Random/Initial Thoughts on IBM’s Purchase of WDG Automation

By Brian French Posted August 11, 2020 In RPA
  • My biggest and most prescient thought is: FINALLY!!! There have been rumblings for a couple of years about IBM purchasing an RPA company. I dont think it is any secret they flirted with Blue Prism and WorkFusion as well. They finally pulled the trigger on WDG Automation, which seems like a great choice (more on that later). Quite frankly, as a services provider that primarily focuses on IBM Digital Business Automation, I wish they had made an RPA acquisition much earlier. On the other hand, if they hadnt made the purchase now, I would still be sitting here wishing they had their own RPA engine. So, kudos to them for pulling the trigger. 
  • It appears a great job was done by Michael Lim, who was the Acquisition Integration Executive. My understanding is this is the fastest acquisition IBM has ever done, so great job by Mike and his team in making it happen, especially considering the limitations in place with COVID-19. The purchase has tremendous potential, and I am sure Mike is as excited as anyone about it. 
  • As far as the underlying technology and capabilities of WDG Automation, myself and Eric Ducos have done some initial analysis on the solution, and were quite impressed. The analysis leads us to believe this was an outstanding purchase by IBM. Yes, there are areas where the Big 3 RPA vendors have some advantages (the advantage varies by each vendor), but there are many areas where WDG has advantages. The most significant advantages I see are the flexibility the tool gives you in building your bots (over 600 different controls), the basic plumbing of the tool (I believe this will give them a substantial performance advantage long-term), and the fact WDG is a cloud native solution. Another big consideration is you dont need a Virtual Machine per bot, unlike many other RPA vendors 
  • Im wondering if this purchase will put pressure on the Big 3 RPA vendors to start buying more companies so they can truly do Hyperautomation? The way I see it today is when the Big 3 RPA vendors talk about HyperAutomation, they can only cover some AI, minimal parts of the iBPMS stack, and they have the RPA part fully covered. But… that iBPMS piece is a steep hill for them. Will they start using their stockpile of cash to buy companies to fill in those gaps? We have already begun to see some of this happening. Automation Anywhere bought Klevops (workflow), and UI Path bought Process Gold (Process Mining; great name by the way) and Stepshot (Process Documentation). Will the Big 3 continue to take this further? Or, will they continue to leverage partnerships and further enable the route Sandy Kemsley recommends (basically a  a microservices / build your own / best of breed approach). This is hard to say, and a lot of it depends on how well companies like IBM, Appian, Pega, and even Microsoft can integrate their RPA solutions. If they cant execute, then the pressure will be much less on the Big 3 RPA vendors. One thing we can say for sure is the consolidation of RPA vendors will continue. I dont see how standalone RPA vendors will survive without joining forces with others over the next few years. On the other hand, many people, including myself, said that about BPM/Workflow engines/solutions a few years ago, and they continue to pop up. I guess there is always a new way to approach things. 
  • Continuing down the integrating the RPA solutions path, there is A LOT for IBM to do here to avoid confusion for its customers. The WDG solution has AI, OCR, Chatbot, and Voice Recognition built-in. So, where do you leverage Watson vs. the WDG AI? Where do you use the WDG OCR capabilities vs. IBMs Data Capture solution? Im not too familiar with IBMs Chatbot and IVR solutions, but I know they have them. Someone on the IBM Offering Management team is going to have to figure all of this out and present it in a believable and easily consumable fashion to their customers. Otherwise, IBM’s competitors will take advantage and sow FUD. Actually, their competitors will sow FUD anyway. Thats their job 😊. 
  • The potential that comes with adding this into IBMs Automation Cloud Pak is tremendous. If you are a customer of IBMs Cloud Pak, the RPA piece will be there as part of the offering starting in Q4. This aligns incredibly well with Salient's view of where RPA should sit (no, it is not the next coming of the internet as some of the RPA vendors would have you believe). It also aligns well with where Phil Fersht of HFS Research believes RPA sits (by the way, if you dont follow Phil and read Horse for Sources, you really should; it is excellent stuff!). After all, RPA is NOT process automation; it is task automation. However, I digress. Back to how RPA fits in the Cloud Pak stack. Ive written plenty about how RPA fits into DBA in a separate blog. Fundamentally, I feel this was a great move by IBM for its Digital Business Automation suite and was wholly necessary. An RPA partnership wasnt going to cut it, at least not with the Cloud Pak strategy. If Im a customer, my thinking pre-purchase was: so youre telling me I can have all the pillars in DBA as part of your Cloud Pak offering, but not RPA, which has the lowest barrier to starting my automation journey? Now, the customer doesnt have to ask that question. It is a significant hurdle removed for DBA adoption. 
