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Only one software giant to make impact on the robotic process automation market, says analyst

Yep. It's Microsoft. Other big guns investing might see it as 'check-off item or loss leader,' claims Forrester

Microsoft is set to be the only firm among the enterprise tech giants investing in robotic process automation (RPA) tools to make a significant impact, a report from Forrester claims.

The RPA market is set to be worth $2.9bn by revenue in 2021, up from $125m in 2016, while the two biggest players in the game, Automation Anywhere and UiPath, have a combined valuation of $39.2bn. UiPath, especially, appears to have convinced investors that robotic process automation is A Thing, with a $35.8bn valuation after its recent IPO in April.

However, the total RPA market is still tiny compared with the enterprise application market, worth $225bn in 2029, according to IDC. Nonetheless, vendors in the bigger market are still tempted to get a slice of the action. Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft have all made significant investments knitting RPA into their platforms in recent years, but only the Redmond OS giant is likely to make headway, Forrester said.

It predicted that two pure-play RPA vendors plus Blue Prism, which offers RPA and low-code tools, would control 32 per cent of the market by 2023, while Microsoft would command 5 per cent because it is integrating RPA with its Power platform, which includes low-code and self-service BI offerings and is integrated with Office and Dynamics application products.

"With the exception of Microsoft, IA acquisitions are less of a threat to pure-play RPA vendors. Tech giants have 'license power' but may bundle RPA as a check-off item or loss leader, and therefore, they lack focus on what makes RPA so compelling," the report said.

Speaking to The Register, report co-author and Forrester principal analyst Craig Le Clair said users might want to look at applications vendors' RPA products if they were looking for specific automations in those environments.

"If a large percentage of uses are in these domains like ServiceNow for IT Service Management or Salesforce for CRM, then it's absolutely fine to do a technical automation that links with those capabilities," he said. "But there are companies that are using [RPA] broadly across so many use cases across HR, finance and in their line of business that are trying to build an enterprise shared services for RPA, so they're better off with the alpha players."

The alpha players, the report explains, are the companies that specialise in RPA without also having products in applications or infrastructure, such as Automation Anywhere and UiPath, the two biggest.

RPA has been seen as a fragile approach to automation because it can rely on scraping application user interfaces, which, should they change, can make the whole process fall over.

But Le Clair claimed the leading vendors were beginning to overcome these problems.

Machine-learning techniques such as computer vision can help sense when a user interface changes and understand what those changes are, and help to automate an adjustment to the bot, he said.

"Those changes are likely to be a character field is moved from this location to another. A lot of these issues can be treated with relatively simple service automation capabilities that are evolving pretty well." ®

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