In June 2019, U.K.-based RPA technology provider Blue Prism acquired Thoughtonomy. At the time, Blue Prism cited Thoughtonomy’s cloud-based platform and Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model as key areas that could strengthen Blue Prism’s portfolio moving forward.
Terry Walby, Thoughtonomy’s founder and CEO, remained with Blue Prism as the chief executive of Thoughtonomy, which has since rebranded as Blue Prism Cloud.
Walby recently sat with RPA Today’s Steve Casco to discuss what Thoughtonomy has added to Blue Prism’s offerings, how and why RPA end users can leverage the cloud, and how to scale your RPA program.
RPA Today: Describe your journey as a founder and the philosophy that led you to cloud delivery and SaaS as your preferred way to offer your products.
Terry Walby: The biggest challenge in driving change is generally not the capability of the products being used, but the ability of an organization to adopt and adapt to that technology. My background is in IT services, outsourcing and enterprise software. And, that experience is what led to the founding of Thoughtonomy. I observed fantastic technology that was struggling with adoption. I also observed tremendous inefficiency in the way people worked across organizations of all kinds and sizes. Inefficiencies in the systems they used, the way they operated, the processes they followed and many of the challenges associated with using traditional technology and the transformation programs put in place to remedy those problems.
This concept of being able to deploy digital workers that could seamlessly interact with existing business systems and that would remove the barriers to transformation was powerful to me. The idea of delivering a digital workforce from the cloud as a SaaS solution was especially important, as that could overcome the challenges typically associated with a new software deployment: setting up supporting infrastructure, going through a big IT project, and integrating the platform into an organization’s overall architecture.
I could also see that delivering this digital workforce in a SaaS paradigm would allow us to build a platform that could be continually iterated and constantly refreshed with innovation over time. I’m a big believer in customer-led design. If we could create something and put it in the hands of customers, it would be how they used it and how they got value from it that would define what we invested in, what we changed or added.
The only way I could make this happen was if I were to demonstrate my belief in this vision. I quit the position I had with a software company, remortgaged my house, sold my car and invested that cash in the dream that created Thoughtonomy.
RPA Today: So, you bootstrapped your company?
Terry Walby: I did speak to the financial markets a couple times, but we didn’t end up taking investment. We took some angel investment from friends and family to support the early stage, but managed to grow the business through working capital as we worked with customers and gave them value. That value gave us revenue and we invested it back into the business.
In the early part of 2019, it became increasingly challenging to be able to fund the business in that way and maintain a runway for high-paced development. We saw exponential growth in the RPA market. We hadn’t really been taking advantage of it. We didn’t talk about ourselves as an RPA platform because what we do is much broader than that. But, as the RPA market began to emerge, we saw the enormous global opportunity and realized the way to maximize our growth would be to fund the business in a different way.
We started to talk to the markets about different kinds of investment but when Blue Prism approached us, we saw this presented numerous advantages for all stakeholders. We had been collaborating with Blue Prism for some time and they proposed combining the businesses. Although it really wasn’t the direction we were planning, we recognized that a collaboration with Blue Prism offered instant access to all the things we would do if we had taken growth capital: offices around the world, a huge end-user sales force, a brand that had great equity and customer loyalty, a resilient product, the ability to let our product develop with the help of the Blue Prism team, and the financial resources to invest in realizing our dream. It became increasingly an obvious alignment and the obvious thing to do.
RPA Today: In a situation where you are the acquired party, sometimes your acquirer is buying you solely for your technology. Did you bring more to this deal than just code?
Terry Walby: Over time we realized there were some key industries that we were able to be stronger in because we had reference ability. One or two or ten customers using your product in a certain way creates a great deal of contextual relevance and reference ability that builds its own momentum.
Something else we realized was that, as the competitive landscape of RPA emerged, the vast majority of vendors in that space were focusing on Tier 1 enterprises. Most early adoption of pureplay RPA was in high-volume, low-complexity tasks that required a workforce of hundreds of thousands of people to make the business case viable.
Because of the way we built this idea of a multi-tasking digital worker, our platform didn’t need to be deployed into huge organizations in order to provide an outstanding return. Our solution was also able to address the midsize segment of the market that Blue Prism couldn’t easily reach before. The use of a cloud-based SaaS platform avoids the investment barriers in infrastructure and resources that might be easier for a big bank but less so for a smaller insurance company, for example. Together we were able to really widen our market footprint. The vast majority of customers we dealt with were incremental to those Blue Prism already worked with.
RPA Today: When does it make sense to consider the cloud model and SaaS? And are there circumstances where an organization might decide it’s not the way to go?
Terry Walby: Well before the acquisition of Thoughtonomy, Blue Prism recognized that more and more organizations wanted their software delivered via the cloud rather than a fixed data center. With the addition of Thoughtonomy, which became Blue Prism Cloud, we added a different delivery mechanism, the SaaS concept.
The advantages of any cloud-delivered solution are the flexibility and dynamic scalability of it as an architecture. As has been very aptly demonstrated by the business challenges around this pandemic, the ability to very quickly respond to economic shocks and quickly changing dynamics is an absolute advantage.
The advantage of SaaS, beyond that, is effectively removing the need to have any concern or interest related to the purchase, management, and support of an organization’s intelligent automation solution. Customers simply consume the automation software as a service and welcome the fact that a SaaS product stays evergreen easily because when we roll out functionality they immediately benefit without the destructive upgrade cycles that typically go along with traditional software adoption.
Where doesn’t a cloud solution fit? It can be more challenging for organizations that have a highly secure architecture that doesn’t allow information to flow externally. There are companies in defense or that operate critical infrastructure, for example, where we would suggest a SaaS solution or even a cloud-deployed solution might be a less suitable fit.
In the early days, heavily regulated organizations like financial services or healthcare had a fairly high degree of reluctance to adopt a SaaS solution, but we’ve seen that change dramatically over the past two or three years.
RPA Today: Do you have recommendations for companies that have already started their automation journeys but are finding it difficult to scale their programs? How can they sell that investment internally?
Terry Walby: First, be more strategic. Scale is not just about how many bots I have deployed, how many processes I have running or how many hours my digital workforce is replacing.
The first way many people start with automation is around productivity. What can I do with my bots that takes away the burden of manual labor from my human workforce? Some organizations stop there and don’t move on to what I would consider are more strategic uses of the technology.
The thinking should not simply be about efficiency and productivity. You should be asking how you can improve the performance of the business using digital workers as a foundation. What are the things that are important to your business? Is it about speed-of-response to customer, is it Net Promoter Score, is it about the quality of patient care, is it about bottom line profitability of service provision? What are the metrics that matter to my business and how can I use digital workers to enhance them?
Organizations that have a strategic approach to automation at the C-level will be looking to launch new services, create an offering that is disruptive, or even create an entirely new entity. Those executives are asking, how can we do that and how can digital workers allow us to do that?
Organizations should think about the short term returns they can get from deploying this tech. Then, if you can find ways to save time or money, you release funding that allows you to do more strategic things with the platform. Think about the tactical quick-win activities, but have a view as to the strategic ways this technology will transform your business. Reimagine what the art of the possible is.
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