Welcome to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: Robotic Process Automation.
Robotic Process Automation has been helping streamline offices for decades. At its core, it allows enterprises to automate mundane tasks that employees would otherwise perform manually. You can think of RPA platforms as more sophisticated Excel macros that operate on the level of an employee's desktop, rather than within one particular program. It's an old industry by tech standards, dating back to the early 2000s, but popping IPOs suggest it's very much in favor right now.
Even so, big names in the sector, such as UiPath and Automation Anywhere, are eager to prove that RPA is more than just a "transient technology" that's filling a gap until more capable and generalist AIs come along. So they're integrating nascent AI and ML programming into RPA platforms, making the software more versatile and efficient. The implementation of those product features will determine not only which RPA player gains market share, but also how long the RPA sector remains relevant within the broader enterprise software ecosystem.
But which companies have the lead right now? And which ones are challenging that dominance? We've ranked the market for you.
|Power Score: 53.47||Momentum Score: 45.9 (2)||HQ: New York, NY||CEO: Daniel Dines||Founded: 2005|
UiPath enjoys its status as the investor darling of the RPA industry: Its $35-billion+ market cap is nearly triple that of NICE, the public RPA competitor with the next-highest market cap of $13.3 billion. UiPath IPO'd in April 2021 and experienced a 23% price pop on opening day. Since then, however, the price has slumped below the starting point. Still, it hopes that its aggressive investment in AI will keep it at the forefront of RPA.
|Power Score: 51.99||Momentum Score: 67.1 (1)||HQ: San Jose, CA||CEO: Mihir Shukla||Founded: 2003|
Automation Anywhere isn't the most powerful RPA company, but it's ascending quickly and tops our ranking by momentum. Part of that has to do with a Google Cloud product-building partnership announced in March 2021. Automation Anywhere also offers platform integrations with AWS Lambda and Azure Active Directory. By working alongside Big Tech, Automation Anywhere believes it can boost its prevalence in the enterprise IT stack, acting as a neutral software nervous system. And following UiPath's successful IPO, a public listing could be in its near future.
|Power Score: 49.73||Momentum Score: 30.0 (6)||HQ: Cambridge, MA||CEO: Alan Trefler||Key point: 1983|
Pegasystems is perhaps the tortoise of the RPA space, proving that slow and steady can be a viable market strategy. The company was founded in 1983 — which, in tech years, makes it geriatric — and it's been publicly traded since before the dot-com bubble burst. While the UiPaths and Automation Anywheres of the space have gobbled up increasingly rich funding rounds and valuations as RPA pure plays, Pega has more-quietly embedded RPA capabilities into Pega Infinity, its existing customer engagement platform, giving it the advantage of having a built-in user base. While its approach protects it from a dip in the RPA market, it also means it could struggle to ride the wave as triumphantly as its rivals.
|Power Score: 48.85||Momentum Score: 25 (7)||HQ: Ra'anana, Israel||CEO: Barak Eilam||Founded: 1986|
Robotic process automation is among the new tricks learned by industry mainstay NICE systems in the last decade. Founded in 1986, the company built its market presence by embedding its technology into contact centers, allowing companies to record interactions and begin analyzing data. But the company's continued strong presence in that market allowed it to expand into process automation — and ultimately RPA — beginning with its acquisition of eGlue in 2010. While the company scored low on our momentum ranking, its most recent moves suggest it's starting to prioritize growth through higher revenue per use.
|Power Score: 41.40||Momentum Score: 44.0 (3)||HQ: McLean, VA||CEO: Matt Calkins||Founded: 1999|
Widely regarded as a leader in the low-code space, Appian put together one of the biggest tech IPOs in 2017 at a time when analysts projected exponential growth for low-code tech akin to projections being made today about RPA. Appian formally entered the RPA market at the beginning of 2020 with the acquisition of Novayre Solutions SL, but the company hasn't established RPA as a standalone offering. Instead, CEO Matt Calkins has said that he sees low-code and RPA not as parallel marketplaces in the future, but as one converged space. Appian's momentum score attests to its bright future, but it remains to be seen whether that future lies in RPA or a new product category entirely.
