Enterprises are experts at gaining media attention when it comes to any new, exciting system or process, but the largest impact of business-positive technologies is often felt by small and mid-sized firms. The latest buzz to live in the big business space is Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but it’s time we push it squarely into the SMB realm.

Small businesses face consistent time and workforce crunches, struggling to keep up with the balance of growth and new hires alongside maintaining customer relationships and completing all the daily tasks required to run a business. Working those 10+ hours a day, unfortunately, brings in a lot of tired mornings and bleary-eyed nights, where human error can slip in quietly.

RPA helps to address those manual-error concerns by using boys to perform repetitive tasks on the UIs that people work with regularly. This can be your billing or IT systems with very clear tools that work on strict rules and structured data, though it can also be combined with cognitive automation and AI in more complex scenarios.

I would like to offer just a few thoughts on why the companies behind RPA tools should focus those basic as well as more complex solutions on the SMB space. Let’s start with the potential reach.

The Backbone of Any Economy

Why should the focus of RPA be on tools for small businesses? The chief reason is the scope of services they offer and how their processes align with RPA, plus the pure reach of SMBs. This is true locally in markets like D.C. as well as markets around the globe. Looking just at the U.S., it’s important to remember that small businesses make up 99.7% of all U.S. businesses, according to the SBA.

Energias Markets Research projects that global Robotic Process Automation will rise from $283 million in 2016 to $2.82 billion by 2023, a CAGR of 33.3%. Growth is being driven by processes that promote improved productivity and accuracy as well as reductions in cost and time-to-market.

We often hear about the focus of SMBs as leaders in job creation, community growth, local economic development, and much more. Expanding RPA to these same businesses is a smart way for the industry at large to create a knowledge base and skills base that can expand tools and services to niches as well as new industries.

Your library could benefit from RPA solutions, and SMBs represent a smart, lucrative path to expanding that access.

SMBs Face Common Hurdles

Today’s RPA vendors often focus on large businesses because the scope of this technology can easily be expanded to thousands of workers and markets. Enterprises represent immediate, low-hanging fruit with the potential to expand to new markets and users after an initial pilot is successful.

Small businesses inherently have a reduced scope, making them less appealing in the short-term. Vendors will also face some challenges in establishing a valuation for the improvements they offer if they aren’t able to completely replace a full-time employee — difficult in SMBs where employees wear many hats.

Businesses themselves also often find challenges in business process improvement valuations, where owners (or upper-management) may focus solely on actual costs and savings, while managers down the chain may focus more on customer relationship benefits, retention, and lifetime value.

These concerns weave in with many of the more general hurdles and challenges that SMB owners discuss: cash flow issues, customer discovery and retention, overhead, employee motivation and retention, and difficulties staying current with innovative technologies and practices.

Business owners face challenges in keeping their processes simple, their customers happy, and their employees engaged enough to finish tasks that allow the business to run smoothly. The good news is that RPA can alleviate many of these concerns or at least reduce the tasks owners must complete so they can focus on running their business.

What Could Your SMB Do with RPA?

What guides SMB investment more than just about anything else? Reducing heartburn and the worries that keep owners up at night. I see four areas where RPA can do just that, by protecting operations and allowing for greater proactivity as well as fewer issues with customers, orders, and service.

  1. Monitor your payroll.
    RPA robots can follow a variety of simple commands and work to flag issues when an item does not meet your requirements. In payroll, this can be flagging employees who forget to clock out, push into overtime, or even record incompatible data on their timesheets — working outside of business hours or mismatch between customer accounts and activities.I’ve also seen RPA demonstrations that highlight business cash flow concerns when it comes to payroll. They can warn an owner when there isn’t enough money in the bank or if other problems may disrupt making payroll.
  2. Manage your billing.

    Small businesses can live or die by their invoices and billing work. Every time you send an incorrect bill, you harm your revenue and profitability. RPA tools can be used to automate your billing processes for generating invoice numbers, taxes, totals, checking order entries compared to what’s shipped, and much more. There are even RPA services that can review customer issues to automate the process of reversing transactions and crediting accounts.Billing correctly the first time and working proactively to catch and correct errors is a customer-service win that any SMB can use as a benefit.
  3. Scale while staying lean.I’ve yet to meet an SMB that’s running with such large margins that it can’t afford to be lean. If you’re running on a tight budget, RPA can make it easier for you to handle changes in your business, especially when they come from increased customer demand. Many business processes that customers don’t see can be automated, and this makes scaling a question of access to processing power and bandwidth instead of hiring or having to put in additional manhours.

    RPA bots can automate the billing and order management of your business or even work in-line with chatbots to handle customer service requests, regardless of how much your customer base grows or shrinks.

  4. Check the reports you create. The core of RPA is technology and its intersection with other systems is a critical area when you’re working in an SMB — typically meaning a few IT staff that have too much on their plate every day of the week.Some RPA bots for SMBs are designed just to read reports, from live status reports to those generated every week or month. I’ve seen examples that can man monitor current IT system statuses and flag issues as they arise. It’s the first line of defense in preventing downtime.

    Away from the IT side, RPA bots can also look at customer and business reports to highlight potential issues. Sometimes this might mean your labor efficiency ratios, waste recordings, customer satisfaction or NPS scores, and much more.

While your SMB isn’t as big as an enterprise, your impact on the RPA space might be. Small businesses are well-positioned to use the new and emerging RPA tools designed to generate efficiency and cost savings, even if they were designed for larger deployments.

As an SMB, you know your business frontward and backward and can better assess how a change impacts your business across customer service, revenue, operational efficiency, and much more. I believe this means that small businesses are a core market for RPA and hope we see vendors start to target this market in smart, beneficial ways that improve the services we, as customers, interact with daily.