The software bots are coming, the software bots are coming: Microsoft swallows UK automation minnow while dreaming of low-code apps

Now about that ageing software estate and those lucrative licences...

Microsoft has acquired UK robotic process automation (RPA) specialist Softomotive for an undisclosed sum, snatching a bigger foothold in a market attracting interest from investors and other large software vendors.

The Redmond giant said Softomotive's desktop automation software will work with its existing Power Automate wares, "further democratising RPA and enabling everyone to create bots to automate manual business processes."

How lovely.

Softomotive's flagship product, WinAutomation, which will fit with Microsoft's cloud-based system for building software robots, is designed to address those admin tasks involving simple data transfer between systems as well as more complex business processes, Micros~1 said.

Craig Le Clair, Forrester veep and principal analyst, said the merger "removed any doubts that RPA has really arrived".

He said he expected other software vendors to join the buying spree. "Given the current recession and focus on projects that reduce cost, the timing could not be better."

Microsoft's web-based design of UI Flows could not compete with major RPA design studios, which have a richer set of features it now gains with Softomotive, Le Clair added.

Microsoft also gained "surface automation features" – a combination of screenshots, image recognition and OCR – a specialism of the RPA vendors.

"Application control and UI surface automation for Citrix, green screens, and hundreds of UI formats may have proven harder for Microsoft than originally anticipated," Le Clair said.

TechMarketView research director Angela Eager said the merger could give Microsoft the ability to combine its low-code capabilities in its Power portfolio with RPA.

"There is a focus on making RPA for Windows tasks affordable and 'build a bot' capabilities more accessible, which expands the addressable market," she said.

Microsoft is not the first big software vendor to show an interest in the RPA market. In 2018, SAP bought French RPA specialist Contextor.

Enterprise software vendors getting into RPA have to walk a fine line, though. The whole point is to give an ageing application estate a facelift, offering new UIs and automation. But if they do it too well, it could take away incentives for the application upgrades on which the big vendors rely. ®

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