Automation Anywhere Imagine 2024 – Our Take

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Automation Anywhere Imagine 2024 – Our Take

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Though larger industry analyst firms have lost interest in RPA and are now intent chasing the next shiny object, real world customers and users have not.

I attended the Automation Anywhere Imagine conference in Austin, TX this week. As this was my first time, it gave me a chance to learn about Automation Anywhere itself and compare and contrast the company and its strategy with its closest competitors. As with any tech conference, the key announcements come in the keynote presentations. However, the key insights come from chatting with the firm’s customers and partners who made the trip. So, let’s start with the three major announcements. The first two were significant new partnerships to advance its AI ambitions with Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS). However, it was the third one most caught my attention, and I will need to dig into this further over the coming weeks and months:

  “Automation Anywhere’s AI + Automation Enterprise System”

Here the company is introducing a serious new push into the world of AI Agents and most intriguingly Generative AI driven Process Models. From what I could understand this works by training LLM’s on, you guessed it, process models. Honestly, this is not an approach I have come across much before and will need to learn much more before writing in any further depth. The concept at least is interesting and if this is something that Automation Anywhere can pull off it could be a big deal. However, both I, and my colleague Matt Mullen are struggling to figure out how this works in practice, and how the process data would be structured and referenced, or for that matter how the foundational model would interpret a query and output and answer with accuracy. We can see the logic and promise, but we are challenged by the practicalities of it as business process design is often 90% business analysis and 10% technology, I guess it will depend on how complex the process is. Again, though very intriguing and we look forward to learning more.

For some broader context, Automation Anywhere is one of the three big breakout success stories in the RPA market, alongside BluePrism and UIPath. Whenever RPA is mentioned in a briefing or advisory call at Deep Analysis, it is a guarantee that all three firms will likely figure in the conversation, yet from the outside, there appears to be little to tell them apart. Though they can be hard to differentiate, and at times struggle to differentiate themselves from one another, they do differ, particularly in terms of their forward strategy.

For Automation Anywhere, AI Agents figure large in their strategy, and we will be hearing a lot more about AI Agents in the coming year or two from nearly every vendor in our research remit. That being said, Automation Anywhere may have more of a valid argument for promoting the concept than some. Here’s why: although Automation Anywhere now embraces the term AI + Automation in its product marketing, it is still an RPA company at heart, and that, in our analysis, is a good thing.

I talked to multiple Automation Anywhere customers over the course of these few days, from internet pioneers through large banks to international mining firms. All of them are dedicated and committed customers and have deployed in some cases thousands of bots, in other just a few hundred. But it is not the number of RPA bots that they have deployed that matter, rather it is the criticality of the tasks that they have automated. For example, one of those customers has automated tasks to enforce complex financial compliance issues. Another has automated the tasks involved in major IT system updates. In this latter case what previously took 3 hours in the middle of the night is now completed in just 30 minutes, but just as importantly, as bots work 24/7, there are over 1000 automated workers productive within seconds of the update being complete. Both of these real-world examples are not just illustrations of RPA bots in action, they are collectively, within the individual organizations, providing both immediate business value, and a core platform for further automation via the application of AI. Or as Automation Anywhere likes to put it AI + Automation.

So where am I going with all this? Simply put, I came to the event with few expectations, I left impressed that, at the strategy level at least, the company has a clear plan. Does it involve generative AI, it most certainly does, but only in specific contexts. Quite frankly it’s refreshing to encounter a tech vendor that is not claiming Generative AI is the answer to all and every problem. Or to put it another way, Automation Anywhere sees automation itself as the core value proposition for its customers. With AI providing additional value add to some automations not as a replacement. Another refreshing insight I gained in Austin is that for Automation Anywhere productivity improvements are not the only metric they consider for a customer’s success; risk mitigation and error reduction are also a common driver for sales.  This is refreshing because so many automation vendors are fixated on productivity increases, and by definition justify their existence through promising headcount reductions. Headcount reduction is at best a clumsy and often inaccurate metric to measure the value of automation.

Though larger industry analyst firms have lost interest in RPA and are now intent chasing the next shiny object, real world customers and users have not. Indeed, many that have already deployed thousands of bots have told me that they have only just scratched the surface of the possibilities. In one instance I was told that only 1% of the tasks that could be automated with RPA bots have so far been deployed, I suspect that is the case in many if not most organizations. In short, the RPA journey in the real world beyond the tech bubble has only just begun, and there are countless potential customers out there who have yet to even make the first step. For when the investor and tech hype subside, the real market growth is typically just about to start, RPA is no exception to that rule of thumb. In fact, systems integrators I spoke to at the event further confirmed this, one specifically went as far as to tell me that if they have a concern with Automation Anywhere and its peers, it is that they lose focus on their core business of automation and instead put all their eggs into the Generative AI basket. Based on what I have learned from my time in Austin, Automation Anyway appear to understand those concerns, at least at some levels within its organization, and is acting accordingly.

Finally, and though it may seem unimportant and nit-picky, spending a couple of days with Automation Anywhere did lead me to wonder if at some point it may want to consider simplifying its branding. Automation Anywhere’s AI + Automation Enterprise System is not something that either rolls off the tongue nor is it easily remembered. The name Automation Anywhere itself is a bit of a mouthful – but as it cannot be contracted to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous already has that one) it may be too much of an undertaking to rebrand. Whatever it decides to do, it looks like the firm is in for an interesting journey ahead.

In closing, my thanks to the folks at Automation Anywhere, and a special thank to my host Hannah Hayes, the Director for Analyst Relations for making sure everything went smoothly. I know and appreciate just how much hard work goes into organizing these events, and this particular one was organized very well indeed, as my colleague Dan Lucarini likes say “I tip my chapeau to you!”

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