UiPath has made huge strides in recent years. From a provider of several RPA products, it has grown into a broad automation platform, the UiPath Platform. What do the changes mean for UiPath and for its customers?
UiPath seems to have found itself in the eye of a perfect storm in recent years. All kinds of technologies are emerging together in the market and – more importantly – there is also increasing demand for them. Hence, the company’s market value is in the tens of billions of dollars. UiPath also went public in April 2021 with great success.
Yet this great success is actually only something of the last few years. Even though UiPath itself has been around since 2005, the official introduction in the Netherlands only took place in 2018. The biggest developments at the company have taken place roughly since that year. Before then, the market was apparently not ready for it.
RPA as the basis for the UiPath Platform
Coincidentally, 2018 was also the year that Bogdan Ripa, UiPath’s VP of Product Management whom we recently spoke to, joined the company. Hence, he has been able to see up close how much UiPath has changed since then, as well as make his own mark. “When I started at UiPath, we only had a few products: an IDE, attended and unattended robots and an orchestration tool. Our enterprise solution was only available on-prem, only the orchestration tool could be hosted in the cloud, and there was a community version of the platform,” Ripa said.
So, basically, RPA was pretty much the only technology UiPath was focused on until 2018. We can certainly attest to that as well. In fact, we can also clearly remember the Dutch introduction of UiPath in Amsterdam in September 2018. Back then, it was almost exclusively about how to create RPA bots as easily as possible. At the time, UiPath put a lot of emphasis on the simplicity of its offering, thanks in part to the “recording software” with which you could record processes. The result was a software robot that could take over that task for you.
TIP: Also read our story on how to get from idea to RPA in a step-by-step manner.
From Discover to Engage
In 2022, that RPA foundation is obviously still a part of what UiPath does. But in the past four years, UiPath has added a lot of new components to its platform. Today, the UiPath Platform consists of five separate pillars: Discover, Build, Manage, Run and Engage. These pillars offer the full lifecycle of automation. It starts with searching and finding the opportunities for automation within an organization. Next, UiPath offers tools to build it (quickly). Once an automation is finished, you can manage and optimize it before it actually deploys. The final step is to connect people and robots to each other to create proper teams.
The entire UiPath Platform is obviously far too extensive to cover all in a single article. Within these pillars are technologies such as process mining, task mining, low-code development, Business Intelligence and API automation. Some of this functionality has been developed by UiPath itself in recent years. Part of it is the result of acquisitions. In any case, it should be clear that the UiPath Platform is about much more than RPA these days. The company’s platform can be used across all industries that have digital business processes and within workplaces of all sizes in most departments. We’ll take a closer look at some examples of that in the rest of this article.
API automation as well as RPA
To make automation even more relevant within organizations, expanding the functionality of the UiPath Platform is obviously an important part. “We started out in an RPA niche, but with that we only served a specific part of the automation needs at organizations,” Ripa points out. Customers also came to UiPath with questions around APIs and then specifically around API automation. Since APIs and RPA have an overlap in functionality, namely linking systems and software together, UiPath saw opportunities there. With the acquisition of cloud API integration expert Cloud Elements last year, it is now possible to offer RPA and API automation in the same platform.
UiPath’s ambitions are firm, we notice during our conversation with Ripa. “We want to become a key player in API automation,” he states. The idea is to create specific tools for different verticals. One important vertical is IT automation. That means that it is no longer developers who work with the platform, but people from the IT department. API automation plays an important role in the onboarding of new employees, for example. As soon as someone in the IT department presses a button, API automation ensures that the new employee’s workplace is up and running. That is, the employee’s laptop gets the right software suites, but API automation can also setup the VDI environment that they will use.
With the focus on API automation, UiPath clearly goes further in width. In the case of IT automation, it is going to compete with a company like ServiceNow. Interestingly, both vendors also have a low-code app development offering, so some of the battle will be fought there as well. In addition, ServiceNow acquired an RPA provider last year, almost on the same day as UiPath’s acquisition of Cloud Elements.
Citizen development for broader relevance
In the case of API automation, UiPath wants to cover other parts of the market. However, in addition to increased functionality in the area of integrations, UiPath also wants to get more people within organizations to start working with automation. That is why UiPath has committed to supporting citizen development. With StudioX, people without programming skills should also be able to work with the platform. The entry barrier is not very high. “If you know how to use Excel, you can also work with the UiPath platform to automate processes,” Ripa explains.
Mind you, UiPath has had to create a radically different environment for this. Citizen developers can create automations within a no-code environment (i.e. drag&drop). There you need to build in much more guidance during the process as well as put in a framework for governance. One thing UiPath took into account is that many employees who work with the automation platform will also want to work more with a mouse. Traditionally, its tools focused on using only the keyboard. That is what most developers know and like. In addition to StudioX, there will soon even be a version that you can run entirely in the browser. Moreover, with Studio Web, the platform should also become a little more accessible.
Broader relevance is not only achieved by having more people make automations. Support for operating systems also plays a role. Traditionally, automation users are Windows users, but there is increasing demand for Linux and to a somewhat lesser extent for macOS. Hence, robots now work well on Linux as well, in Docker containers. When it comes to macOS, it is clear that automation in general is becoming increasingly relevant within organizations. That operating system in particular has a lot of share with management, Ripa points out. That means people want to use the platform there too.
Cloud becomes the new standard
At the beginning of the article, we talked about how UiPath’s platform could only run on-prem in 2018. That time has now passed for a while. Nowadays, the cloud is the standard for RPA/automation as well. In the case of UiPath, this comes in the shape of the UiPath Automation Cloud. Most of UiPath’s new customers go for the cloud offering in fact. In addition, many customers are also increasingly moving their automation environments to the cloud.
What remains on-prem are heavily regulated sectors, which are not (yet) allowed to move to the cloud. Those customers UiPath will also continue to support. It has a Kubernetes-based replica of the cloud offering that can run on-prem. Obviously, you can’t use the scalability that the cloud offers there, or at all, but otherwise the functionality is identical.
UiPath makes the difference with underlying technology
In itself it is of course all very interesting to hear what direction UiPath is taking. The basis is and remains the underlying technology that makes automations possible. And that is where UiPath really makes the difference, according to Ripa. “The moment a customer uses our product, we win the deal,” he states. That’s because of the underlying technology, which is better than that of the competition.
As an example, Ripa talks about Angular applications, which are built differently every time you use them. The UI generator that Salesforce uses does the same thing. That can be a problem for RPA/automation purposes, since a certain amount of predictability is desired there. According to Ripa, UiPath has no problem with this at all. “Just try using the Salesforce or SAP Fiori interfaces with all the available platforms [UiPath and the competition, ed.] and you’ll see that UiPath always wins,” is his contention.
More than one way to skin a cat
The breadth of UiPath’s platform in 2022 gives the company many more entry points into organizations. Basically, you can get in on most of the five pillars. Ripa sees that happening in practice, too: “Some customers come to us for process mining, others for our apps infrastructure.” Process mining belongs in the Discover pillar, Apps in the Engage pillar, the extremes of the end-to-end platform UiPath has defined. Also, with the addition of API automation, customers now have two options after the Discover phase. They can take the API route, but in addition they can also choose RPA.
All of this gives the UiPath Platform an ever-increasing breadth and depth and thus an ever-wider relevance. In any case, the growth seems far from over. UiPath is a company to keep an eye on in the coming years. We are going to do that anyway, but organizations will also see this name popping up more and more often when they are working on automation initiatives.