Point of View

Automation Anywhere lobs a Hail Mary pass to Google, hoping to make its cloud-native automation dreams come true

March 26, 2021

The recent partnership between Google and Automation Anywhere (AA) has a lot more meat to it than your usual “we now integrate with…” RPA (robotic process automation) announcement. The need to automate processes in the cloud to deliver the data clients simply “have-to-have” has never been so nagging as today, and a successful AA–Google match-up could, potentially, deliver us exactly that.

If executed well, this partnership could spell mutual benefit for the firms and help cement both RPA’s role as a key component of enterprises’ native automation toolkits and its shift from predominantly on-prem to cloud.

With a CEO-to-CEO level partnership with Google Cloud (GCP), the deal means Automation Anywhere’s Automation 360 (recently rebranded from A2019) platform will be available on Google Cloud. AA’s RPA solutions will be integrated with GCP services such as Apigee, AppSheet, and AI Platform. The two parties will co-innovate industry-focused solutions and work hand-in-hand on go-to-market activity. The deal also means that AA becomes the preferred RPA vendor for the entire Alphabet Group of companies.

AA will migrate Automation 360, its cloud-native, web-based automation platform, to Google Cloud as its primary cloud provider. It will become Google Cloud’s preferred RPA partner with AA solutions also available in the Google Cloud Marketplace. They will be deployable across cloud, hybrid, and on-premises environments.

RPA is a great tool; it just needs a broader context

When HFS declared RPA dead in 2019, we spoke to its inability to drive transformation as a standalone tool. The vision we advocated for was “integrated automation”—the need for a broader set of capabilities to up the value potential and impact.

Any enterprise that has worked with RPA for a year or more will attest to the fact that you generally need complementary tooling to help you get past task automation. AA’s product roadmap of buttressing its core RPA capabilities with intelligent document processing, process intelligence, and cognitive chatbots points to this reality. AA and its competitors have continued to build, add, and sometimes acquire to drive enhanced functionality. A timely example is UiPath’s acquisition of Cloud Elements, allowing it to add API-based automation to its existing UI-based capabilities. But despite the hopeful predictions of some firms, RPA is not the new ERP (enterprise resource planning). It cannot be Frankensteined into a super-slick tool. It is, however, a valuable part of enterprises’ automation toolkits as they push to digital and cloud modernity.

We keep seeing RPA firms get acquired as more prominent enterprise software companies recognize the value of having RPA in their stack. The momentum is increasing:

The “big three” RPA firms are largely valued out of M&A consideration; the more modestly priced firms have been the targets. In AA’s case, its most recent estimated valuation is $6.8 billion, so Google’s choice to partner rather than buy is practical. But if the partnership is done well, there is strong synergy potential.

The Google thumbs-up is a ringing endorsement for AA’s technology

AA claims the move is a ringing endorsement of its technology—and it’s hard to argue with that when you consider that to reach an agreement, Google engineers must have conducted forensic, under-the-hood, technical due diligence.

It’s also a validation of AA’s foresight to invest in re-architecting (twice) to deliver a platform built from a micro-services-based architecture. While re-architecting (twice!) will always risk annoying current customers (many of whom had just settled down on V11 after V10 was rearchitected), the benefits of being cloud-native meet future needs—and are in line with the direction of demand captured in thousands of ITS roadmaps across the globe.

Other RPA vendors—traditionally built for on-premises deployment—have responded to the cloud’s increasing popularity by making their software available in the cloud, and they will likely have to rearchitect as demand for cloud-native software become pervasive.

Blue Prism’s cloud offering is a SaaS-to-IaaS/PaaS solution. It offers reference architectures (templated solutions to accelerate implementations) for Microsoft Azure, GCP, AWS, and IBM Cloud. SaaS services were boosted by the acquisition of Thoughtonomy in 2019, which was rebranded as Blue Prism Cloud. Clients state Blue Prism has solved the infrastructure challenge (zero infrastructure needed to launch) but is still working on the more flexible, by-the-drink, licensing that the cloud affords.

