We have all seen the headlines and read the numbers behind Robotic Process Automation (RPA). One of the fastest-growing enterprise technologies in the world, some of the largest companies and multinationals are adopting RPA, increasing productivity, competitiveness and saving on costs. Even in Asia growth in RPA adoption is set to hit US$6.2 billion by 2023, with companies from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and beyond recognizing the benefits the technology brings.
For SMEs though, RPA adoption may not be a number one priority, and SME owners and entrepreneurs may view the technology as more suited to larger multinationals than for them. This could not be further from the truth, though, and the sooner automation is embedded into a young company’s business processes, the better.
Here are five things SMEs in APAC need to know about RPA, and how it can help them:
Driving Business Performance
RPA can be implemented to handle everything from accounts payable, accrual bookings and credit checks to salary processing, tax reporting and auditing, further reducing the time spent doing these tasks and thus enabling employees of SMEs to focus more of their time on tasks that require customer engagement. The software operates 24/7, makes use of structured data and is applicable for any task that is rules-based and repetitive and handles a large number of transactions that exist in any company, regardless of size.
Three in five SMEs intend to shift their attention towards technology investments in 2018 so as to improve their company’s performance, with approximately 60% looking into new technology acquisitions. SME owners and employees need to be able to do more with less, and automating repetitive, rules-based tasks is the perfect way to achieve this, allowing smaller firms to punch above their weight
Ensures Minimal Disruption and Eliminates the Risk of Human Error
Unlike larger firms, SMEs won’t have the budget for wholesale changes to IT systems. Enterprise RPA technology is non-disruptive and can be placed ‘on top’ of existing IT systems. Furthermore, the technology is very accessible and easy to use, with vendors providing downloadable RPA solutions that are accessible by over thousands of business owners and users, who are facilitated with user-friendly interfaces including ‘drag and drop’ functions that help them automate their own processes without any coding required.
As they do not change the underlying code of the client’s IT system, RPA is truly non-disruptive and therefore never compromises the integrity of the underlying applications as the 'assistants' access end user computer systems exactly as a human does, ensuring fast implementation and very low risks. Best of all, RPA assistants do not make mistakes, work 24 hours a day and that is without a coffee break!
Raising Employee Morale and Reducing Staff Turnover
Most university graduates, upon investing significant amounts on their education, often spend the initial years of their careers carrying out monotonous and rules-based tasks such as copy-pasting data and doing administrative duties. This leads to low employee morale and therefore a high turnover rate. Finding and retaining talent is hard enough for smaller firms, and so any attempt to improve working conditions and retaining good employees will result in significant payback and cost savings.
Automation of repetitive duties with RPA will allow employees to further develop their respective technological and creative skills, freeing them from carrying out the same duties and therefore enabling them to utilize their innovative side and putting their skills and areas of expertise to better use, resulting in more satisfied, happier employees.
Improves Productivity and Customer Service Experiences
For smaller companies, often their main differentiator and competitive edge is superior customer service, service that is more personal, tailored and human-centric. RPA can help with this. Firstly, by automating many of the rules-based repetitive administrative work, RPA will allow employees to concentrate on higher value work such as deadline with customers, putting a face to the company. Additionally, RPA, especially with Artificial Intelligence (AI) incorporated into the process, is able to handle large amounts of unstructured data. This will allow firms to quickly pull together all the information needed about a particular customer, arming the service team members with everything they need to provide fast and accurate service, resulting in happier customers and a healthier bottom line.
Human Augmenter, Not a Replacer
Instead of replacing employees, RPA tackles attributes that do not require human reasoning. For example, experts thought ATMs would replace bank tellers. Decades later, there are even more tellers around as automation has only reduced the cost of banking, thus augmenting employees and enabling banks to provide services both efficiently and effectively, to a much larger portion of the population. Hence, SMEs stand to improve productivity by automating time-consuming and repetitive tasks, in turn gaining a competitive advantage.
SMEs in Asia face unique challenges thanks to their size, and each business owner needs to work out how they are going to survive, and grow, within their respective industries. RPA is a unique technology, in that it is relevant to the largest companies on earth, and some of the smallest companies. SMEs should think early about how they can save costs and increase productivity through automation, and RPA is a technology that could well enable that.