This week at Microsoft Ignite, there was a heavy emphasis on RPA and low code as the tools it sees as the future of productivity. It used its annual conference for developers and IT professionals to make a slew of announcements about its Power Platform. Most notable is that from this week, Power Automate Desktop will be bundled with Microsoft Windows and is available as a free download. This marks a major step in the direction of mass adoption of RPA.
By Microsoft’s estimates, 50% of tasks carried out by information workers could be automated by currently available technology but are instead performed manually. Moreover, 500 million apps will need to be built by 2026, more than were developed in the last 40 years. Slowing down the pace of automation and the roll out of apps to enable digital business, is the skills gap, with a shortage of 1 million developers in the US alone. This is of course why Microsoft is betting on RPA and low code tools to empower citizen developers to do it themselves.
Microsoft was arguably slow to focus on RPA and low code considering its breadth of applications and good standing with developers. It only announced the general availability of UI Flows in Power Automate less than a year ago. Moreover, its automation suite worked best in the Microsoft universe but had limited interoperability with third-party tools. In May 2020, it acquired Softomotive, which signalled that it was taking RPA seriously and was willing to expand beyond the automation of its own software. By then, acquiring one of the big three – UiPath, Automation Anywhere, or Blue Prism – would have been excessively costly but Softomotive ensured it had both attended and unattended RPA capabilities to build upon. Softomotive’s WinAutomation remerged as Power Automate Desktop in September and with this week’s announcement, it becomes a native component in Windows.
By providing Power Automate Desktop for free with Windows, Microsoft appears to be attempting to generate interest from users who may not have previously been exposed to RPA. For the widespread adoption of RPA beyond just functions like finance, HR, and procurement, these tools need to be put into the hands of average users that can find their own use cases. Eventually, some of these basic users will need more advanced functionality available in the cloud-based version of Power Automate. Microsoft has a range of pricing plans including per user, per flow, with AI Builder, and unattended RPA.
Security and Governance
While making free desktop-based automation available to all, may be an effective means of raising the profile of RPA, Microsoft realises that it must provide IT and security teams with tools for control. It also announced this week additional features, such as:
Endpoint filtering to turn on selected connections but with restrictions
Connector action controls, e.g. allowing read permission but not write in some connectors
Tenant isolation to provide differentiated access to connectors according to business unit
Power Fx – Microsoft’s Low Code Language
Microsoft is one of the best-placed vendors to address the needs of citizen developers; bringing together its dominance as a productivity software provider and an important part of the developer ecosystem. This week it also introduced Power Fx, a low-code programming language based on Microsoft Excel. The logic of this new, simple language should be familiar to the millions of spreadsheet users. Power Fx provides more advanced citizen developers with a bridge from the drag-and-drop features of the Power Platform to low-code development.
Is 2021 the year RPA finally goes mainstream?
Microsoft’s announcements this week are one of many signs in the last few months that the RPA market is on its way to gaining mainstream acceptance. Also garnering attention was the lofty valuation given to the market leader, UiPath, this year. It recently announced that in its Series F funding round, it closed at $750M, valuing the company at $35B. This is hot on the heels of confirmation that it plans to IPO, probably in the first half of 2021. Last year was also a rapid period of consolidation, with Appian, IBM, and Microsoft all making RPA acquisitions. It seems highly likely that in the next few months we could see acquisitions or RPA launches by some of the cloud and application vendors that have until now been waiting to see the technology mature.
How will RPA be a part of your automation strategy in 2021? The Top 5 AI & Automation Trends for 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.
The Microsoft Cloud for Retail aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. It brings industry-specific capabilities to the Microsoft suite including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 – and is aimed at the growing need for “intelligent retail’. Microsoft’s partner ecosystem will also be involved in the new platform to address challenges in the sector and future proof the retail evolution.
In The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021, Ecosystm notes that while retailers will focus on the shift in customer expectations, a mere focus on customer experience will not be enough this year. From the customer experience angle, they will strongly focus on omnichannel, catering to ‘glocal’ consumption, using location-based services, and improving both their onsite and online customer experience. They will also have to work on their supply chain and pricing capabilities, as distribution woes continue. These trends are seeing a deeper need for transformational technologies and leading cloud providers are introducing solutions targeted at the industry. Google has introduced its cloud retail solutions aiming to help retailers get more from data. Similarly, AWS has cloud offerings for the retail industry leveraging its retail domain experience and cloud deployment services.
“Global cloud vendors continue to “move up the stack” to provide more of the technology landscape for organisations. The focus of these tech giants is on adding unique value to customers by tailoring the combination of the different cloud services they can provide to specific industries. Providing the full-stack will mean higher customer retention rates – as the implementation time should be lower than traditional on-premises implementations. Microsoft has a diverse range of capabilities. Having a software company and implementation partner that can deliver the full stack of technology and business processes should improve the time to value for organisations.
But I see three key difficulties in implementing systems such as these:
People adapting effectively to use the new processes
Migrating enough high-quality data to leverage the new capabilities
Integrating the new capabilities into an organisation’s existing landscape.
This is why it is likely that initial use will come from Microsoft’s existing Retail customers as they expand the range of services they use. New adopters of these Microsoft solutions will find that much of the complexity and cost of implementing a new business solution will remain.
However, these value-added cloud services open access to smaller organisations. If Microsoft is able to work with their partners to simplify the implementation of these capabilities, it will allow smaller organisations to access these complex capabilities affordably.“
“The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study aims to determine how optimistic industries are about successfully negotiating these uncertain times (Figure 1). The industries that are rated the most optimistic fall into two clear categories. In the first category, there are industries, such as Healthcare that had to transform urgently – mostly in an unplanned manner. This has led to a greater appetite for change and optimism in these industries. Then there are industries, such as Retail, that had some time to re-focus their technology roadmap when the crisis hit. These industries have a strong customer focus and had started their digital journeys before the pandemic.
Microsoft’s industry focus appears to be spot-on. Their first two vertical clouds target enterprises that have had to – and will continue to – pivot. The ‘modular’ approach taken in the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offering allows providers to choose the right capability for their organisation – whether it is workflow automation, patient engagement through virtual health, collaboration within care teams or better clinical and operational insights. As healthcare organisations across the world negotiate the challenges of mass vaccination, they may well find themselves leveraging these industry-specific capabilities as they revamp their workflows, processes, and data use.”
Get to know the right research, insights and technologies for you to be one step ahead in this new world of retail in our top 5 retail trends for 2021 that represent the most significant shifts in 2021