UiPath’s offering is similar in scope, with a range of “recipes and instructions” for Azure, AWS, GCP, and Oracle and an unattended bot autoscaling component to spin capacity up and down in the cloud. While clients like this flexibility, the main gripes are that there is no Studio in the cloud and the cloud offering is not yet optimized for smaller clients.

Cloud-native integration with AA builds “solution completeness” for GCP

Versus cloud-hosted alternatives, the cloud-native approach delivers the opportunity to scale faster with better performance (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1: The journey of using the cloud as a platform for business

Source: HFS Research, 2021

The partnership results from long and complex discussions—it’s not a knee-jerk response to other recent industry announcements. AA executives describe playing their part in GCP’s “solution completeness.” GCP sells infrastructure in a cloud-native way (data, runtime, middleware, operating system, virtualization, servers, storage, networking). With AA, GCP can “ride RPA into the application layer,” dragging other GCP services into mainstream enterprise business processes.

AA is the process automation layer of this solution, enabling other GCP applications such as AppSheet, Apigee, DialogFlo, and AutoML. Google Cloud will integrate Automation Anywhere’s RPA capabilities with these services, allowing customers to apply automation with API management, low- or no-code development, and ML (Machine Learning) workflows.

RPA is a shared entry point for both cloud and on-premises systems

The benefits for all parties are clear when RPA remains the entry point for automation for most businesses. Several leading service providers are adopting a similar strategy; for example, IBM’s WDG acquisition shows it aspires to progress its clients onto Watson and other process intelligence solutions. Cognizant’s partnership with UiPath supports its aspiration to progress its clients onto the likes of Workato and Celonis. RPA provides a compelling stepping-stone for solutions struggling with integration break-points and ring-fencing legacy systems too expensive to warrant upgrading during a high-pressure market.

“As businesses increasingly run in the cloud, RPA provides the means to streamline processes across both cloud-native applications and legacy, on-premises systems,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO, Google Cloud.

Partners will innovate industry-specific solutions together

The deal extends AA’s already broad access to the market. AA has deployed 2.8 million bots in 4,500+ clients in 90 countries—though the majority have been in North America. Google Cloud has customers in 150+ markets. It brings 10x the scale of sales operations to the party compared to AA, and where AA acknowledges it is a horizontal platform player, Google Cloud has an established array of industry domain expertise.

The first stop is financial services—a target announced in the same month that WorkFusion doubled-down on this lucrative space with $220 million of Series F funding.

Other verticals the AA–GCP tie-up is targeting include heavily regulated environments such as healthcare and life sciences. It also has its sights on supply chain, telecommunications, retail, and the public sector.

Cozied-up “about as close as you can get without a formal acquisition”

Tom Garland, Vice President Strategy, Business Development and Corporate Development at AA, said: “We are taking Google Cloud’s lead. To deliver solutions, we need partners, very industry-focused partners, and these may be different for each vertical.”

AA executives describe their cozying-up with GCP as “about as close as you can get without a formal acquisition” and say that several investment conversations continue with a range of parties in the background. They say there is no change in their relationship with Microsoft or AWS.

The Bottom Line: The AA roadmap just got much more interesting IF it can make rain with Google.

We’re living in a world where partnerships are happening daily, and most are only meaningful to the two firms cementing their press-release marriage. Customers really do not care anymore unless the partnership truly can transform their experience with the solution in question or encourage them to invest in the solution for the first time. The true test of the AA–Google partnership is if the customers actually need it—and are prepared to pay for it.

AA’s GCP deal accelerates and emphasizes a clear, cloud-native roadmap. It is the only big player in RPA to have re-architected its platform (now branded Automation 360) on cloud-native principles—delivering scale and efficiency advantages for the future organization beyond those provided by merely being hosted in the cloud.

AA’s RPA strength acknowledges and serves the legacy on-premise reality facing many organizations, too. The combination aligns with HFS’ OneOffice Emerging Tech Platform vision for Native Automation:

  • Automating processes in the cloud to facilitate administering AI solutions at speed in self-improving feedback loops;
  • Engaging with the data to refine digital organizations, operating as OneOffice;
  • Providing the agility to respond at pace;
  • Predicting and anticipating customer need ahead of competitors.

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