Every Entrepreneur Should Befriend a Robot
The era of automation is upon us and one technology that is taking the world by storm is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The RPA market was the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market in 2018, according to Gartner, growing by 63.1 per cent, and is set to reach $1.3 Billion by the end of this year. RPA software robots are currently automating rules-based, repetitive processes behind the scenes quietly and efficiently in organisations and governments all over the world.
However, for the most part RPA is associated with large multinationals – usually in finance or insurance – who often use RPA to automate processes as their own legacy IT systems are unable. For entrepreneurs just beginning their start-up journey, RPA is not usually a priority with product development, sales and hiring a bigger concern. Yet start-up founders often experience many of the same issues larger firms do, albeit on a smaller scale, and could benefit significantly from automation technologies from the start. The good news is that RPA has become accessible enough for start-ups to benefit from the technology almost from the beginning.
A perfect example is a Norway-based hairdresser start-up who opened their first salon in 2015 and has plans to open hundreds by the end of next year. This ambitious start-up is in what many would regard as a traditional industry – hairdressing – yet early on the tech-savvy founders incorporated RPA into their infrastructure which allowed them to scale faster.
Here are three takeaways the founders experienced:
Born digital – while the founder had some past experience with RPA in his old job (he was in a top 4 audit and financial advisory firm) he was not an IT professional and had limited knowledge of coding. Yet, he knew that not only was RPA very accessible, but it had to be integrated into the very fabric of the company from the beginning. This meant that when the time arrived to implement RPA there was no transformation, the transitions were seamless and there was minimal disruption for the employees. Lastly, having decided on an ‘automation-first’ strategy from the get-go, there was no need to get executive buy-in as everyone was already on the same page.
Move fast, fail fast – most entrepreneurs will understand this term and the team took it to heart with their RPA journey. Rather than waste time on lengthy proof of concept tests or research, they agreed that no process should take longer than two weeks / 10 working days to implement – from identifying the process to automating it through RPA. Likewise, if after a period of time the automation project did not produce the required outcome then they would kill it quickly. This meant that the team were freer to experiment and had more freedom to be flexible, and were not held back by bureaucratic and administrative inertia.
You can start small and scale big – the start-up scaled quickly, rapidly growing to 30 salons and with the goal of opening 200 salons by 2020 – both within Norway and internationally. Once they hit the 20-30 salon mark they started to experience problems of scale and so they brought in RPA robots to address efficiency problems. One issue they had was staff scheduling and so they implemented an RPA robot that automated the scheduling of hundreds of employees – reducing scheduling time from two hours to 6-10 minutes. Another issue was management reporting where they needed to bring together data from many disparate sources. Again, a robot was developed that could pull together key data from different outlets, file types and locations. The robot they used is so popular their team even named it Edward – after Edward Scissorhands!
RPA has grown increasingly sophisticated over the past few years. Today, pragmatic Artificial Intelligence (AI) and natural language processing can enable robots to understand real world documents even if the document includes ‘noise’ (e.g. hard to read, poorly scanned etc). Importantly, this technology is much more accessible to business owners, the ‘low code’ nature of RPA means that entrepreneurs with little to no coding background can use it and build their own robots.
Many entrepreneurs will think that automation technologies such as RPA are not relevant to them, they have too few processes and they would prefer to try and do things manually. However, as this company has shown, ambitious start-ups that integrate RPA early on will reap the benefits when it comes to scaling and expansion.