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Protocol | Enterprise

Google Cloud wants a bigger piece of the RPA market. Will Automation Anywhere help it?

A product-building partnership is the latest pairing between cloud vendors and RPA providers to help customers robotize their operations.

Assembly lines automate products. Can virtual robots do the same for business processes?

Assembly lines automate products. Can virtual robots do the same for business processes?

Google Cloud and Automation Anywhere are partnering to build a new suite of products to help enterprises automate their most basic job functions, the companies planned to announce Monday, the latest in a string of efforts by top cloud providers to harness the potential of robotic process automation.

The technology has been buzzed about for years but really found its footing during the pandemic. The market for it is now expected to grow at a double-digit pace, reaching $2 billion in annual sales by the end of 2021, per Gartner. And more are opting for RPA tools that live in the cloud.

"Many of our customers brought their 2023 or 2025 digital plans forward to this year or next year," Automation Anywhere CEO Mihir Shukla told Protocol. And "large customers are coming to us and deploying this capability to every single employee. I have never seen a true digital transformation at this scale before."

The Softbank-backed company's name is freshly apt. Hospitals like Cleveland Clinic used RPA to automate the process under which patients sign up for COVID-19 testing, KeyBank and other financial institutions deployed it to help businesses quickly tap federal assistance and call centers used the tech to aid agents in addressing the rising number of customer service inquiries.

Automation Anywhere and Google Cloud are by no means alone in this quest to robotize the enterprise. Legacy vendors like ServiceNow and SAP are trying to convince customers to deepen the reliance on their products, like using the same software supplier for both HR and IT. They argue that automation is easier when the systems are connected on the back end.

Vendors should pursue automation, said Kevin Ichhpurani, vice president of partnerships at Google Cloud. But the reality for many businesses is that they have established, disparate systems. For them, Ichhpurani said, "We see customers wanting Switzerland."

What Ichhpurani is describing — a neutral vendor that can help link applications from different providers — is an area where Automation Anywhere faces stiff competition. Companies like Workato (which has a separate partnership with Google Cloud) and MuleSoft aim to create a new unified data layer across the enterprise, enabling information to move seamlessly between the thousands of apps in use.

The goal: capturing the entirety of how an employee works, which is often using software from several providers; linking those pieces together; and automating the overall process. While individuals in HR may use Workday, for example, the IT team that has to supply new employees with laptops may use ServiceNow. Connecting those two applications though an API — as Workato, MuleSoft and others do — makes it easier for a company to onboard workers with very little human involvement.

Shukla argued there isn't any overlap, asserting that Workato's products "are designed to integrate a few specific applications." A more generalized approach to RPA can be used to integrate "thousands of thousands of applications" without needing to use an API.

"I'm not aware of any other technology available today that can do that," he said.

Amit Zavery, Google Cloud head's of platform, agreed, noting that while Workato and MuleSoft also serve as back-end connectors, the use of RPA allows companies to "go to the next level on top of it and bring those businesses processes a lot closer than the coding required by other services."

Google Cloud is moving a bit later than rivals into this space. Microsoft purchased RPA provider Softomotive in May for an undisclosed amount. And AWS partnered with UiPath in July so cloud customers can tap preconfigured integrations, such as infusing virtual robots into the call center by linking to AWS Connect. That deal looks very similar to Google Cloud and Automation Anywhere's venture.

The partnership between Automation Anywhere and Google Cloud started organically, with customers using the two products together on their own, per Ichhpurani. Now the vendors are "up-leveling the relationship" to more closely integrate their products.

Automation Anywhere customers will be able to run on other clouds, but the jointly developed products won't be able to take advantage of native integrations built for Google Cloud.

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