On the Radar: UiPath

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UiPath, founded in 2006, plays in the very fast-growing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology market – and has a clear strategy to configure its business in a way that enables it to scale as quickly as possible.

Who?

UiPath is an emerging specialist Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software tools vendor. The company’s core team is based in Bucharest, Romania, and the company has sales offices in London and San Francisco.

What does it do?

UiPath offers a portfolio of RPA technologies called the UiPath RPA suite that can be deployed in a number of configurations to support automation use cases at varying levels of scale and sophistication. Broadly speaking, the UiPath RPA suite – like other RPA offerings – is designed to automate data entry, data gathering and other rule-based tasks usually carried out as part of high-volume, repetitive service fulfilment work in call centres, shared-service centres, and back-office workflows.

The main components of the UiPath RPA suite are as follows:

  • UiPath Studio (see figure below). This Windows-based, graphical development tool is used to define processes that robots will execute, and will be familiar to any user of Microsoft Visual Studio. To specify the behaviour of robots you can use either a drag-and-drop design approach (leveraging Microsoft’s own notation for Windows Workflow Foundation, on which UiPath technology is built); or you can have Studio capture and record actions you perform using Windows, Citrix-delivered or web-based applications – in which case Studio will automatically generate flow specifications from the actions it captures. You can specify decision-points and branches in your process flows, so robot behaviour can be tuned to the context they’re operating in (for example, based on the data they’re taking as input, on other system conditions or on the data they pull from systems they’re operating). You have the opportunity to create reusable templates (for standardising the automation of common actions, such as logging into a particular system or retrieving a customer’s details from a particular system) and share those with others; and if you wish, you can integrate UiPath Studio with Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server (TFS) – in which case TFS will manage collaborative working in your team, version control of process definitions, and so on.
  • UiPath Robots. Robots mimic the actions of application users, according to process flows defined in the UiPath Studio. Robots execute process steps using the Windows Workflow Foundation technology that’s delivered as an integral part of its .NET framework. Robots execute automated actions across Windows desktop applications, in web-based applications and in applications delivered via Citrix virtual desktop environments. With some additional integration work, robots can also drive mainframe terminal emulation windows delivered using technology from vendors like Attachmate, Micro Focus and Rocket Software. Robots can also read data from and write data to Microsoft Office documents, and can also send and receive email messages and run Microsoft PowerShell scripts to automate systems tasks. There are two types of UiPath Robots:
    • Front Office Robots are triggered by human users, and support the work of people by (for example) scraping information from multiple systems and presenting them to users on one single form or window; or taking data entered by a user and entering it into multiple systems automatically.
    • Back Office Robots run unattended, and are instead triggered by the presence of work in pre-defined queues (which are configured within the UiPath Orchestrator defined below) or via their REST APIs.
  • UiPath Orchestrator. The Orchestrator is a server platform that takes operational management responsibility for robots as well as for the deployment of processes, configuration of work queues and other runtime environment aspects. When managing Front Office Robots, Orchestrator’s role is principally about deployment of automated workflows and logging. When managing Back Office Robots, Orchestrator’s role is much expanded – being responsible for managing the remote execution of robots, monitoring and scheduling of tasks, operation of the work queues that robots ‘listen’ to and take work from and configuration of robots in operation (configuration items such as login details, which will alter depending on the process definitions that robots are executing).

As well as its products, UiPath also delivers training for customers: it currently offers free online tutorials, and paid-for assisted training and classroom training options. Training via free online tutorials or via assisted training (groups of 10) or classroom training. The company doesn’t currently offer any paid-for professional services.

ts_otr_uipath_fig1

Source: UiPath

Who is it for?

UiPath isn’t specialised for the needs of any particular industry, but to date it’s seen most success in the financial services sector and proactively positions the RPA suite in support of initiatives relating to Accounts Payable, Claims Processing, and Call Centre automation.

There are three specific scenarios in which UiPath technologies are commonly used:

  • Mature shared-services operations, which have typically already implemented Lean Six Sigma (LSS) programmes, are using UiPath within their centres of excellence to drive further improvements through task automation. Examples of customers doing this include Proctor & Gamble, Carlsberg and Philips.
  • Organisations that want to automate internal work, but which don’t have large internal teams to implement automation tools, use third-party integrators or consultants to implement UiPath work automation.
  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers, coming under pressure from clients to improve the value returned from outsourcing contracts, are working with UiPath to help them reduce costs and improve process efficiency and accuracy.

