Thoughtonomy rides demand for intelligent automation

The explosion in customer and investor activity around the robotic process automation (RPA) market has been one of the big industry stories of 2018. 

Two of the big platform providers - UiPath and Automation Anywhere - recently secured a combined $500m in their latest rounds of funding, while an ever-expanding roster of high-profile customer organisations ramp up their deployments.  

One interesting feature of the software provider landscape is how internationally diverse it is, with challengers emerging from Romania, Germany, India, Israel and the UK to take on the usual US front-runners.

London-based Thoughtonomy has risen to prominence among the European pack this year, due in part to the headlines raised by its work at an NHS Trust, where its platform is on track to generate close to a quarter of a million pounds in cost savings. 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundations (ESNEFT) Trust is using Thoughtonomy’s Virtual Workforce platform to process referrals from doctors, extracts the reason for referral, and integrates all relevant documents (blood tests, scan results) into a PDF document that is uploaded to the trust’s admin system. Previously, over-burdened medical secretaries had to download and print these documents, before handing them over to a consultant for review.

 PAC recently caught up with the company’s CTO, Danny Major, who set out Thoughtonomy’s positioning in an increasingly competitive supplier landscape. The company was founded in 2013 and has grown rapidly to more than 100 employees, with an R&D team in Manchester and an operations unit in Austin Texas. 

It can already claim to have made an impact outside its domestic market, supporting more than 200 customers in 29 countries. The Virtual Workforce platform is multilingual (with use cases in French, German and Spanish) and is also cloud native, deployed as-a-service on the Microsoft Azure platform. 

The company’s first major customer was Computacenter, and the managed and professional IT services and consulting firms remain an important customer group. Other key sectors include public and health and financial services, industrial, retail, energy and telecoms. 

Major says that the Virtual Workforce platform is aimed very much at business users rather than the IT function, with no coding required at the user interface level. As a SaaS solution, it is immediately available, and requires no investment in new infrastructure. The virtual workers are “multi-skilled” meaning that they can be adapted to support a range of use cases across the front and back office. By separating the knowledge of work from the resources of work, the VWs can be split across multiple tasks, such as human resources, IT or procurement.

While Thoughtonomy positions itself as an alternative to established RPA platform providers (it was founded by the former UK Head of IPSoft), it is worth noting that it has a partnership with UK RPA player Blue Prism, using the latter’s robotic automation engine as part of its platform. 

One reference customer is UK utility challenger Utilita, which has integrated Thoughtonomy VWs into its in-house systems in order to automate a number of tasks. One key focus area was in automating the processing of customer payments from top-up cards , which previously involved staff entering data into three separate applications before uploading to Excel. The VWs have enabled Utilita to drive a 300% improvement in productivity and to cut the time it took to reduce the time it took to create regulatory reports from 1.5 days to six minutes. 

The evolution in the industry is to build on process automation by applying AI and machine learning to drive intelligent automation. Thoughtonomy has baked this into its most recent platform iteration (Evolution Edition) to enable ML-based resource allocation, sentiment detection, key phrase extraction and autonomous management. On this last point, the platform’s orchestration layer (IADA) will build an understanding of at what times of the day a key application (such as SAP) suffers with performance issues and ensure that the VW runs its tasks outside this slot (while staying within the SLA) to ensure it is being utilised more effectively. 

One of the challenges for automation platform vendors such as Thoughtonomy is in building scale, with prospects often struggling to shine real light on where their process and productivity challenges exist (an issue that PAC is about to explore in an extensive new European study on the challenges faced by early adopters). One way in which the company is trying to help is by establishing a Community Marketplace, which enables customers to re-use repeatable processes and take advantage of earlier projects – which carries big potential in areas such as its existing application in the NHS. The company also runs a training academy that encourages customers to gain certification and build the expertise of their internal teams so they do not have to lean heavily on the vendor or external services partners to scale automation across their business. 

A recent development was the launch of a new feature called Wireframer, which is a tool designed to help customers get their process automation initiatives off the ground at a faster rate. Once business users have defined the high level structure of an automation within the VW platform, Wireframer builds out the process structure, putting the appropriate controls in place to support areas such as exception handling. Thoughtonomy claims that it can speed up the time it takes to design the solution by 70%.

Recent figures suggest that Thoughtonomy is clearly growing in step with the market that will continue to expand and mature in 2019. It will be interesting to watch the company’s progress as the use of process automation technology evolves in the coming years.