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The old adage ‘all men are created equal’ cannot be indiscriminately applied to robots either, not even to software robots. This is so because, in order to keep up with industrial development, in particular – with the growing complexity and connectedness as trans-industry features, automation must pursue a more nuanced path.

A prime distinction that can serve as an illustration of this increasingly intricate nature of automation is the one between attended and unattended automation. It is best practice to deploy these two strains of automation in concerted fashion for maximum gain, where ‘maximum gain’ can be defined in terms of productivity and efficiency. But how is one to contrast attended vs. unattended robotic process automation (RPA) robots?

Unattended RPA robots do not require human involvement in the processes they perform, since they can be automatically prompted by specific events, or they can be pre-programmed. They are most qualified when it comes to task-heavy back-office activities, such as batch operations, e.g., entering new client information into the applications that require client data. Attended RPA robots, on the other hand, are typically used  in front-office activities, nested on user desktops. Human employees work side by side with these bots – indeed, they attend the bots.

Call centres are good examples of how these robots can streamline the workflow. Attended bots are very convenient for the telecom sector because they can offer real-time process guidance and assist agents involved in customer calls by, e.g., locating client data in one application, and entering it into another. The agent can thus fully attend the clients and promptly address their concerns, without getting distracted by data searches.

In the RPA demonstration video below, you can see how an UiPath robot can be used to assist a call center agent through both identification and triage, through the use of a single user interface.

A crucial point for grasping the nuts and bolts of the two automation modes is that both can provide a nice illustration of joint human – machine work, in a hybrid cohesive team. A human employee can start a task, enable an attended bot to continue, and then automatically trigger an unattended bot to finalize the activity.

So why RPA? Beyond the general usage for front- and back-office activities, respectively, both attended and unattended software robots can also be leveraged for some end-to-end highly repetitive processes. Another convergence point is that none of the two kinds of robots requires adjustments to the systems for which they are being deployed.

In order to figure out which of the two automation practices suits you best, let us delve a little deeper into some advantages of each.

Benefits of unattended robotic process automation (RPA) robots

  • 24/7/365 capacity for uninterrupted, accurate work. By working self-triggered, these quasi autonomous software robots are adepts of continuous batch processing. They are the paradigmatic example of work around the clock, so they should be carefully considered for industry sectors that involve 24/7 operations, such as hospitality, healthcare or telecommunications.

  • Increased coordination of employees’ efforts. Despite their capacity for unattended functioning, administrators have full oversight over bots’ activities by centralising the information about different operations that they perform (e.g., reporting, auditing, monitoring) in real-time. An integrated automation platform enables communication, and thus productive joint work among employees from various departments, and thereby contributes to minimising the negative effects of functional and communication silos. Unattended RPA robots help to streamline documentation and data management at enterprise level.

Benefits of attended robotic process automation (RPA) robots

  • Boosting customer service. When employees’ multitasking abilities are exploited to the max in customer-facing situations or they need to switch between multiple systems and interfaces, while also attending to their customers on a cordial voice and coming up with efficient solutions, chances are that things don’t work out each and every time as they should.  Attended RPA robots can take the burden of data entering and retrieval in real-time off of employees’ shoulders. This assistance allows them to fully focus on customers’ issues, and to put their communication abilities to best use. The expected consequence is increased customer satisfaction and, ultimately, improved standing of the company.

  • Fast return on investment. Despite being very commonsensical and widely used, the ‘time is money’ maxim has not lost its force. A corollary would be that economising on time leads to saving money. Both kinds of economies can be viewed as opportunities to improve the workflows by introduction of value adding processes. Given the straightforward implementation of attended bots and the consequential time-saving benefits, they are conducive to very prompt ROI.

  • Non-disruptiveness. Attended RPA simply upgrades existing processes. The bots are meant to help resolve particular, concrete problems, and they are deployed in a very task-specific manner. Hence they are easy to integrate in the current workflow.

It goes without saying that the gains we mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg.

Attended vs. unattended RPA bots on the way to success

There are four general success factors of robotic process automation endeavours, beyond the distinction that we’re discussing now. Attended and unattended bots perform differently on each of these four dimensions throughout the long and winding road of RPA maturation.

  1. Risk – how traceable the data is, and what warrants data confidentiality.

  2. Scalability – capacity to flexibly adapt to changeable demands, and the cost of implementing new processes.

  3. Administration – ease of monitoring, accountability, auditability.

  4. Swiftness – pace of Time to Market (TTM).

Attended bots are champions of swiftness, TTM being their top benefit. The deployment of attended RPA is under direct control of the business owner, who conceptualizes, develops and runs them. They are thus easily governed and exhibit clear accountability. Because of that, they also fare well when they have to respond to work peaks. Without central management however, they pose significant risks with respect to handling confidential data, especially on the long run. All in all, these features recommend attended RPA robots as your prime allies on the short term.

A front desk automation example, using an attended RPA bot can be seen in the video below:

Unattended robots, on the other hand, have high utilization rates and current developments can be reused. Task execution is centralised, which allows improved management of sensitive data and hence lower security risks. The low maintenance costs also contribute to their high efficiency in the long term.

How to choose between attended and unattended RPA robots?

A choice can be made based on the time perspective, and on particular contextual features that can act as decision constraints. Attended RPA robots for short term efficiency, and unattended RPA robots for longer-term automation strategies – this is just a rough sketch of the picture. A more nuanced decision regarding an optimal automation solution can only be reached by careful examination of contextual peculiarities.

However, the good news is that you do not need to frame this as an either/ or kind of choice. As you might have noticed when we were listing the benefits of each mode of automation, they are complementary. An integrated platform where the back-office and customer-facing tasks are automated in a concerted manner is a kind of best-case scenario.

Despite their differences, both attended and unattended robots assist businesses on their way towards competitive success. Scalability, ease of deployment, streamlined workflows, accuracy, operational efficiencies – all these are shared features, so features that do not support an exclusive disjunction between the two automation strains.

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