Attended On Desktops? Unattended On Servers? RPA Is A Continuum! Part 4

Pierre Col

Part of the “Intelligent RPA” series about the evolution of robotic process automation and its potential impact on digital transformation.

Companies today are striving to improve their customers’ experience to boost customer retention, regardless of their technological approach. Robotic process automation (RPA) is an excellent tool for more efficiently establishing customer relationships, freeing employees from repetitive and tedious tasks.

The current distinction between attended RPA, where robots assist humans in carrying out tasks on their workstation, and unattended RPA, where a robot works autonomously on a server, is artificial or even dogmatic and will eventually fade away. Ultimately, effective implementation of these processes will involve the right amount of scripted robotization, artificial intelligence, and a combination of expertise and human empathy.

RPA: attended vs. unattended?

Currently, the RPA market presented by analysts and consultants appears to be comprised of two seemingly different, if not opposing, sides.

Attended RPA, digital assistants, or robotic desktop automation

Automation can be carried out at the workstation level, where a software robot will perform certain actions in place of a human being. Like a human, it will read the contents of an application window, locate fields containing useful data, copy the data to another window, launch 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 return control to the person in front of the workstation, if necessary, so the person can make a decision that requires human intelligence or business experience.

This aspect of RPA, where the robot acts like a human being’s software assistant, interacting with the workstation while complying with business logic, is called attended RPA, or robotic desktop automation (sometimes referred to as RDA).

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

Unattended RPA, digital workers, or autonomous software robots

Automating certain processes can also take place on servers, 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, and then inject that new data into other applications through their user interfaces (UIs) or application program interfaces (APIs). This aspect of RPA, where the robot works alone, is called unattended RPA.

However, the standalone robot remains under the human’s supervision, which is necessary to monitor the execution of processes to ensure they are successful. 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 stopped.

An example, still in a sales context, is a robot that analyzes Excel tables, retrieves information, and injects that information into the company’s ERP application:

What do companies want? Effective automation with fast ROI!

In reality, this separation (or opposition) between attended RPA and unattended RPA no longer applies when you take a closer look at company expectations. Ultimately, their expectations are simple: Improve the efficiency of the most commonly used business processes, with a quick ROI, thereby accelerating the company’s digital transformation with a measurable effect on the working conditions of its employees.

  • A bank needs to improve the efficiency of onboarding new customers to support the growth of its business.
  • A telecom operator needs to offer the newest fiber optic Internet access service to a mobile phone customer to boost sales.
  • An energy supplier needs to respond more quickly to a customer’s complaint about a bill, with the best sales recovery, to retain the customer in a hypercompetitive market.

At no time does a company say, “I will take this process and automate it completely! The company has a pragmatic, results-driven approach, guided by the needs expressed by its business. It focuses on greater overall efficiency, regardless of the technology mix and the human or artificial intelligence involved.

Sometimes it’s enough to automate 60% of a process and leave the remaining 40% to a human. This might lead to obtaining ROI within a few months, with just a few weeks between the start of the project and the implementation of the attended RPA solution on a few thousand employees’ workstations.

We have also observed some projects where it was decided, somewhat arbitrarily, to fully automate a process, taking into account all the exceptions, problems, and errors that might occur between the start and end of the process. In this case, the robot’s design and development costs can increase dramatically, and its ROI may dwindle or disappear altogether.

What about artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence technologies are coming, and they will play an increasingly central role in companies, particularly in process automation. This is the case, for example, with the commissioning of the first Arabic language chatbox in the Middle East. Kleptika integrated the chatbox software, developed by the startup Arabot, into the key account’s IT using an RPA robot. The robot searches for customer data in the customer’s data silos, including on an IBM mainframe, without an API or web services. The robot provides the chatbot with exactly the same permissions and access rights as a call center agent, fully protecting the security of the information system.

AI is gradually entering the picture of process automation. But again, AI is not a miracle tool meant to replace humans with a snap of the fingers. Eventually, semantic analysis, natural language processing, machine learning, deep learning, chatbots, and sentiment analysis software will find their place in process automation alongside existing technologies and human beings. And perhaps, considering the need for cooperation between people and software, we should talk in terms of augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.

Our belief: RPA is a continuum!

As you might have noticed, our approach is fully pragmatic. The satisfaction of our customers who use our solutions demonstrates that companies today are waiting to complete their digital transformation.

We believe that 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.

Therefore, within the same company, we can have the following final configuration for three critical processes, A, B, and C:

  • Process A. 40% scripted automation and 60% human: “attended RPA” as it exists today
  • Process B. 100% scripted automation: “unattended RPA” as it exists today
  • Process C. 50% scripted automation, 20% human, and 30% artificial intelligence: “intelligent RPA” as analysts are beginning to imagine it

These processes could be automated very gradually, with different phases of progression, steadily increasing the amount of robotization and artificial intelligence.

So, for example, we could have the following sequence for Process C:

  • Phase C1: 20% scripted automation, 80% human
  • Phase C2: 30% scripted automation, 60% human, 10% artificial intelligence
  • Phase C3: 50% scripted automation, 30% human, 20% artificial intelligence
  • Phase C4: 50% scripted automation, 20% human, 30% artificial intelligence

In the end, we see RPA evolving and being enhanced. Far from being entrenched between two opposing approaches, RPA is a continuum that contributes agility and efficiency to organizations’ digital transformation.

Learn more

For more information, visit our SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation web page.

And please listen to the replay of our “Pathways to the Intelligent Enterprise” Webinar, featuring Phil Carter, chief analyst at IDC, and SAP’s Dan Kearnan and Ginger Gatling.

This article was originally published on the SAP Analytics blog and is republished by permission.

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Pierre Col

About Pierre Col

Pierre Col is head of communications for Intelligent Robotic Process Automation at SAP, formerly chief marketing officer for Contextor. He has an extensive 30+ years background and expertise in strategic marketing, field marketing, Web marketing, lead generation, corporate and business communications, analyst relations, investor relations for Internet, telecom and IT companies.