Bot herder of a different kind: Open sourcer Camunda buffs up RPA platform in an overcrowded market

Someone's got to wrangle all the automation now Microsoft and pals have joined the act

Open source bot orchestration vendor Camunda has rolled out its latest platform update, which includes features designed to centrally wrangle bots from the multitude of vendors currently muscling in on the lucrative market.

But one analyst said while there was a need for new approaches in these areas, solutions are not quite there yet.

Camunda is one of the few open source vendors in the RPA market and counts Deutsche Telekom, Goldman Sachs, and Panasonic among its customers.

Its latest 7.14 release supports industry standards Business Process Model and Notation and Decision Model and Notation for process and decision automation to orchestrate RPA bots. The update also replaces RPA with API integration where it makes sense.

It also promises tools to developer productivity with pre-built connections to popular robot builders including UiPath, the $7bn valued RPA company, catalogues or RPA services, a process design suit and a bot monitoring system.

$75bn reasons why

The RPA market could be worth $75bn by 2025 according to Wikibon, a burgeoning bonanza which has not escaped the attention of software giant Microsoft, which said it will integrate bot building with its low-code development platform, and SAP, which snaffled RPA vendor Contextor in 2018. Meanwhile fellow software monster Oracle plans to see off the threat by building what it calls Intelligent Process Automation into its core products.

They all join a market already populated by Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and Pega Systems.

With such a proliferation of bot-builders, and enterprise systems being the heterogeneous mess they usually are, the question arises: who is going to get to grips with the sprawling bot population?

Speaking to The Register, Camunda CEO and co-founder Jakob Freund said: “We have seen from Camunda customers such as Deutsche Telekom and National Westminster Bank that RPA is a great short-term solution, however it's a highly maintenance-intensive technology. RPA is essentially reading and automating the same user interface that a user would use.”

A front-end UI might be in a spreadsheet, a scanned document or even a CRM or ERP system and any changes to it could break bots. “This makes RPA labour intensive,” he said.

While Camunda solution may be a step in the right direction, the journey to bot nirvana is a long one.

Craig Le Clair, Forrester Research veep, said: “There are many BPM vendors like Camunda that are acquiring or positioning in some way for the RPA or for what we call now Intelligent Automation market."

He said Camunda approach was to see RPA thus far as a simple task automation without stronger rules management. It also usually failed to take account of a broader API and UI integration approach.

The Camunda platform might help in these scenarios but only about 20 per cent of RPA implementations experience these kinds of problems, Le Clair said. "Scaling any new enterprise platform experiences similar problems, but 80 per cent of RPA roll-out receive strong ROI and success.

"Automation orchestration is an emerging issue but our view is broader than managing diverse RPA bots; it's about coordinating various AI building blocks," he said.

At the same time, actual implementation of an RPA management layer was easier said than done.

"You can consolidate the reporting across bots relatively easily, and a handful of vendors can do this today, but robot scheduling and management is specific and proprietary to the individual RPA platform with standardisation, so a true overall management approach is doubtful in the near term," he said.

Meanwhile, as the big software vendors muscle in the market, the incumbent specialists, such as UiPath and Blue Prism, are likely to refocus on bot orchestration at an enterprise level. Camunda might have its work cut out making an impact. ®

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