A key part of UiPath’s proposition is the technology’s moderate cost and licensing terms. Licensing is typically organised on an annual subscription basis: customers pay per operational robot instance (Back Office Robots are $4,000 annually and Front Office Robots are $2,000 annually), and additionally pay an annual license fee of $20,000 per Orchestrator instance (a single Orchestrator instance can co-ordinate the operation of hundreds of individual robots) and $2,000 annually for each UiPath Studio user. An entry-level license commitment currently totals around $28,000 annually.

UiPath offers a free Community Edition of its UiPath Studio that’s available for individual developers, modest-sized projects (using fewer than 250 workstations) and for education and training purposes. A Community Edition installation enables one individual to get started with the UiPath automation tools and implement automations for their own desktop environment and Windows-based applications. In all cases, UiPath also offers a free 60-day evaluation option for UiPath Studio.

Why is it interesting?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology in general holds huge potential as a tool for business process cost and waste reduction, particularly for larger businesses managing high volumes of relatively procedural service work. RPA deployments can, when implemented well, do the work of large teams of people very accurately and quickly – freeing staff up to do more value-adding work.

The UiPath proposition specifically is interesting for three particular reasons:

  • Firstly, UiPath’s sales and pricing model is set up to enable new customers to get started with exploring its technology very quickly and cheaply.
  • Secondly, the technology’s use of Microsoft’s Windows Workflow Foundation as its underpinning means that the actions of UiPath robots can be specified in quite sophisticated ways, using tools and notation that many Microsoft developers will already have some familiarity with.
  • Thirdly, unlike other RPA vendors, UiPath is focusing completely on partners to deliver implementation and consulting services, and is currently organising itself to be 100% focused on licensing its software (and only on licensing its software) – see What’s next? below – something, like its sales and pricing model, that is designed to support the company in scaling its business as quickly as possible.

How established is it?

UiPath was established in 2006 by Daniel Dines, a Microsoft engineer. The company has venture backing from a 2015 funding round involving Prague-based Credo Ventures, Earlybird Venture Capital and Seedcamp. The company’s COO, Guy Kirkwood, was formerly a VP at BPO provider Sutherland Global Services and previously ran Xchanging’s Third-Party Advisor (TPA) practice.

The company currently has 145 customers (with a pipeline of currently 215 opportunities). In 2015 it grew annual revenue over 300%; it expects to grow annual revenue 400% in 2016.

How open is it?

The UiPath RPA Suite is very much a Microsoft-centric software suite – so if your existing technology strategy is open to Microsoft-based platforms and tools, the UiPath RPA Suite will fit well. However if your organisation prefers to major its investment in other application platforms, more integration work will be required.

The server platform underpinning UiPath Orchestrator runs on Windows Server only, and requires the IIS application server, SQL Server as a data store and the .NET framework. UiPath Robots and UiPath Studio all require Windows 7 or higher as their operating system. UiPath Studio’s process definitions are stored as XAML, which is the proprietary XML-based document format that Microsoft .NET uses to specify behaviours in Workflow Foundation applications (among other things).

Who does it partner with?

UiPath is very clear that its path to future growth lies with a strong network of implementation and consulting partnerships. At the start of 2016 the vast majority of its revenue was generated through direct sales; however it aims to have the majority of sales come through partners by 2017.

UiPath currently has partnerships with large multinationals (Capgemini, Cognizant, Tech Mahindra) and smaller, more specialist players (Genfour, Hexaware, NIIT Technologies, OpusCapita, RPAi, CiGen, Symphony and Virtual Operations).

Are there areas for improvement?

From a technology perspective, the main opportunity for improvement within the RPA Suite revolves around reporting and dashboarding. Use of ElasticSearch and Kibana for logging, reporting and dashboarding provides a baseline capability, but reporting tools that are truly business-friendly would be useful.

From a business perspective, we’d expect UiPath to look at building partnerships with vendors of complementary technologies – particularly BPM technology platform providers, text analytics and mining vendors, and customer communication platform vendors – to enable it to tell a broader process automation story.

What’s next?

One of UiPath’s main current priorities is to revamp its training services: it’s looking to start making all its training materials available as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – so that all its training modules will be available free of charge.

Beyond this UiPath is also focused on increasing its geographic footprint, and on further building up its partner network. The company is also exploring the potential of machine learning and related AI technologies in its product roadmap, to enable it to increase the scope of its automation use cases.

Should I consider it?

If you’re looking at the potential returns from automating aspects of your organisation’s routine administrative service work, and particularly if you want to be able to get started and explore your technology options quickly and cheaply, you should definitely consider UiPath.

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