The life of a small business is fraught with risk, danger, and challenges. The odds of survival make for eye-watering reading. According to the Small Business Administration group, 20% fail within a year, half after five years, and two-thirds within a decade.

A lack of research to determine market need is the number one cause of business failure, but after that, it’s all to do with finance and organization. Managing the flow of money is a considerable challenge, alongside having adequate systems in place and allowing employees to work to their potential.

A solution can be found in the form of an invisible employee – robotic process automation (RPA). Adding this asset to your team is like having an extra staff member on hand 24 hours a day, including weekends. And RPA is an employee that’s happy to undertake the most mind-numbing, menial tasks without so much as a shrug of the shoulders.

WHAT IS ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION?

Robotic process automation is a unique software platform that allows you to employ robots across your systems and processes. Any task requiring data or basic human interaction can be delegated to your RPA technology. And it can work much faster and with greater accuracy than any human counterpart.

As well as being a valuable member of your team, RPA software happily integrates with your existing tech platforms. It can help automate the flow of work between different systems and bring these together in a centralized interface. It won’t make you a cup of tea when you most need it, but rumor has it that developers already have their eye on this.

How does RPA differ from Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

RPA software was specifically designed to ‘fit in’ around human employees – think of it as a complement rather than a replacement. RPA can be programmed to input and extract data and adheres to whatever function you’ve delegated it to carry out.

By contrast, artificial intelligence is a step towards replacing human employees. It’s a more ‘intelligent’ form of robot, with the potential to adopt several human traits. These include the powers of logic, learning, and reasoning. With a process called hyperautomation, RPA and AI can be used in-sync, identifying and developing new business processes alongside those you’ve deliberately programmed your platform to perform.

However, the difference RPA can make to a small business on its own is revolutionary. Marrying it with an advanced AI platform is a great consideration for when your small business is ready to take the next step. At a time when your company is most understaffed and in need of the extra support that you simply can’t currently afford to employ, RPA can be the organizational delegate of your dreams.

Here are five reasons why investing in Robotic Process Automation is an absolute must for any small business.

Reason #1. RPA EMPOWERS STAFF

The rise of machines may bring about some concern to any of us humans who need to work to earn money. We all want to make our lives easier, but not at the expense of our livelihoods, right? Understandably, some may see robotic process automation as replacing human workers with robots, thus creating further unemployment for all but the most skilled employees and business owners. However, far from being a human replacement, RPA is actually of benefit to the workforce as a whole.

Even the most skilled workers have to undertake some mundane tasks. These may be in the form of data entry, making calculations through spreadsheets, or putting together reports for clients. RPA is the perfect staff member for such tasks. Robots don’t get bored with data or figures and don’t know the meaning of the words ‘job dissatisfaction’. They simply get on with whatever manual task they’re programmed to achieve, working at the same speed throughout and without distraction.

The benefit of this to employees is enormous. Your staff can focus on the areas of their work they specialize in, meaning more opportunities for creativity and a higher level of job satisfaction. For example, a technical writer is likely to be more productive when working on the written tasks they enjoy instead of filling in spreadsheets. This makes for a better return on employee investment and a higher level of staff retention.

Savings

As a small business owner, you’ll make savings in the long run too. Using RPA for manual tasks will free up time for your whole workforce. In essence, it’s like hiring new project management staff, but at a fraction of the cost. The Institute for Robotic Process Automation estimates that a software robot costs around one-fifth of a human worker, meaning significant savings in operational costs.

The onboarding process for implementing RPA is also a time and money saver. There’s no need to set up a new application programming interface (API), as the software has its own user interface. Very little technical knowledge is required to integrate RPA with your existing platforms. The regular training schedule you’d need to implement when onboarding a new human employee is also eradicated.

When a small business is at its ‘penny watching’ stage, the return on investment that stems from employing a robot for manual processes is hard to ignore.

Reason #2. RPA IMPROVES CUSTOMER SERVICE

No business can afford to provide poor customer service, and for small start-ups, it can be the difference between survival and closure. It’s estimated that 90% of customers will tell others if they’ve had a good experience, and around 70% will spend more money with that company as a result. Excellent customer service creates an opportunity to communicate your brand’s vision, retain customers and increase loyalty. And RPA can be a crucial ingredient in shoring up your own customer service offering.

With reference to our previous point, customer service staff can be empowered by working alongside machines. The number of mundane and menial tasks they have to undertake is drastically reduced when you have an automated system in place. This leaves service operatives with more time to work on improving difficult client relationships and any of their other areas of expertise.

For example, a vast number of customer queries are simple and easily resolved through the use of a Chatbot or other digital agent. A question that can be answered by a Chatbot in less than a minute would take several times longer for a human agent to solve. This is no slur on customer service staff – it’s the simple need for politeness and the formalities required between an agent and customer that can eat up time.

Streamlining Customer Service Channels

Robotic process automation can also help streamline your customer channels. It’s every business’s dream to have an omnichannel customer service approach in place. This is where the response from every channel is at a comparably high standard. Customers have the same positive experience whether they make a voice call, text with a Chatbot, or contact through email or social media. RPA can record every touch-point, saving customers from having to repeat themselves in the event of follow-up contact.

It can even be employed in automation with OCR – optical character recognition – as it’s capable of extracting written words from documents and translating them into a machine-encoded script.

Small businesses tend to have a small customer service team. RPA ensures your human agents are working where they’re in demand, delivering a greater level of satisfaction overall. RPA will likely become an integral part of any successful customer service strategy in the near future.

Reason #3. ORGANIZATION

Small business owners have to be multi-taskers. From creating a marketing strategy to selling, managing and making runs to the coffee shop. Few – if any – can afford to launch their start-up with a full roll-call of necessary staff members.

