Today, Microsoft announced the planned acquisition of Softomotive, a UK-headquartered robotic process automation (RPA) software company with roots in Greece. With the intended purchase, Microsoft has muscled into the RPA game in a big way and, in doing so, removed any doubts that RPA has really arrived. Expect others to follow suit with a buying spree and resulting shakeout of the weaker players. Given the current recession and focus on projects that reduce cost, the timing could not be better.

Most of Softomotive’s 8,000-plus customers are single users or small work groups. Softomotive’s WinAutomation product has both attended and unattended deployment options and a solid offering that is flexible and easy to use but not exercised generally for complex use cases. Functionally, the acquisition helps in three primary areas.

Microsoft took a cloud-first approach to UI Flows. (Be patient with me here.) Power Automate, formerly Microsoft Flow, is the automation backbone for UI Flows and only runs in the cloud. This made running a bot on a desktop awkward. You could do it, but it needed a persistent internet connection, limiting its appeal for many customer service use cases. The acquired WinAutomation has a competitive attended-mode solution and gets over this restriction. The UI Flows offering will remain in the market but mostly for unattended-mode use cases.

Secondly, Microsoft’s bot design support gets a major facelift. The web-based designer of UI Flows could not compete with major RPA design studios, which have a richer set of thick-client design features.

A third positive is picking up surface automation features, the primary talent of RPA products, and a significant R&D area for the majors. Application control and UI surface automation for Citrix, green screens, and hundreds of UI formats may have proven harder for Microsoft than originally anticipated.

Overall, the combined offering remains light on trending areas such as digital worker analytics and document-focused text analytics, but this is a strong acquisition. It aligns well with Microsoft Power Automate’s goals of rapid deployment, citizen development, low price points, and small-to-midsize deployments. By the way, enterprises that have licensed UI Flows will get WinAutomation at no additional cost. Although late to the market overall, the beefed-up portfolio will help stem the tide of RPA vendors targeting Microsoft apps and carve out market share from UiPath that focuses on familiarity of Microsoft tools. More broadly, WinAutomation’s attended-mode support, when combined with Power Virtual Agents and other Azure cognitive services, lays a strong foundation to build the next generation of invisible robots.