|Power Score: 38.86||Momentum Score: 15.0 (8)||HQ: Westlake, OH||CEO: Bill Priemer||Founded: 1991|
Ohio-based Hyland Software looks a lot different than many of the RPA competitors on this list. For one, it has been run as somewhat of a family business. It also has a list of services that reads a bit like the menu at the Cheesecake Factory: almost too impressive in scope, eliciting questions as to whether any entity can excel on so many fronts. Hyland grew its product portfolio through numerous strategic acquisitions made since its founding in 1991. In 2020, it acquired German-based RPA developer Another Monday for an undisclosed amount.
Hyland Software's high power ranking reflects the scope of its business, but it won't likely play a significant role in shaping the future of the RPA industry, as reflected by its low momentum score.
|Power Score: 34.72||Momentum Score: 15.0 (8)||HQ: New York, NY||CEO: Alex Lyashok||Founded: 2010|
WorkFusion hasn't disclosed much information publicly, but whatever it's showing investors must be promising: The company has raised an enviable war chest of $341 million in investor funding since its founding in 2010 by tech veterans Max Yankelevich and Andrew Volkov. WorkFusion still only has a little over 300 employees, around the same number it had a year prior, suggesting that growth hasn't been a priority during the pandemic. That may soon change, however, as it looks to put to use the $220 million raised through a March 2021 Series-F fundraising round.
|Power Score: 26.87||Momentum Score: 32.0 (5)||HQ: Warrington, U.K.||CEO: Jason Kingdon||Founded: 2001|
Blue Prism went public on the London Stock Exchange in 2016 and has since seen its market cap rise fourfold. This coincided with impressive revenue growth in recent years, from £55.2 million ($76.6 million) in 2018 to £141 ($196 million) in 2020. Blue Prism's product is well regarded within the RPA industry, reflected by a 98% gross revenue retention reported for the first half of 2021 — which suggests that its clients find the product worth paying for over time. Engineering headcount has also grown at a fairly robust rate of 19% YoY, and the company has been able to capitalize on this capacity with the launch of nine products in the first six months of 2021. Despite the many positive signs, Blue Prism has actually seen its market cap decline 26% over the past year. Part of that may have to do with the company's persistent difficulties in turning a profit.
|Power Score: 24.68||Momentum Score: 38.0 (4)||HQ: Tel Aviv, Israel||CEO: Harel Tayeb||Founded: 2008|
Kryon Systems is one of the smallest companies on this list, but it's forging a unique path that could help drive future growth. In 2021, for instance, Kyron became the first RPA competitor to receive the ISO 27701 data compliance standard — certification that could help it make inroads within healthcare, insurance or banking, which tend to be more sensitive to privacy concerns. Kryon also offers multi-tenant architecture that allows companies to manage internal users' access to information — it could similarly appeal to industries with stringent privacy and data security requirements. All that promise helps explain this small company's high momentum ranking.
|Power Score: 24.01||Momentum Score: 0 (10)||HQ: Mumbai, India||CEO: Rahul L. Kanodia||Founded: 1975|
Mumbai-based Datamatics offers RPA as part of a suite of software services within its IT consulting business. Like Palantir, Datamatics can't claim to be a pure-play technology company since it derives much of its revenue from tangential consulting services. This is sometimes stigmatized within the technology sphere, which tends to think of itself as being more agile and disruptive than traditional consulting businesses. Datamatics conforms to some of these negative stereotypes: It has nearly doubled the employee headcount of more traditional RPA contenders such as UiPath and Automation Anywhere, but doesn't have a larger valuation or revenue growth to show for it. In fact, for its fiscal Q4 2021, Datamatics saw operating revenues decrease by 8.7% year-over-year.
Explore the Data
The Protocol Power Index is designed to view power through a holistic lens that reflects how modern tech companies amass and exercise their strength. To do so, the Power Index takes into account 30 metrics across five categories — Economics, Leadership, Innovation, People and Politics & Policy — and synthesizes them into a single Power Score. Read our full methodology statement here.
