Robotic Process Automation: Desktop Attended vs. Unattended On Servers?

Nowadays, companies are realising the value of building efficient customer relationships. Improved customer experience reflects customer retention, irrespective of the technological approach involved. Robotic Process Automation is an excellent application of technology to do that, freeing up employees from repetitive and tedious tasks.

Today’s RPA solutions automate rules-based, routine tasks within the end-to-end business process in two major, distinctive ways: as unattended automation or attended automation. It’s only matter of time when any distinction between Attended RPA (where a robot assists a human in carrying out tasks on their computer) and Unattended RPA (where a robot works autonomously on a server) will eventually vanish. BCC group conducted a research where they found that by 2024 autonomous robots will surpass the share of the expert systems.

Ultimately, effective implementation of the processes will involve the right amount of scripted robotisation, artificial intelligence, and a combination of expertise and human judgement. However, we are not there as yet.

autonomous robots to surpass expert systems
Source: BCC Research, Wellesley

Attended vs Unattended Automation – Aren’t They All Just Bots?

Currently, the Robotic Process Automation market, as automation ‘expert’ consultants, appears to be comprised of two seemingly different models:

Attended RPA

We speak about Attended RPA, also called Robotic Desktop Automation or Software Assistants, when automation can be carried out at the workstation level. Software robot performs certain actions e.g. email distribution, in place of a human being. Like a human, it reads the contents of an application window, locates fields containing the useful data and saves them, copies the data to another window, launches a transaction, and so on. The robot can also perform checks on the data it handles, providing the company additional compliance guarantees relative to its defined procedures.

During the process, the robot can be designed to return control to the person in front of the workstation, if necessary, so that the person can make a decision that requires their judgement or business experience.

This aspect of Robotic Process Automation, where the robot acts like a human’s software assistant, interacting with the workstation while complying with business logic, is therefore called attended RPA.

An example of this, in a sales context, is a robot that assists a salesperson in developing a proposal or processing an order:

attended human robotic process automation.jpg

In the recent years we’ve seen the boom of software assistants in form of chat bots (FB), calendar scheduling assistants (Amy.ai), finance advisors (Cleo), automated quote generators and so forth.

Unattended RPA a.ka. standalone software robots

Automating certain processes can also take place on servers in the workstation’s background, almost without human interaction. A standalone software robot can use applications to retrieve information, apply control rules to that information, execute processing to produce new data based on the programmed criteria, and then inject that new data into other applications through their user interfaces (UIs) or application program interfaces (APIs). This aspect of Robotic Process Automation, where the robot works alone, is called unattended RPA.

However, the standalone robot always remains under the supervision of humans, as it is necessary to monitor the execution of processes to ensure they are successful and that there are no edge cases that have not been accounted for. When an exception or problem occurs, a human expert (a robot supervisor) must determine the cause, correct it, and then restart the robots so that the process resumes where it had stopped.

An example of unattended RPA, still in a sales context, is a robot that analyses Excel spreadsheets, retrieves information and injects selected information into the company’s ERP system: 

unattended automation process robotic

The desired outcome is always ROI

In reality, this separation or opposition between attended RPA and unattended RPA no longer applies when you consider company expectations. Ultimately, their expectations are almost identical – improve the efficiency of the most commonly performed business processes, hoping for a quick ROI. Companies choosing to implement automation systems do so to accelerate digital transformation with a measurable effect on the employees’ workload conditions and their overall satisfaction. A few examples can be drawn to picture the scale of benefits that business automation brings:

  • A private healthcare provider needs to make the process of on-boarding its new customers more efficient in order to support the growth of its business.
  • A fashion brand may want to automate the suggestion and sale closing process by learning on customer’s taste and selecting appropriate products.
  • A movie entertainment corporation may want to deepen fans’ loyalty by keeping personalised communication and informing them of special events based on their current location.
  • A telecom operator needs to offer the newest fibre optic Internet access service to a mobile phone customer in order to cross sale  boosting its sales.
  • An mobile supplier needs to respond quickly to a customer’s complaint about a bill by gathering crucial data and either fixing the problem by executing programmed automated procedure or delegating the complaint to the right specialist.

At Untrite, we found out that often, it’s enough to automate 50%-70% of a process and to leave the remaining to a human, in order to obtain an ROI within a few months, sometimes weeks. Each company has a different technology mix and therefore one-fits-all automation solution does not exist. We have observed that full automation cost may exceed the ROI which company is trying to achieve. When all exceptions, problems and edge cases that may occur in the process are taken into consideration, full automation cost may exceed the ROI which company is trying to achieve. The robot’s design and development costs can increase dramatically, and its ROI may dwindle or disappear altogether.

Robotic Process Automation must be able to support a wide variety of processes, based on business objectives and expected ROI, using a technological mix that can adapt to each use case. That’s why when working with companies, we always advise on the best practices with the automation vs manual process ratio. These processes could be automated very gradually, with different phases of progression, steadily increasing the amount of robotisation and artificial intelligence.

In the end, we see RPA evolving and becoming enhanced. Robotic Process Automation is a technology application that contributes agility and efficiency to the digital transformation of organisations.

Photo cover source: Crossbrowsertesting