IBM, Automation Anywhere tie up for RPA push

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IBM is partnering with Automation Anywhere, one of the highest-profile Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendors, to help it fill a key gap in its digital business automation portfolio. It’s a move that makes sense for both sides.

After an initial wave of adoption within Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers – automating the factories of the digital age, if you like – more and more enterprises are starting to explore and adopt RPA technologies directly. We believe that RPA should be a key element of a wider automation technology strategy that every organisation should be developing (I’ll come back to this later; watch this space).

IBM has played a curious game for the past 12 months or so: quietly but consistently talking to the market about the value of RPA in automating clerical tasks, but being coy about how it might step into this particular space. Now, finally, IBM is making a move – partnering with Automation Anywhere.

Given IBM’s history in enterprise software – it’s acquired dozens and dozens of companies – I did expect IBM to acquire rather than partner (although in reality, its choices of acquisition targets would have been limited). Neverthless, this IBM-Automation Anywhere tieup is more than a simple marketing or reselling partnership.

Later this year, IBM will combine its BPM technology with Automation Anywhere’s RPA technology to create a new product in its Digital Process Automation portfolio. IBM will sell, deliver, support and implement the technology for customers.

This makes a lot of sense for IBM and its customers. As IBM has sought to establish itself as the leading provider of technologies for Digital Process Automation, it became clear that it badly needed an RPA story. IBM’s loyal customers that are exploring RPA – and there are many – now have a clear path that fits with their natural inclinations.

It also makes sense for Automation Anywhere: the company already has a really good set of implementation partnerships with systems integrators (from the likes of Accenture, Infosys and KPMG to IBM’s own Global Business Services unit), but this partnership brings it a potentially huge new route to market for its technology.

It’s not yet clear whether this partnership is exclusive to either or both sides (that is, whether IBM can offer other RPA technologies within its portfolio, or whether Automation Anywhere can partner with other business process platform vendors in a similar way). I’m keen to find out.

There are of course some things that we need to watch for. The key thing, to my mind, is whether – and how quickly – IBM can provide its salesforce with the skills required to really help customers be successful with RPA at scale. IBM is always great at supporting its very biggest and most loyal customers with super-experienced technical architects and sales support people; but in RPA, as in other business process-related technologies, organisations need help to understand and navigate the potential benefits and drawbacks of transformation. IBM will fail to capture the potential opportunity here if all it does, in a broader context, is try to ‘shift product’.

I’m watching how this develops with interest: particularly regarding how IBM fleshes out scenarios in which its BPM, ODM (decision management) and RPA technologies can work together – and how Watson technologies might add value in the mix.

Lastly: you can find out more background analysis on RPA technology and why it’s important in our free report, here.

Neil Ward-Dutton

I'm passionate about helping organisations get real business benefits from the investments they want to make in IT. I love technology, and I've seen it used to amazing effect - but I hate waste, and I've seen so many organisations waste their investments. Over the past 10 years as the Research Director at MWD Advisors I've gained invaluable experience working with clients across many industries, learning about what works and where people come unstuck in trying to drive business change with technology. I've advised on technology strategy and business change management across Europe, and presented at dozens of conferences on these topics around the world.

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