What happens next?
Forces that stand to shape the RPA space in the coming years include: ever-improving AI software, efforts to merge that AI with existing RPA products and, of course, the threat of dominant public cloud vendors.
|1||Automation Anywhere ↑||67.06|
|4||Kryon Systems ↑||37.97|
|5||Blue Prism ↑||32.00|
Better AI is a huge threat to RPA. While the products of RPA companies address automation needs for this particular moment in time, APIs and general purpose AI could be better-suited for the future — and as a result,
critics have labeled RPA a "transient technology."
- RPA in its current form automates mundane tasks that employees would otherwise perform manually. RPA software therefore operates at the level of an employee's desktop, and the no-code / low-code environment allows employees to automate tasks within third-party software. RPA software can also proactively monitor manual employee actions and recommend patterns for automation.
- In the long term, automation will likely be designed from the ground up, without consideration for existing employee processes. This untethering will allow for more efficient automation — for instance, data streams could be directly processed through APIs, rather than manipulated by an RPA platform through third-party software.
- As UiPath CEO Daniel Dines told Protocol's Joe Williams in June 2021: "Right now, our platform is used mostly to automate existing manual processes. We believe that in the next decade there will be no type of manual processes remaining … We want to prepare our platform to allow our customers to basically build the new processes, build everything in an automated fashion."
- This focus on automating existing manual processes isn't an inherent problem, it just means that RPA incumbents will need to build a new set of tools to address future automation needs. The main takeaway here is that, when it comes to meeting future automation needs, RPA incumbents don't necessarily have a head start against the competition. (An apt analogy can be made in the automotive industry: Traditional car manufacturers didn't have an inherent advantage in developing self-driving technology.)
AI integrations could allow some RPA companies to bridge the gap. Some RPA companies are hoping to get ahead of the threat by building AI capabilities themselves. And many are already integrating more advanced AI tools into their existing desktop-level products.
- UiPath, for instance, has a "document understanding" feature that uses natural language processing to interpret and sort documents. Automation Anywhere has a similar product with IQ Bot, which uses machine learning to structure data within traditional documents.
- So RPA companies are already responding to the trajectory of automation and building their product portfolios accordingly.
- These AI integrations will likely extend the shelf life of RPA technology, but it's difficult to say for how long. One key determinant is when and how Big Tech firms enter the workplace automation space.
And public cloud vendors loom large over RPA. We've already seen Big Three cloud vendors show interest in developing their own RPA solutions, and those companies have resources and market power — not to mention partnerships with existing RPA vendors — that could allow them to take control of the market as it becomes more focused on AI.
- Every single RPA vendor on this list partners with a Big Three cloud vendor in some capacity. However, Amazon, Microsoft and Google have shown time and again that they will partner with third-party vendors only as long as it's convenient.
- In 2020, Microsoft announced the acquisition of RPA firm Softomotive, which it intended to integrate into its existing Microsoft Flow product. Likewise, Amazon already offers its AWS machine-learning tools to supplement RPA workflows. And in March 2021, Google announced a partnership with Automation Anywhere through which it plans to "mutually develop AI- and RPA-powered solutions.
- Amazon, Google and Microsoft are on the bleeding edge of AI development. Even if they aren't directly offering RPA platforms, you can be sure they are investing in general purpose workplace automation technology. Hypothetically, this could help them to leapfrog RPA firms and directly serve the ground-up automation needs of enterprises.
- Finally, public cloud vendors have a bundling advantage in the enterprise space. Just as Slack has struggled to stave off the competitive threat posed by Microsoft Teams, standalone RPA firms might eventually struggle to fend off Big Tech automation integrations within their already market-dominant products.
To rank the competitors, we've developed a formula that encapsulates 30 criteria. Those criteria span five groupings that factor into power: Economics, Leadership, People, Innovation & Politics and Policy. We then developed two systems for weighting the criteria — one for measuring power and the other for measuring momentum — such that companies can be scored on a 0–100 scale. Read our full methodology here.