THE PANDEMIC will fade, but its effects will linger. With workers confined to their homes, many of the processes they would once have carried out in the office had to be automated. This has given a boost to “robotic process automation” (RPA), a tautological label for software that does this. Having got a taste of RPA, managers want more. This desire helps explain how UiPath, an obscure software firm from Romania, managed on April 20th to raise $1.3bn in an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange. This valued it at around $30bn, higher than what Spotify, the hit Swedish music-streaming service, fetched when it listed in 2018.
All corporate information technology (IT) is about automation. But often a company’s various systems do not talk to each other. Information from invoices or from software that lacks an export function has to be copied by hand. Advances in artificial intelligence, specifically computer-vision algorithms that can scan documents and scrape computer screens, have enabled UiPath and its competitors, such as Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, to do away with this tedium.

Narrowly defined, the RPA market is small, with sales of no more than $3bn last year, estimates Saikat Ray of Gartner, a research firm. So UiPath and its rivals have built “automation platforms”, which include…
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