The mass shift to remote work powered the recent IPO of robotic process automation (RPA) software firm UiPath, but it is also intensifying competition.

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The pandemic has been a boon for companies in the business of office automation. Growth has been especially dramatic in robotic process automation (RPA) software, which automates routine tasks typically performed by humans at the office. UiPath, a software firm from Romania that specialises in RPA, raised $1.3 billion in an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange on April 20. This valued the company at about $30 billion, topping the achievement of Sweden’s blockbuster Spotify when it listed in 2018.

RPA is a product of advancements in artificial intelligence, particularly computer vision algorithms, which are able to scan documents and cull data from computer screens. Robots are able to work across multiple systems and user interfaces within an organisation’s workflow, eliminating the need to export documents, or more anachronistically, copy them by hand.

In terms of software alone the RPA market is still small, with sales of about $3 billion last year, Saikat Ray of Gartner estimates. This has led UiPath, along with competitors like Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, to develop broader “automation platforms”. By including programs that identify tasks and others that perform them, these platforms generate their own demand, amplifying RPA to the level of hyperautomation. The Economist reports that in this broader view, RPA could generate $30 billion a year in the next three to five years, according to Ray. Bain’s estimate is even more optimistic, at $65 billion.

Looking either at software alone or automation platforms, UiPath is believed to have captured about a third of the market. CEO Daniel Dines, formerly a software developer at Microsoft, founded UiPath in 2005 and relaunched it as an RPA vendor in 2012. Looking for success beyond Romania and even Europe, he invested heavily in global distribution. This paid off: After COVID-19 struck, the company’s revenues nearly doubled.

Now on the global stage, UiPath will compete with corporate IT heavyweights. SAP launched its RPA platform, SAP Intelligent RPA, in 2019. Then in 2020, Microsoft added RPA to its Power Automate platform. These giants have the advantage of existing relationships with hosts of companies, and can offer their software in bundles at lower prices. UiPath does not have a moat to protect it, says Zane Chrane of Bernstein, but he contends that the market is big enough for many. And as more companies choose to keep their employees remote, it is getting bigger by the day.

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