Blue Prism has long revealed one of the challenges in hothousing a UK technology giant: a billion-dollar company that can claim to be the prime mover of a market, robotic process automation (RPA), and yet outside its customer base few people have heard of it. In the US, investors and analysts would be ringing the bell and talking it up in the media, but in the UK most people simply shrug and look blank.
Perhaps that will change now the company has become SS&C Blue Prism. In March, US FinTech, outsourcing, and services provider SS&C completed its acquisition of the British company for $1.6 billion, delisting it from AIM. Blue Prism’s ‘digital employee’ solutions now become part of a wider suite of technologies that includes its new owner’s intelligent automation platform, SS&C Chorus.
So far, just another tale of a BrIT success being snapped up by aggressive US investors.
But what’s really behind a deal that would seem to narrow Blue Prism’s enterprise focus, even as it appeals to 20,000 new SS&C customers?
Gautam Moorjani is General Manager of Intelligent Automation Solutions at SS&C Blue Prism. He tells me:
It’s about the capabilities and the value that we can create for the market. SS&C was founded in 1986 and our founder, Chair, and CEO Bill Stone has evolved it. A lot of that growth has come through acquisition – we've done 56 of them. But it’s also an approach that is very much driven by client need.
Many companies that have started on an automation journey have ended up with a fragmented set of technologies that they've had to stitch together – capabilities from multiple vendors – to create efficiency. But that’s not ‘thinking work’, which is what people do. It's easy to think about that non-thinking work and say, ‘Okay, we can build a bunch of RPA bots and automate it’. But for us, it’s about how we tap into some of the thinking work too, and move bots all the way up to a process and operations level.
If you look at what SSC already had in its portfolio and overlay what Blue Prism brings to the table, it’s a very complementary set of capabilities that match clients’ journeys as they move up the scale of automation. Once you build these bots you can look at Business Process Management [BPM], because all these things need to talk to each other, and they need to interact with humans.
Then you can move into saying, ‘What are these humans doing?’ And a lot of what they're doing is ingesting data, in documents or emails. That then moves into the Intelligent Document Processing [IDP] space, and then you can start looking at the cognitive work that people are doing.
The second wave of automation that's coming is interesting, because a lot of clients on this journey have already identified the opportunities. Now there's this whole idea of, can we, proactively, look at what's happening in our organization and identify new opportunities for automation, moving from a cost-savings equation to the customer experience?
But aside from this zeal for automation – which gives credence to critics’ view that RPA and job cuts go hand in hand – what about the narrowing of focus for Blue Prism itself?
Financial services, healthcare, and insurance are where we primarily are [in SS&C]. In healthcare, we feel that bringing that subject matter expertise to the full automation stack would be a differentiator. A lot of current providers in the space don't have the right technology or the subject matter expertise. They don't have both.
In our current markets, the governance frameworks, the technology, the stack, the architecture, the security, the resiliency, the cloud, all those things translate well to adjacent industries.
Blue Prism’s presence in other industries is something that was very attractive and additive to us, because now we can expand into industries that we've traditionally not been involved in. And the last piece was the really strong partner and alliance network that Blue Prism has.”
Blue Prism’s SVP of Product, Danny Major, adds:
Simply put, we want enterprises to run their business on Blue Prism. We want to be that integral to the success and scale of those enterprises. So, really, it’s the BPM aspect. Intelligent automation is fantastic, but if you start moving into longer-running enterprise processes, BPM is the only way to do that. So, by having a collaborative, integrated capability between BPM and RPA, that makes us even more applicable to the enterprise.”
The more that intelligent automation providers talk about these things – about helping customers on a journey that is really about digital transformation – the more they could be seen as moving into a lucrative consultancy space, rather than simply selling bots. Chinese intelligent automation provider Laiye is muscling into the UK and EMEA at present, yet took exception to questions about new consulting revenues.
But SS&C Blue Prism seems to be embracing the idea of not just being a software provider, according to Moorjani:
It'll be a combination. We don't just build what clients have today. We go in and say, ‘Let's truly take a look at your processes’. And we make it very clear to clients that we're not just going to automate stuff. We provide that layer of consultative analysis with every project that we do.
And that will continue. And that's why, in many cases, the alliance and partner network comes into play. Because in their worlds, they've been given that mandate by clients to run those digital transformation programmes.”
An inevitable purchase of a British company that has never been given enough credit for kickstarting a market – albeit one that some investors and analysts have never been excited by. However, the presence of an aggressive Chinese player offering clients their money back if automation fails has suddenly made people notice RPA again.
Meanwhile, intelligent automation is becoming integral to digital transformation programmes. However, the challenge there is that a great many such initiatives fail – as explored in my recent Laiye report. One reason for that is businesses seeing transformation as a technology solution to a technology problem, rather than as a core business challenge that has workforce, skills, change management, operational, and cultural dimensions.
In any consultancy service, those are the things that really need addressing