Appian World might have been cancelled but that hasn’t stopped the low-code platform vendor making announcements. Pick of the crop is its announcement of Appian RPA. Unlike previous Appian enhancements to its platform that were all designed in-house, this is based on the Jidoka RPA that Appian acquired in January.
Adding automation to the Appian platform makes sense. Low-code enables people to speed up the delivery of software. What it doesn’t do is address all the needs of users and that is where RPA comes in. It provides an opportunity to automate many of the mundane and repetitive tasks that users do daily.
Appian CEO and Founder, Matt Calkins sees automation as more than just relieving the drudgery of day to day work. He says:“Automation is the unifying of the different factors of work like people, RPA and rules within one workflow so that they can work in coordination.”
What is interesting about Calkins’ statement is that this is more than just simple task automation. He sees RPA as being the start of a greater automation across the IT environment. That automation is not, however, about replacing people. Calkins believes that automation is great for linear workloads that are highly predictable. To be truly effective there is still a need for humans to be involved due to the cognitive limitations of any automated solution.
Appian delivering quickly on its RPA acquisition
The acquisition of Novayre Solutions SL in January 2020 was the first in the 20 year history of the company. It marks a significant departure from Appian’s long established internal only product development strategy. That strategy sees Appian send its own code out to external review before every release. The code is subjected to penetration testing and other security and quality tests. Only if it passes, does it then ship.
As part of the acquisition process, Appian spent significant time looking deeply at the Jidoka RPA code base. This has paid off. It has allowed Appian to integrate that code within a very short space of time into its own platform. Importantly, once integrated, it had to undergo that external code security and quality review. To do all that in 60 days says much about the way the company works.
This process of doing a deep review of code from an acquisition is, according to Calkins, an exception not the rule. Calkins is right. Talk to any software company about its acquisitions and ask what code review they did as part of the process and the answer is generally none. Most wait until they have acquired a product before deep diving into its internals.
For Appian’s customer, this is all good news. It means that they can begin to use the Appian RPA code with no expectation of changes to patch processes. They are also getting a whole new feature set that is firmly embedded into the Appian platform. It allows them to begin using it in their own developments immediately.
What is in the Appian RPA?
The Appian press release details four key elements that make up the RPA. They are:
- Full-Stack Automation: This is the unifying factor that Calkin spoke about earlier. It unifies people, software robots (bots), and AI in a single workflow. In addition, it delivers centralised management of all enterprise automation technologies on a single platform.
- Powerful Governance: This takes advantage of the existing governance capabilities in the Appian platform. Appian is now adding a new Automation Center of Excellence.
- Security: The Appian RPA runs on Appian Cloud. It allows Appian to ensure that this is a secure platform and that the RPA is not leaking information.
- Scalability: By making the Appian RPA cloud native, the company has future proofed the technology. It allows customers to deploy the RPA where and when they need it.
In addition, Appian has announced a set of key features that include:
- Intelligent image recognition of objects on a screen, reducing errors in bot actions.
- Bots can be deployed on a scheduled basis for common back-end processes or can be invoked on-demand by business users as needed for customer-facing interactions.
- “Human in the loop” optimization means bots can increase productivity through the automation of daily tasks, while keeping people engaged for rapid resolution when there are exceptions to straight-through-processing.
- Detailed RPA audit trails show screenshots of robotic actions for complete visibility, control, and reporting.
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
There are several levels at which this is interesting. It expands the Appian platform and integrates automation. The cloud-native capability allows customers to build and deploy without worrying if things will change in future versions. By sitting inside the Appian platform the RPA also avoids the problem of siloed solutions by providing a single context for the code.
Importantly, this also give Appian a significant foothold in the $12 billion RPA market (source Forrester). It means that the acquisition has immediately added value to Appian rather than it wait and see how many customers want it. The low amount of time taken to integrate and productise the Jidoka RPA also reduces the cost to Appian and speeds up its return on investment for the acquisition.
However, for those investors who think that this may herald a more aggressive acquisition strategy, think again. This was a one off event in a 20 year history. It sees a key element added to the Appian platform and there is no clear evidence that the company needs to repeat this action.
It will be interesting to see how Appian’s customers react. Many are investing in RPA solutions from competitors. Now that they have everything in a single platform, will they repay Appian with increased use of its platform?