This morning I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the true pioneers of “Robotic Process Automation”. Obviously it wasn’t called RPA back in the days when Francis Carden (VP, Digital Automation and Robotics at Pegasystems and Founder of Openspan) together with a handful of Microsoft and Accenture engineers stretched the boundaries of traditional screen scraping, OCR and macro recording technologies.
In the true spirit of “efficiency” we both seemed to nonverbally agree on politely skipping over the usual “Get-to-know-each-other” talk. Instead, we quickly deep-dived into the topic of Robotic Process Automation, after all, that’s what drives us every day. The most burning question I had for Francis was on “Deep Robotics”. I wanted to know whether “Deep Robotics” is just another manifestation of Robotic Desktop Automation/Unattended Automation or if it is fundamentally different.
Well, it was clear that I did not only speak to the right person but also did I press the right button with that question. Francis explained enthusiastically and in great detail how “Deep Robotics” is different from most UI-Automation frameworks, how it originated, why it’s so fast and reliable, and also why it’s so hard to replicate. I was fascinated by his technical knowledge, which quite clearly dwarfed my own expertise in that matter. Architecturally, Deep robotics runs inside the windows layer which is a key factor contributing to its speed advantage and to the enablement of true multithreading, a challenge many other RPA vendors try to tackle for quite some time. Francis also touched on code injection and hooking (a.k.a. code interception), which underpin the Deep Robotics technology.
After an exhilarating journey into the pioneering days of modern-day RPA technologies, we swiftly shifted our attention to the future of Intelligent Automation. The RPA vendor marketplace is more crowded than ever. Lots of new Tier-3 vendors with specialised and niche offerings have emerged out of nowhere and some established Tier-2 players want to join the exclusive club of top-notch premium RPA vendors.
Obviously no-one has a crystal ball but Francis and I agree that the competitive landscape is changing. A key question seems to be which model will deliver the greatest customer value in the long-run. On one side, there are the pure RPA vendors which promise System Integration, Attended Automation and Artificial Intelligence, then we have BPM tools bundled with RPA capabilities which offer a holistic approach to Digital Process Automation and lastly there are the monolithic ERP systems which embed RPA features within their megasuite structures. I admit that the world is not just black & white (I suppose as a technologist I should probably say 1 & 0 instead of black & white;-), and not every systems fits clearly into one of the aforementioned buckets. Advanced platforms are in the state of constant morphosis, which means they transcend conventional boundaries and by doing so, they offer greater value to its customers.
As so often in the universe of enterprise software, there might not be a single right answer to all the questions and most likely the three models will co-exist. However, the market split between the models is going to change and that may pose a threat (or opportunity) to one or the other purebred RPA vendors. It’s interesting times and an exciting space to work in.
It was an absolute delight to speak to Francis Carden and learn from his experience of decades in the field. I hope our paths will cross again in the future. In his closing remark, he managed to leave me with some food for thought when he said "RPA won't convert a Ford with automatic transmission into a Tesla fully autonomous vehicle!"