly look to securely scale beyond a simple proof of concept while leveraging leading-edge AI and cognitive capabilities," said Kingdon, who continues as executive chairman.

Marc Hardwick, research director at analyst firm TechMarketView, said the COVID-19 lockdowns could see accelerated adoption of digital and automation technologies. "Anecdotally, we have already seen over the last few weeks rapid adoption of RPA in a wide range of industries from healthcare to insurance, as organisations get to grips with the challenges of COVID-19 and the lockdown."

Blue Prism said its customer Leeds Building Society has expanded its use of RPA to help cope with the huge increase in mortgage deferral requests, for example.

Other RPA firms have been quick to point out that automating mundane or repetitive tasks may free up time to help people work remotely and become more flexible in response to the challenges the novel coronavirus presents.

UiPath, a rival to Blue Prism in the RPA market, said The Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin is using its technology to help reduce the time taken to process COVID-19 testing kits. RPA also reduces the administrative strain placed upon its Infection Prevention and Control Department, freeing up nurses' time previously spent on paperwork.

In January, Blue Prism reported [PDF] an 83 per cent hike in revenue to £101m for the year ended 31 October 2019 and boosted its customer base by 73 per cent from the previous year to 1,677 global enterprise accounts. The company's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation for the year, however, showed a loss of £71.9m, after adjusting for share-based payments, up from a loss of £21.6m the year before. This didn't put investors off at the time; they also chucked £100m at the firm in 2019.

To put that in context, in 2017 US RPA company UiPath was valued at $70m, but just a year later, this had shto up to $3bn on the back of a $225m Series C funding round. It sucked up $568m in a D-round last year, valuing the firm at $7bn.®

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