Attended vs Unattended RPA?

Not long ago, the question of Attended vs Unattended RPA might not have elicited much more than a brief, contemplative thought, but it’s possible this is beginning to change with the continued evolution of smart automation technologies.

Although RPA started life as a limited Attended automation tool, it quickly progressed to Unattended operation. However, in recent times the Attended automation model has become fashionable, via “Citizen” automation and low-to-no-code tools and strategies.

This article explores the Attended vs Unattended debate a little further to find out which is best, why and when.

 

Attended vs Unattended

Robotic Process Automation (or “RPA”) is the simple idea of using “Robots” to automate monotonous, repetitive tasks within the business to bring improvement benefits such as efficiency, customer experience, employee morale and reduced human error

[Relevant Reading: Getting Started with RPA]

There are essentially two main types of Robot: Attended and Unattended (aka Assisted & Unassisted), which differ based on how your Roboticised process runs and operates, but also in part according to how the Robotic software program is licensed.

 

What is Attended RPA?

Attended RPA relies on a human-trigger, which simply means that a user starts the automation running, like pushing the play button on a Netflix movie. This means the user has complete on-demand control over when the process automation operates, from the comfort of their own computer, to perform a set of tasks in real time. The user can, in theory, watch the automation perform the process steps on their screen with visibility over the inputs and outputs of produced. Attended automations are most commonly used in performing front-office tasks with a strong human presence, such as a customer service agent retrieving and updating data or in situations where it’s not possible to automate the end-to-end process without human interaction or input. In cases like these, your RPA Developer would devise a solution that provides outputs for and facilitates interactions between, the process operator and the Bot. You can also use an Attended Bot to trigger an Unattended Bot to run, where process people still need to have control over the operation, but without having to give them access to the Robotic control and orchestration environment or tools.

 

What is Unattended RPA?

The main difference between Attended and Unattended RPA is the location and accessibility of the Bots. Unattended automations are usually installed and operated from a virtual and not physical computer (aka a Virtual Machine Environment) and as a result, do not require any human trigger or supervision for the start or running of the process. Unattended automations can be run 24/7/365 using pre-defined triggers or queues, such as dates, times, sequences or events, which are stored and typically administered by the Bot controller or supervisor. Another major difference is that Unattended automations are usually implemented in situations where an entire process can be automated, or at a minimum, where any exceptions or errors can also be automatically and gracefully handled. Typical uses for Unattended automation include more traditional back-office processes, at greater scale and across end-to-end processes for tasks that are rule-based, such as Finance and Accounting and HR.

[Relevant Reading: How RPA will transform F&A]

[Relevant Reading: What are the Top HR Processes to Automate?]

Which is Best?

When deciding whether to choose between an Attended or Unattended automation, there are five essential factors you need to consider: Risk, Scalability, Administration, Speed and Cost.

Risk

When automating any process, you need to carefully consider data handling, traceability and confidentiality protection:

Attended Unattended
You can run an automation at any time on your own local computer Typically connected to a central system or hub that controls, manages and runs automations
Relies on individual monitoring, control and management People are assigned specific robotic rights based on a persona or profile for greater control over their activities
Could pose a risk to data confidentiality, especially in the long run A centralised system to manage bots allows for better protection of data and lower security risk

Scalability

Scalability is the ability of the Bots to flexibly handle changes in seasonal or planned demand and capacity, such as a spike in activity due to business growth or expansion of your automation needs. The more scalable a Bot is, the easier it will be for you to respond and implement changes to the Bots to meet those demands.

Attended Unattended
In the short-term, can be horizontally scalable across individuals and functions In the long-run, far greater scalability and cost efficiency to deploy across your organisation
Easy & fast to implement changes on local machines and for the process owner to deploy and maintain changes to the Bot High utilisation rate of Bots and the ability to reuse pre-existing developments to further improve efficiency in coding and deployment
Easier to respond to works peaks as the business owner has visible control over the Bot and can adjust accordingly Adjusting to work peaks must be managed centrally via the Bot control and orchestration centre
Noticeably clear accountability allowing for quick, easy changes to scale May require more formal sign-off and documentation processes can slow down scaling

Administration

Administration is the ease of managing, auditing, and monitoring of your Bots:

Attended Unattended
Solely down to the process owner to implement and deploy Bots and any changes that need to be made to how they operate Provides teams and businesses with the ability to not only track the success rates of the Bots and create KPI’s but also provide segregation of duties and roles
Less administration because Bots are built and run, on local machine by process owner so less coordination and communication required Requires more coordination and communication between teams to track inputs, outputs and status to compensate for any functional or communication silos
Decentralisation makes more difficult to keep track of inputs and outputs and monitor metrics Easier to monitor and track because of centralised operation and orchestration
Greater level of visibility of the clicks and steps in the process, so individuals should find it easier to spot issues and a faster recovery time If errors occur in operation, logs and screenshots will be essential to investigate, test and debug

Time to Market

Time to Market is the speed at which an RPA solution can be deployed. The quicker a solution can be deployed, the sooner the benefits and savings can be enjoyed. The speed at which you can deploy a Bot is dependent on the above aspects. Attended automations are quicker to market and deploy in the short-term because they require less administration and are much more scalable in the short term.