  • I dont know this for sure, but IBM could end up offering this as part of all of their Cloud Paks. Michael Gilfix alluded to this in his explanatory blog about the purchase. So, imagine that!!! Not only can I use RPA for DBA scenarios, but I can also use it for the Data Cloud Pak, the Applications Cloud Pak, and especially the Multicloud Management Cloud Pak. It seems to me with this approach IBM is even more fully realizing (the first step in this was the DBA offering) that their overarching competitive advantage is the breadth of offerings they have. No one can match this. Now, if you embed RPA in all of these offerings, I think that is a very compelling offering for customers to start seriously considering IBM for multiple solutions, not just one particular Cloud Pak. 
  • The most immediate additional target beyond the DBA Cloud Pak is Multicloud Management, where I can certainly relate to the challenges of automation. As your IT systems grow, it is only natural that they become somewhat more disparate, and visibility becomes more challenging. While IBM, and other vendors, have systems to solve some of these problems, nothing in technology is a panacea, and there are always gaps that typically end up being addressed by swivel chair and ad-hoc type (although repeatable) work. As small as Salient is compared to the Global 2000 that is the primary customer base of IBM, I can see a ton of internal opportunities to leverage RPA to automate ITSM tasks. I can only imagine the number of opportunities available at a Global 2000 company. 
  • One thing the blog by Michael Gilfix did not mention was Red Hat integration. There are sure to be a multitude of opportunities to embed RPA into Red Hat offerings. One thing Salient is playing around with internally is pairing Ansible (for a bit more on using Ansible to deploy apps on IBM Cloud see blog) with WDG Automation. It just seems there are always necessary steps beyond your what current integration capabilities can solve. RPA, and WDG in particular, do a great job of automating those types of tasks. 
  • It was interesting to see GBS (IBM Services) be part of the introduction of the WDG purchase. As both Phil Fersht and Sandy Kemsley mentioned in their coverage of the WDG purchase, IBM Services (GBS) was on the analyst update calls and seemed to be in lockstep with IBM's software team on the investment. It makes me wonder if Arvind Krishna, IBMs new CEO, plans on getting GBS more in line with IBMs software side of the house? This will be an interesting paradox for IBM since GBS is supposed to be independent in their assessment and recommendation of solutions to their customers. If GBS is now in lockstep with IBMs Software business for RPA, then does that cause them to lose credibility? That is not to say there is something wrong with IBMs services arm recommending IBMs software to people. It seems natural in one sense. Hec, Salient is a true-blue IBM shop so were not one to call the kettle black. But… that isnt what GBS claims to be. 
  • There will be a great opportunity here for IBM partners (and, of course, GBS), to show their chops regarding not just RPA implementations, but how this fits into a bigger automation picture. In a blog we posted last year, we talked about the different types of work done in a company, and how those different types of work require different types of automation. If you listen to the Big 3 RPA vendors, you can do everything, including bake your grandmothers apple pie, with their solutions. Well, if you believe that I have a beautiful bridge to sell you here in sunny California. I just need you not to do the due diligence of checking who owns the bridge, and well have a fantastic transaction. Well, at least one of us will be satisfied. Ill let you guess which 😊. RPA has a particular set of problems it solves. There is a strong need to have a holistic approach to automation which considers the type of work being done before considering the type of automation to use. This doesnt even get into the need to track your bots, and simulate your automations. 
  • Saving the best for almost last… You really didnt think IBM would introduce a new solution so near and dear to our hearts and Salient not have some sort of innovation to offer? We think there will be a few customers who are very interested in leveraging WDG Automation as part of the Automation Cloud Pak. However, some of them may already have bots built on IBM RPA with Automation Anywhere, and thus will be hesitant to want to leave their existing investment behind. Theyll want a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive way to migrate their bots. So, we give you our RPA Bot Converter, which will take an export of an IBM RPA with AA bot, and turn it into a WDG Automation bot.  
  • Hopefully, at least for IBM, WDG will stand for We Did Good or even We Did Great. If they can execute on their plan, and successfully integrate this into the many areas they plan on, I think it will be: We Did Great. What I strongly hope IBM avoids is what has sometimes happened with past acquisitions. Weve all seen it. A company gets purchased and then just disappears. The software gets worse instead of better, and the whole thing generally doesnt work out. Hopefully, for the WDG folks, IBM focuses on integrating this acquisition as planned, otherwise the WDG folks will feel like WDG stands for We are Done and Gone. But, I dont see this happening. I believe this will end up being We Did Great. I think IBM has the right focus and plan on this, and they have the right people in place to execute on it. Well be marching right along side of them to do our part in making it “We Did Great.”  
Video: IBM Digital Business Automation Platform