Is document capture a subset of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) or vice-versa? This question came up at the recent Harvey Spencer Associates Capture Conference – an annual meeting of top executives in the document capture software industry. HSA’s Mike Spang presented RPA as a $200 million-plus branch of the $4.1 billion capture industry. That said, by our calculations, just three of the market leading RPA companies, UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism, have a combined market capitalization of $4.4 billion, or more than the whole capture market is producing annually in revenue.

And most accounts we hear have RPA implementations pulling through capture sales when the processes being roboticized run into documents, which seems to be a considerable amount of the time. Earlier this year, Boris Krumrey, the Chief Robotics Officer for UiPath, estimated that about 70% of the RPA vendor’s 700 customers were likely candidates for capture. UiPath has a partnership with ABBYY to provide these services and was looking to partner with other capture ISVs as well.

It’s also been conjectured by no less than Reynolds Bish, CEO of Kofax (which offers both capture and RPA technology) that there is opportunity for BPA/workflow/case management integration with RPA for better managing processes where human intervention is required. So, there seems to be quite a bit of synergy between the RPA and ECM markets. Going one step further, recently ECM vendors Digitech and Hyland have each announced RPA initiatives that seem to primarily built around automating the entry of information from their applications into third-party applications. So, in these cases ECM is pulling through RPA!

This whole situation kind of reminds me of the Web Content Management vs. ECM division we dealt with around the turn of the century. At that time, I remember there was talk of WCM leader Vignette merging with ECM leader FileNet. There was a similar disparity between market caps and revenue (FileNet with the higher revenues but much lower multiple) to what you are currently seeing with RPA and capture. FileNet (and CEO Lee Roberts) could not come to grips with this disparity and thus never consummated the merger. Not too much later, in 2001, the Web technology bubble burst and Vignette was eventually sold to OpenText in 2009.

I’m not saying the RPA technology bubble is going to burst, but Digitech CEO H.K. Bain recently told me that he felt the development of RPA was a step back from the advanced technology his company was working on related to information management. So, what’s it going to be? Are capture ISVs going to be acquired by/merge with RPA companies while their valuation is high? Or, are the ECM companies going to wait it out and see if they can catch the RPA vendors on their way down?