RPA in the midmarket: Smaller companies are slowly waking up

RPA in the midmarket segment? For a long time, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were lethargic when it came to automation. This now seems to be changing – finally. In 2020, as many as 52% of SMEs attributed “an important role” to Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The German government recognized the relevance of RPA for SMEs even earlier and is funding a research project specifically for SMEs. So now it’s time to wake up and get active. But how?

Despite all the critics, RPA is here to stay. This is confirmed by RPA’s annual growth figures. For the second year in a row, RPA was the fastest growing segment in the enterprise software market, according to Gartner. This doesn’t sound like just hype. The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology recognized the potential of RPA for SMEs even earlier: To help RPA gain a foothold in SMEs faster, the German government is even funding an RPA research project specifically for SMEs. The aim is for smaller companies to also benefit quickly from RPA, which large companies are already eagerly embracing. They are already talking about managing their “digital workforce” – their digital employees, in the form of software and RPA robots. At the same time, some midmarket companies are still wondering what exactly they can do with RPA and what it will bring.

Nonetheless, this seems to be finally changing: On average, almost one in five SMEs has already implemented RPA pilot projects, while one in four is planning to use RPA. This is one insight from the Process Mining & RPA 2019 study by the technology market research company IDG Research Services. In this study, 44% of respondents gave RPA a high or very high priority in 2020.

  • 18% of SMEs have already implemented RPA pilot projects
  • 24% are planning to use RPA

Why is RPA especially relevant for SMEs?

It’s about time that SMEs recognize the benefits of RPA for themselves, too, because the relatively easy-to-use and inexpensive technology pays for itself quickly. This is particularly interesting for smaller companies that have a lower capacity to invest. What’s more, when it comes to automation, RPA accesses software applications and documents just like a human would – namely via the computer screen. This means companies don’t have to intervene or change their existing IT landscapes, which is a deterrent for many. That’s why RPA is also called a “non-invasive” technology. Another benefit of RPA is that by optimizing and automating processes and routines, it drives digitization forward overall. And the Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how important this is: The clear crisis winners are the organizations with a high level of digitization.

Midmarket companies will love RPA because of these six reasons:

  1. Short implementation time, quickly available (“non-invasive” technology)
  2. Quick to learn, easy to apply
  3. Relatively cheap, fast payback (within a few months)
  4. Process optimization increases productivity
  5. Driver for digitalization
  6. Increase in process quality and stability (promotion of independence and resilience)

Status quo: Where do SMEs stand on RPA?

In summary, RPA is moving up on the SME agenda. Some of them already have several “bots” in use, that is, RPA robots that execute processes automatically. But they are still in the minority. Often, the larger the number of employees in an organization, the more RPA experience they have. According to IDG Research Services, only 2.5% of SMEs have more than 20 automated processes on average. Among SMEs with more than 1,000 employees, as many as 4% already have more than 20 automated processes.

But RPA is now also getting on the agenda of companies that have fewer than 500 employees: Just under 14% of them had already started or completed an RPA pilot project at the time of the study, and around 27% were thinking about an RPA pilot project in the near future. Companies with 500-999 employees stand out particularly positively when it comes to RPA plans or pilot projects: Around 22% of them already have initial RPA projects underway or completed and a further 30% are planning to introduce RPA. So RPA is increasingly gaining a foothold in mid-sized organizations as well.

RPA in the midmarket: Where and how to start?

Automating a process always starts with the process itself. That means before thinking about automation, you need to understand the process, preferably at the deepest level. How does the process run? What software applications does it access? What data does it need or process? You can gather this information yourself or with external support. Larger companies often use professional business process management (BPM), supported by appropriate software. In such cases, the processes are already modeled. This is helpful and an excellent starting point, but an initial process documentation in Word or Excel is also enough to get started with RPA.

Servicetrace’s RPA platform also offers the option of modeling processes in the common business process management standard BPMN 2.0 free of charge. You benefit from this twofold, because this process model is the basis for the subsequent automation and it allows you to document your processes directly. As a result, you can always keep track of your processes and can optimize them on the existing foundation. In any case, you should always check whether a process has optimization potential before attempting to automate it.

Initial assessment of whether a process is suitable for RPA:

  • The process is rule-based
  • The process rarely changes
  • The process works with structured data
  • The process is executed frequently
  • The volume of the process is high (e.g., 500 or more invoices to be processed monthly, trending upwards)
  • The process is error-prone

Not all of these criteria need to be met, but the more that are, the easier and faster the automation will be and the greater the benefit that automation will provide.

Once you have collected processes, you can also “put them through their paces”: many vendors offer a discounted proof-of-concept. In this initial project, you automate the first process together with RPA experts. This procedure gives you valuable initial experience and helps build a well-developed business case.

On this interview with RPA initiator Marco Augustin, read how he successfully implemented RPA at the midmarket company Sesotec during the first Coronavirus lockdown.