Cost

Cost is a crucial factor to consider because although a process may be technically feasible to automate, it may not be operational suitable or financially viable to automate. For example, the process may not run frequently enough or save the business enough time to produce a good ROI. You must therefore consider this when deciding which processes to automate:

Attended Unattended
Lower unit license cost in the short run and for desktop only automations Higher unit license cost in the short run, but lower cost per process in the long run
Generally easier and shorter implementation and therefore cost of services or training Higher costs for infrastructure, implementation, and maintenance
Faster payback on investment Longer payback, but potentially much higher overall return on investment

Time Saving

One of the main reasons for investing in RPA is the significant time savings and “hours back” for your business that are possible. Automating a process should in theory allow your employees to dedicate more time to more valuable, interesting and rewarding activity. The real and tangible benefits associated with these time savings are not always easily quantified however and are dependent on process complexities and measurability among other factors:

Attended Unattended
Bots can be run as and when required, as many times as required, result in cumulative time saving Can be set to run 24/7/365 on a virtual workstation producing potentially substantial time savings, as processes can be run in the background or overnight before the workday begins
User must trigger the Bot and wait for operation to be completed Triggers and schedules can be set to run at any time of day or night, or in response to another event or action being completed (such as another robotic process)

 

Common Uses for Attended Automation Robots

  1. Service agents on a call with a customer can set a robotic process to run in the background to retrieve or update data whilst continuing service call and working on next best actions
  2. Any process that needs real-time interaction and input from a person, such as submitting an expense report
  3. Spreadsheet work as an alternative to a macro (which requires more technical knowledge)

 

Common Uses for Unattended Automation Robots

  1. Validating, querying and updating all expense reports submitted by employees and transferring this data between different systems
  2. Any process that can take advantage of an available API or to bridge integration gap with legacy systems
  3. Complex and lengthy processes that take a significant amount of time to perform manually that can result in exceptions that don’t need to be handled in real-time

 

Citizen Automation

RPA and Attended automation gave rise to Unattended automation and the development of what marketers call the “Automated Enterprise” or era of “Hyperautomation”. At the heart of this is the continued convergence of smart technologies for user-driven or “Citizen” automation development, which is itself a form of Attended automation.

The key aspect of Citizen automation is to empower non-technical business users to develop and deploy their own process automations, at speed and with no more effort than it takes to perform the task itself.

The scope and scale possible with Citizen automation is currently limited to smaller, simpler desktop Bots for individual benefit. However, its real power is in helping to scale and expand the automated enterprise, by positively engaging a greater percentage of people across your organisation and converting them to the automation-first way of working.

Citizen automation uses low-code or no-code RPA tools, which are ‘GUI’ based, with drag and drop, point and click useability. Here are some essential points to consider when developing a Citizen Automator model.

Advantages

  • Relatively quick and easy to learn and use requiring very little technical or coding knowledge
  • Democratises control to your employees to create and benefit from automating their own manual repetitive work, thereby freeing up time, reducing errors and improving morale
  • Provides a catalyst for the automation-first focus for your organisation to support digital transformation
  • Reduces the reliance on automation experts to deliver lower-level tasks
  • Allows the automation of smaller manual and routine tasks that might otherwise fail an ROI check and not be automated

Disadvantages

  • Works best when you have an existing, mature and successful enterprise automation programme, or have strong automation champions with expertise to support and guide its deployment
  • Limited to simpler, everyday desktop tasks, and cannot (currently) manage more complex or sophisticated processes
  • No matter how simple it is to use, it won’t appeal to everyone
  • Needs to be properly governed and managed to ensure robust automations are developed that meet best practices
  • Possible information security concerns, especially where employees work with highly sensitive or private data
  • Potential for the duplication of automations and effort to create them

Relevant Reading – See what leading RPA software provider says about Citizen Automation:

“A Robot for Every Worker” Whitepaper

“A Robot for Every Worker” Webinar

“Human-in-the-Loop” Automation

A third hybridised type of robotic process automation that combines the best of both Attended and Unattended formats, is “Human-in-the-loop” automation.

These automations can be used to allow a Bot to work fully Unattended to perform tasks which don’t require oversight but will interact on those tasks or parts of a process that require human input or interaction. This hand-over between human and Robot can be programmed to work very seamlessly and automatically and can significantly expand the scope of the process automation.

“Human-in-the-loop” automation therefore provides much more flexibility and scalability for use cases where there is a high degree of human intervention required.

 

Conclusion

With the continued convergence of technologies and development of smart automation, there’s a Robot to suit almost all conceivable business process scenario, and this can only improve. The decision as to which type of Robot to choose is a crucial one and will determine your required skills and resources, security cost, timelines and how best to approach the Bot development, however, this is all dependent on the particular scenario itself. The good news is, this is a choice that is getting much easier to make and modify.

 

Other Relevant Reading:

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