Robotic process automation — which lets organizations shift repetitive back-office tasks to machines to complete — has been a hot area of growth in the world of enterprise IT, and now one of the companies that’s making waves in the area has acquired a smaller startup to continue extending its capabilities.
Blue Prism, which helped coin the term RPA when it was founded back in 2001, has announced that it is buying Thoughtonomy, which has built a cloud-based AI engine that delivers RPA-based solutions on a SaaS framework. Blue Prism is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange — where its market cap is around £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion), and in a statement to the market alongside its half-year earnings, it said it would be paying up to £80 million ($100 million) for the firm.
The deal is coming in a combination of cash and stock: £12.5 million payable on completion of the deal, £23 million in shares payable on completion of the deal, up to £20 million payable a year after the deal closes, up to £4.5 million in cash after 18 months, and a final £20 million on the second anniversary of the deal closing, in shares. Thoughtonomy had never raised outside funding, although that was not for lack of interest.
“We’ve had approaches on a daily basis since the intelligent automation market has exploded,” said Terry Walby, CEO and founder of Thoughtonomy, in an interview, “but getting the best outcome for the company and our customers is not just about taking money and headlines [touting] our valuation.”
The acquisition comes about six months after Blue Prism announced it would be raising around $130 million (£100 million) to continue growing at a time when RPA is getting a lot of attention in the market. Linda Dotts, the company’s SVP of global partner strategy and programs, today confirmed that it did raise that money, and that part of the proceeds of that are being used to make the Thoughtonomy acquisition. She also confirmed that it would be looking at other opportunities, a sign that we are likely going to see at least a little more consolidation in this space.
On the same day that it had announced that fundraise, Blue Prism also unveiled a new AI initiative, working with partners to execute on that. And indeed that is what it is getting with Thoughtonomy. The companies were already working together before this — Thoughtonomy’s other key partners are companies like Microsoft’s Azure and Google Cloud, used to deliver its services — and according to Walby, the idea is that his startup will be helping Blue Prism get its services to the next level of where RPA is going.
“We provide architectural support and add intelligence,” he said in an interview. “Our platform addresses activities that require understanding or interpretation, and so it expands the use cases for RPA beyond structured processes.”
That’s notable, given the position of Blue Prism within the RPA landscape. The company is one of the more legacy providers — one of the consequences of being an early mover — and while that gives it a clear advantage of showing it has staying power, in the world of software that can be a more challenging sell when younger companies are building tech from scratch on newer frameworks. (UiPath, which has made major inroads into RPA both in terms of its customer and partner growth, as well as in terms of its funding, is one example.)
And in a market that is still seeing growth (read: companies often operate at a loss to invest in that growth), its ups and downs are there for everyone to see and scrutinise. In its half-year earnings that it posted today, its negative EBITDA margin widened once more — sales, marketing and other business development efforts come at a cost, for one — although group revenues also nearly doubled to £41.6 million from £22.9 million in the same period a year earlier. Total customer numbers are up 91% over the same period a year ago, and with sales returns typically taking about 12 months to come through on the balance sheet, the longer-term picture is worth watching, too.