RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $35 billion when it raised $750 million in its latest round.

RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.

While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.

As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.

We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.

Meet the vendors

UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.

Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.


By Ron Miller

Gartner finds RPA is fastest growing market in enterprise software

If you asked the average person on the street what Robotic Process Automation is, most probably wouldn’t have a clue. Yet new data from Gartner finds the RPA market grew over 63% last year, making it the fastest growing enterprise software category. It is worth noting, however, that the overall market value of $846.2 million remains rather modest compared to other multi-billion dollar enterprise software categories.

RPA helps companies automate a set of highly manual processes.The beauty of RPA, and why companies like it so much, is that it enables customers to bring a level of automation to legacy processes without having to rip and replace the legacy systems.

As Gartner points out, this plays well in companies with large amounts of legacy infrastructure like banks, insurance companies, telcos and utilities.”The ability to integrate legacy systems is the key driver for RPA projects. By using this technology, organizations can quickly accelerate their digital transformation initiatives, while unlocking the value associated with past technology investments,” Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice president at Gartner said in a statement.

The biggest winner in this rapidly growing market is UIPath, the startup that raised $225 million on a fat $3 billion valuation last year. One reason it’s attracted so much attention is its incredible growth trajectory. Consider that UIPath brought in $15.7 million in revenue in 2017 and increased that by a whopping 629.5% to $114.8 million last year. That kind of growth tends to get you noticed. It was good for 13.6% marketshare and first place, all the way up from fifth place in 2017, according to Gartner.

Another startup nearly as hot as UIPath is Automation Anywhere, which grabbed $300M from SoftBank at a $2.6B valuation last year. The two companies have raised a gaudy $1.5 billion between them with UIPath bringing in an even $1 billion and Automation Anywhere getting $550 million, according to Crunchbase.

Chart: Gartner

Automation Anywhere revenue grew from $74 million to $108.4 million, a growth clip of 46.5%, good for second place and 12.8 percent marketshare. Automation Anywhere was supplanted in first place by UIPath last year.

Blue Prism, which went public in 2016, issued $130 million in stock last year to raise some more funds, probably to help keep up with UIPath and Automation Anywhere. Whatever the reason, it more than doubled its revenue from $34.6 million to $71 million, a healthy growth rate of 105 percent, good for third place with 8.4 percent marketshare.

For now, everyone it seems is winning as the market grows in leaps and bounds. In fact, the growth numbers down the line are impressive with NTT-ATT growing 456% and Kofax growing 256% year over year as two prime examples, but even with those growth numbers, the marketshare begins to fragment into much smaller bites.

While the market is still very much in a development phase, which could account for this level of growth and jockeying for market position, at some point that fragmentation at the bottom of the market might lead to consolidation as companies try to buy additional marketshare.


By Ron Miller

RPA startup Automation Anywhere nabs $300M from SoftBank at a $2.6B valuation

The market for RPA — Robotic Process Automation — is getting a hat trick of news this week: Automation Anywhere has today announced that it has raised $300 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund. This funding, which values Automation Anywhere at $2.6 billion post-money, is an extension to the Series A the company announced earlier this year, which was at a $1.8 billion valuation. It brings the total size of the round to $550 million.

The news comes just a day after one of the startup’s bigger competitors, UiPath, announced a $265 million raise at a $3 billion valuation; and a week after Kofax, another competitor, announced it would be acquiring a division of Nuance for $400 million to beef up its business.

It’s also yet one more example of a one-two punch in funding. It was only in July that Automation Anywhere announced its $250 million raise.

This latest round adds some significant investors to the company’s cap table, specifically from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which counts a number of tech giants like Apple and Qualcomm as LPs, along with others. Specifically, the fund has been under fire for the last few weeks because of the fact that a large swathe of its backing comes from Saudi money.

The Saudi Arabian government has been in the spotlight over its involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its embassy in Turkey. By extension of that, there have been many questions raised in recent weeks over the ethics of taking money from the Vision Fund, with so many questions still in the air over that affair.

In an interview, Mihir Shukla, CEO and Co-Founder at Automation Anywhere, said that while what happened to Khashoggi was “not acceptable,” his conversations started with SoftBank before that and they did not impact the startup’s decision over whether to work with the Fund.

He declined to comment on the timing of the term sheet getting signed, when asked whether it was before or after the news broke of the murder.

What attracted us to SoftBank was that Masayoshi Son” — the CEO and founder of SoftBank — “has a vision and he is investing in foundational platforms that will change how we work and travel,” Shukla said. “We share that vision.”

He also pointed out that getting funding from SoftBank will “naturally” lead to more opportunities to partner with companies in SoftBank’s network of companies, which cover dozens of investments and outright ownerships.

While it feels like artificial intelligence is something that you see referenced at every turn these days in the tech world, RPA is an interesting area because it’s one of the more tangible applications of it, across a wide set of businesses.

In short, it’s a set of software-based “robots” that help companies automate mundane and repetitive tasks that would otherwise be done by human workers, employing AI-based technology in areas like computer vision and machine learning to get the work done.

Competition among companies to grab pole position in the space is fierce. Automation Anywhere has 1,400 organizations as customers, it says. By comparison, UiPath has 2,100 and claims an annual revenue run rate at the moment of $150 million. Shukla declined to disclose any financials for his company.

But in light of all that, the company will be using the funding to build out its business specifically ahead of rivals.

“With this additional capital, we are in a position to do far more than any other provider,” said Shukla in a statement. “We will not only continue to deliver the most advanced RPA to the market, but we will help bring AI to millions. Like the introduction of the PC, we see a world where every office employee will work alongside digital workers, amplifying human contributions. Today, employees must know how to use a PC and very soon employees will have to know how to build a bot.”

Automation Anywhere claims that its Bot Store is the industry’s largest marketplace for bot applications, designed both by itself and partners, to execute different business processes, with 65,000 users since launching in March 2018.


By Ingrid Lunden