With business owners and core staff multi-tasking between departments, procedures and processes are often an afterthought, introduced as the employee count increases. This can, of course, bring challenges of its own, as moving from chaotic multi-tasking to a fully organized system takes time, effort, and money.

Investing in RPA at the start of your business’s journey can prove invaluable. Robotic processes can centralize your workflow between departments, ensuring that employees can keep track of what’s happening elsewhere in the business. And RPA can also grow in line with your company’s demands, affording you more uniformity whenever the size of your venture demands it.

Think of the hours saved in manually creating new processes and then training your staff members to use them. It also means that newly-appointed workers can integrate much quicker with your existing systems, with less need for a human helper to instruct them during the onboarding process.

Storage Capacity

RPA can not only help to organize your business but its storage capacity should also be mentioned. As a business grows, its need to keep all data centralized and easy-to-find grows ever more apparent. Robotic processes can sort through heaps of data 24/7 and at a speed that humans can only imagine carrying out themselves. Professional services network Deloitte states that an RPA software robot can actually perform up to 600 actions in any given sequence, all without the need to snack or meditate. And with a little programming, it can achieve this with a single click.

There’s also little or no chance for the kind of human errors caused by long hours sat with only coffee and a spreadsheet for company. As your small business grows, RPA can take the pain out of creating new processes, leaving both you and your employees to focus on their actual work.

Reason #4. FINANCE MANAGEMENT

Passing the lengthy practice of payroll processing and client invoicing to robotics is a massive time-saver for your human resources staff. Keeping track of employee hours, staff sickness, holiday entitlements, overtime, and expenses is a lengthy exercise.

Traditional methods such as staff filling in a manual sheet and keeping receipts from travel and food incurred through work are not only time-consuming but unreliable. It’s the same with client invoices. Clients may prefer to bill you in a variety of ways, using different formats and platforms. Such diversity can cause problems of its own and a lot of wasted time sifting through documentation to ensure accuracy. You can even delegate your inventory management software to robotic processes, avoiding the pitfalls of both over or underselling, both online and off.

A Minimal Risk of Error

The risk of error is virtually removed by allowing RPA to manage your finances. It’s easy for written timesheets to go astray or simply be incorrect due to human error. And any mistakes with client invoices can affect a particular business relationship well into the future. RPA dramatically increases the chance of getting everything right first time.

Putting your financial management in order is essential to business survival. You need a clear record of the amount of money coming in and going out. Automating this process enables this. RPA will not only ensure accuracy across payroll and invoicing, but it can make the whole process more uniform, even sending out templates to clients at the same time each month and removing the complications that stem from poor organization.

Reason #5. DATA GATHERING

The importance of data to any business can’t be underestimated. Keeping a record of every customer interaction, from their touch-points to their average spend, can show you precisely where your business is winning and losing. Data helps you stay relevant and can influence your every decision, from your website’s look to the kind of customer service channels you offer.

Accurate data can also help your employees. You can monitor productivity levels and input feedback processes to improve your business as a whole. Without a well-defined data gathering process, the kind of information that’s vital to helping your business grow can be easily lost. It’s then when decisions have to be made based on hunches over hard evidence.

Robotic processes are expert at gathering data, centralizing it, and doing so at great speed.

RPAs can be programmed to deliver the kind of information that you’re looking for specifically. In essence, it can perform two jobs – both gathering the data and the analytical process. Gone will be the days of trawling through vast spreadsheets of data in the hope of making sense of it. In the right hands, an RPA can deliver precisely the data you need, and it’ll gladly work through the night at no extra cost to have its work ready by the morning.

Seamless Integration

Some business owners skilled in data gathering might wonder how RPA fits in with their existing systems. It’s worth noting that the software is designed to integrate with whatever technical processes you already have in place. This makes the shift from non-RPA to fully-fledged RPA a smooth and painless one, and utilizing a simple software testing tutorial can help your new robotic work buddy to feel even more at home.

Gone are the days when a business would need to close for a day or more to revamp its software platform. RPA is designed to accommodate your existing system and work alongside it, simply adding to and improving the process as a whole.

CONCLUSION

Robotic process automation has been utilized by big businesses for some time now, being previously out of reach for small companies due to the high financial investment required. Thankfully, improvements in technology have opened the doors for everyone to get involved.

RPA is already such a large part of our lives that we barely notice it these days. Facing a chatbot the moment we launch a web page has been a typical facet of internet surfing for some time. And for small businesses, employing an RPA system could have a dramatic effect on survival.

Cost Efficiency Improvements

The National Association of Software and Service Companies estimates that adopting RPA could increase cost efficiency by as much as 65%. The RPA industry grew by nearly 12% in 2020, compared with 2019, and it’s expected to grow by a further 20% this year. The impact of Covid-19 on working patterns and the need for more flexibility has definitely influenced sales in recent times. It’s much easier to streamline work processes for remote staff if your system is RPA-enabled.

It’s a trend that should lead to reduced pricing structures and greater competition, benefiting companies as a whole. The next five years will likely see RPA software become a new norm – as necessary to success as human employees and a reliable internet connection. For small businesses wanting to reach the next rung of the ladder, robotic processes are a no-brainer – there’s simply nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Author’s Bio:

Tammy Wood – Director of Global Technical SEO. Tammy Wood has been involved with SEO for two decades. Her current role is Director of Technical SEO, for Automation Anywhere, an automation company. While not chasing keywords Tammy enjoys reading, buying shoes and writing articles about both RPA and SEO. Here is her LinkedIn.

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