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Oracle gears up to fend off RPA and workflow upstarts by pouring more automation into core enterprise apps

Larry walks onto porch with shotgun in arm, takes aim at pesky critters

Oracle is making a pitch against the intrusion of RPA and workflow software vendors that have climbed into its back yard with a slew of new features in core products.

Big Red's plan is to leapfrog the RPA vendors that have successfully dug a growing market for themselves in enterprise applications, according to Juergen Lindner, Oracle senior veep of ERP.

On a press call he said: "We're doubling down on this investment, we really do think that we can leapfrog the RPA approaches in the market right now."

But instead of RPA, Oracle prefers the term Intelligent Process Automation, which is "based on machine learning where the system learns, based on [user] decision making and auto suggests which tasks can be automated. [This] is just massive for us."

New product features announced today include the introduction of "configurable and intelligent rules" designed to accelerate financial close and account reconciliation.

Another feature in Oracle's core ERP package claims to automatically predict and enter codes for invoices not associated with purchase orders based on machine learning – this has been one of the common use cases for RPA vendors.

Oracle has also introduced automated tagging of regulatory reports, such as 10K reports filed by publicly traded companies in the US, using the XBRL taxonomy based on "advanced language processing and pattern recognition" – something users have been requesting, Lindner said.

Fresh to Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP is predictive planning, with the idea being to improve execution of strategic corporate plans and control of approved projects from within the ERP application.

Lindner said: "This another big investment of ours. Once again, [we are] using machine learning based directly in the application, versus a 'sidecar' concept." He added that this was about providing pattern detection, along with contextual insights and recommendations "where you need it... versus putting it into a data warehouse to run an algorithms and trying to do a report on that. We really feel it needs to be ambient in the application so that [users] don't even know that [they're] using machine learning."

In automation, Oracle is taking on a posse of RPA vendors, including Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, and UiPath, in a market that Wikibon estimates would be worth $75bn by 2025.

Enterprise application competitors at SAP (Contextor) and Microsoft (Softomotive) have both bought RPA vendors in the last couple of years. Just last week, Microsoft announced a public preview of Power Automate Desktop, which it said will allow users to automate tasks relying on desktop and on-premises systems, including business processes and workflows.

Oracle is also taking a swipe at workflow vendors, most notably ServiceNow, whose verbose boss Bill McDermott claimed it is his company's "destiny to become the defining enterprise software company of the 21st century".

Oracle is arguably one of the companies to define the 20th century software industry – for good or ill – and it is not about to take the threat lying down. In its human capital management software, Oracle today promised a "seamless, step-by-step experience for employees as they move through personal and professional situations that require complex tasks and interactions".

TechMarketView research director Angela Eager said Oracle was smart to react to market demand for greater automation given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

But in RPA at least she said there would remain a role for specialist vendors that can orchestrate automation across an enterprise estate consisting of applications from a myriad of vendors.

"There's usually a role for some sort of orchestration or sort of high-level management, and some of the automation suppliers have positioned themselves as a company who can provide the technology for that layer, and bring together different automation capabilities," she said. "I think maybe their voices get a little bit lost because of the level of noise in the market."

The independent RPA vendors might have a crucial advantage over Big Red, however. Although Oracle had deep pockets to invest in automation, it is introducing features only to its latest Fusion Cloud version of its enterprise application software.

With organisations slow to move off older iterations of Oracle's applications, and most companies running software from multiple vendors, RPA will have plenty of opportunity to eke out a living. ®

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