Managing changes in the dynamics of the labour market, economic uncertainty, increasing competitiveness, tight margins, looking for opportunities to control and lower operational costs to ensuring overall profitability and growth - these are all constant tasks for Senior Managers and CEOs, irrespective of activity field or business size.
Enterprises might benefit in this respect from the expanding robotic process automation trend. But what about small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), where the cost of implementing robotic process automation is prohibitive? The RPA market has evolved to the point where it has begun creating solutions for SMBs looking to stay competitive - just as we have done with our RPA Robots for Hire service.
Deployment and implementation costs have significantly decreased over the last years, to the point that robotic process automation (RPA) in small and medium businesses is no longer wishful thinking.
If you run a small or medium business, it’s very important that you evaluate your needs realistically, while also being fully aware of the capacities of software robots. Here are some numbers to prove that you should take this into account.
Large enterprises might indeed need a full-package of 10 robots that most vendors offer for a start. At $10000/ year/ robot, the prospects are not too bright for the small ones. However, given nowadays robots’ multi-tasking and scalability potential, or the possibility to involve external consultants for sparring and training, one bot might suffice in the early days of the automation of your SMB. This one bot might well have a significant contribution to manage the daunting challenges that we mentioned at the very beginning.
So perhaps benefits such as improved accuracy, increased customer service, scalability opportunities, productivity, effectively organised activities, support for growth and expansion - are worth the effort, even if your enterprise has less than 250 employees.
Let alone that, with the reduced cost of a rather unequivocal workflow automatisation, the effort is not so big. Let’s see then in more concrete terms what this “not so big effort” means when it comes to the actual implementation of robotic process automation in small and medium businesses.
Robotic process automation (RPA) for small and medium businesses
1. Do not expect RPA to be an instant fix
This is part and parcel of setting the implementation journey right. RPA is not about instantaneous technological change for the good, it’s much more a question of continuous work. You should make sure that your employees know what automation is all about, and are ready to act accordingly. That is, you should ensure that everybody is aware of the objectives achievable by means of software robots, and that they are open and ready to use them as means to accomplish these objectives.
This is in fact easier for small and medium businesses, which have a more centralised workforce of less than 250 employees. So this first step is easier to achieve for you, while, at the same time, taking you one step closer to being seriously competitive with the larger enterprises on the market.
2. Know exactly what you expect from RPA and choose the best-fit vendor accordingly
According to Business Today, failure rate in implementing robotic process automation in 2017 ranged between 30% and 50%.
The reason for that is most companies don’t spend the proper amount of time assessing what processes are suitable for automation. One way to mitigate the risk is to have a clear, goal-directed, perspective of what you need RPA for.
Having a long-term development plan and knowing precisely where automation fits in the scheme of things is essential. This will help you to realistically evaluate offers from several vendors and select the one that best fits your strategic plan.
It’s recommended that at least for the beginning, you delegate both the configuration test and the implementation procedure to the vendor. Later on, you can scale “on your own”, perhaps with the help of an internal RPA centre of excellence or other guidelines which you can find here.
3. Make an accurate and realistic appraisal of feasibility
To this end, you should start from operationalising your goals and formulating them in SMART form. Once you’ve done this, you are one step closer to the right choice of the candidate processes for automation (you can find here some questions that help the decision making process). This is crucial for a correct evaluation of what RPA can do for you.
As an SMB, you fare better at this point than big corporations or multinationals, since it is easier for you to have first-hand comprehensive knowledge about how processes are chained in the workflow of a small business. You should map a hierarchy of the automatable processes based on ease of execution (i.e., reduced complexity), and on strategic potential (i.e., coherence with the general business plan).
4. Reason backwards from goals to immediate actions
The question to ask yourself now is “what means/actions are likely to take me from where I am now to where I want to be?”. This sort of reasoning will yield an action plan which should include the progression over time, the activities and dependencies between them, the budget.
Use of a GANNT chart might help you to arrange all the relevant details in a user-friendly format, and consequently it might make tracking progress easier. This is also a point where a skilled vendor can provide valuable input.
5. Start the implementation process
Assuming that you have successfully identified the processes that are suitable for automation, you can move on to action. This means that your wisely chosen provider can code the robots and program the workflow execution. Implementing robotic process automation in small and medium businesses is easier if you are using a product created specifically for your needs, such as the RPA Robots for Hire.
This is in line with the advice courtesy of Makarand Pande from Cognizant, to start “automating simple processes with high potential value in terms of reach and volume”. Another pragmatic recommendation is that you keep your feet on the ground and stay realist, i.e., expect that it is a matter of months (and not weeks) before you can see you first bot in production.
Employee satisfaction is an even more valuable asset for small and medium companies than it is for large corporations. A key benefit of RPA is allowing employees to engage in valuable, high-level, mind fulfilling and rewarding tasks.
Robotic process automation (RPA) in small and medium businesses can free employees from repetitive, boring tasks such as data management or invoice filing. On the logistic side, the data reported by software robots about ongoing processes is an extremely useful resource, which can help improve workflows by increasing efficiency.
RPA’s scalability potential matches well SMBs’ need for flexible, streamlined processes. If we add these gains to the straightforward approach of deployment, implementing robotic process automation in your SMB seems to be just what is needed to make it competitive with the “economic mammoths” on the market.