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There is a quiet yet fierce battle being fought by technology heavyweights. They want to consolidate the exponentially increasing RPA (robotic process automation) market and the sizable investments users are making, which continue to grow. According to recent research, organizations on average spend $480,000 on RPA annually, with those in the highest tier spending well over $1 million on automation every year.

With a market of that size and all indications being that automation will only get bigger, it’s no wonder the likes of Microsoft have entered the fray to duke it out with perennial leaders Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism, raising the question: Who will come out on top?

Since Gartner released its first Magic Quadrant for the upstart RPA software segment in 2019, the same runaways have occupied the coveted “leaders” spot, jockeying for position like thoroughbreds coming down the main straight at Churchill Downs. From our seat at the finish line, Microsoft might have gotten off to a late start, but it’s coming on strong as some of its competitors wane and tire. It’s shaping up to be a two-horse race where Microsoft and Automation Anywhere are galloping away from the pack. 

Who are the likely contenders for the intelligent automation crown?

Automation programs have matured. They’re at a stage in their lifecycle where the name of the game is no longer adoption, but rather scale, innovation, cost reduction and more end-to-end automation. In their pursuit of these prioritized objectives, companies are also experimenting with a multi-platform approach where multiple automation tools are used to leverage specialized features, use cases and increased compatibility with enterprise architectures. 

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Moreover, the next evolution of automation will be in the cloud. Where legacy, first-generation RPA tools have stalled, Microsoft’s Power Platform and Automation Anywhere’s Automation 360 deliver feature-rich, cloud-native platforms loaded with next-gen capabilities and a host of other benefits that pique the interest of all CIOs.

Re-platforming entire automation estates to a new platform is challenging and can be expensive because automations in most cases need to be rebuilt anew. These challenges often deter businesses from making a switch. However, there are solutions and providers that can facilitate and accelerate re-platforming automation estates onto a new tool, like Microsoft’s Power Automate which seems to be getting the lion’s share of attention from prospective suitors. 

Microsoft’s Power Platform, a portfolio of next-gen efficiency-based solutions, and its soon-to-be flagship offering Power Automate, are garnering so much support because they hit the spot their target audience cares about the most: their wallets. Microsoft included Power Automate for free with Windows 10. You still have to pay for scheduling and orchestrating automation; however, the pricing model is extremely competitive, with both per-user and per-flow structures, and that’s before you take into account the other forms of cost savings it offers. 

Because so many organizations already use Microsoft’s suite of products, whether it’s Azure for cloud computing or Office 365 for business apps, Power Automate slides right into existing enterprise architecture so organizations can automate more of their business processes with minimal effort and greater quality. Power Automate’s UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) are also a departure from its very technical and complex competitive predecessors that needed highly skilled technical resources to build even the simplest of automated tasks. Looking to finally deliver on the promise of “citizen developers,” Microsoft, with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, will continue to make automation more accessible to the average business user.

Close on Microsoft’s heels is a mainstay in the RPA space: Automation Anywhere. Traditionally, Automation Anywhere owned a major slice of the RPA market with its Enterprise 10 and 11 offerings. Now, it’s built the industry’s first cloud-native platform from the ground up, offering what its customers and the whole industry found missing from its flagship and legacy solutions. 

Beyond its more than 1,000 pre-built automations, Automation Anywhere’s Automation 360 platform presents suitors with a difficult choice when stacked up against Microsoft Power Automate. With a lower cost of ownership because of its cloud infrastructure; a very intuitive UX; built-in machine learning and AI; better security, flexibility and scalability; and a significant shift from UI-centric to API-centric automation, cloud-native Automation 360 makes for a difficult decision for CIOs looking at the two incumbent leaders. 

What’s next for business process automation

The future of business process automation is clear: It’s going to become more intelligent. There will be a stark evolution and divergence from automating swivel-chair, repetitive business tasks to leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence on cloud-native platforms to automate complex, end-to-end business processes. What remains unclear is whom you will choose to get you there. From our vantage point, the choices will most likely come down to Microsoft Power Automate and Automation Anywhere.

Dan Shimmerman is President and CEO at Blueprint Software Systems.

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