Robotic process automation is a rapidly growing software category that automates routine tasks so organizations can replace mundane, repetitive -- but important -- human actions with intelligent bot software. While the technology has been gaining traction, corporations sometimes struggle with integration issues.
The arrival of the robotic process automation (RPA) marketplace, however, intends to ease that burden. These business app stores are in an early stage of development, most having been launched within the past 18 months. Channel partners such as systems integrators and consulting firms are playing a role in the marketplaces as RPA component contributors.
RPA technology can handle a broad range of functions. For instance, a bot could check and automatically copy and paste customer information from one document to another in a personal loan application.
"A few areas where RPA has been popular are applications that translate data between Outlook and Excel and from one email system to another," explained Max Mancini, executive vice president of the digital worker ecosystem at Automation Anywhere, an RPA vendor based in San Jose, Calif.
Software bots streamline data capture and reduce personnel costs, sometimes quite dramatically. The technology also enables businesses to improve data accuracy by eliminating errors that occur in keying data.
"Companies find that RPA systems improve not just efficiency, but also accuracy," Mancini noted. "In financial services, if someone misplaces a digit, it can be a very big problem."
As a result, the market is booming. Worldwide RPA software revenue grew 63.1% in 2018 to $846 million, making it the fastest-growing segment in the enterprise software market, according to Gartner.
But RPA faces challenges as the market expands. One is the technology's vast potential.
"Corporations are beginning to realize that they can use RPA to automate just about any business process," Mancini said.
Use cases include order fulfillment, mortgage processing, logistics management, compliance auditing and monitoring customer churn, according to Automation Anywhere.
While identifying use cases is easy, making the connections can prove difficult. Applications now are broken into components that can be mixed and matched via APIs in a free-form fashion. Software has to be written to tie components together. Enterprises want to spend as little time as possible on that work so they can focus on application improvements.
The RPA marketplaces include distinct API connectors, lines of code that link items that perform various business functions together in a Lego-like fashion. These apps enhance component reuse, a concept that has gained traction with the movement to Agile development and open source offerings.
In most cases, any developer can build a component and add it to a store once the vendor checks it to ensure it is legitimate software and not malware. Businesses then download the connectors like they would from a mobile app store.
In addition to connectors, RPA marketplace offerings include prebuilt bots and digital workers, workflows and utilities, among other asset types.
RPA marketplace sites: Open for business
A few RPA marketplace sites are up and running:
(See accompanying chart for more details.)
The marketplaces are creating opportunities for partners. Companies that have contributed to RPA marketplaces include Avanade, HCL, Symphony, Tata Consultancy Services and Tech Mahindra. In general, partners -- including systems integrators and consultancies -- have been working with RPA vendors, contributing expertise in vertical markets and specific technologies.
Chris MorganGlobal vice president of partners and alliances at UiPath
"We [are] not SAP experts, so we need help from partners to be successful working with it," said Chris Morgan, global vice president of partners and alliances at UiPath, based in New York.
But the RPA marketplaces are in a nascent stage of development. RPA vendors are inexperienced in software contracting and developing pricing mechanisms, commercial terms, and service levels, according to Gartner. The marketplaces need to build up their system infrastructure to simplify the upload process. They have to put technical and legal policies and barriers in place to prevent fraud.
Monetizing the marketplaces is a vexing issue. In some cases, the markets have an open source approach, where contributors do not earn any money from the software, but can bundle it with their services. Automation Anywhere has a model where it gets 30% of the revenue, and the partner gets 70%.
RPA software vendors could employ some form of a subscription-based pricing model. Gartner predicted RPA software vendors will shift their current metrics structure from per bot or per component to some form of consumption-based metrics.
In such cases, vendors need to develop subscription plans that offer multiple tiers based on items, like downloads, usage or other factors. Currently, vendors are experimenting with such approaches, as well as putting the infrastructure in place to support them.
Additional reporting by John Moore.