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Why you should or shouldn’t attend your robots


How attended and unattended robots differ in the short and the long run

Not all robots are born equal! Selecting the right type, attended versus unattended, can greatly improve the success likelihood of the automation initiative.

Software Robots (Robotic Process Automation, RPA) are being deployed daily in the financial service industry. While isolated robot deployments are straightforward, the real challenge starts with scaling up the RPA initiative. However, the success likelihood of RPA deployments across an organization can be easily assessed by using a set of critical success factors in the early stages of each automation initiative. In this article, we will focus on the performance of attended versus unattended robots with regards to the success factors in the short and the long run.

The 4 Key Success Factors

The common saying «attended versus unattended robot» has transpired over time based on the RPA adoption patterns. The term attended refers to a setup where the robots are nested on a user desktop whereas unattended robots are centralized and run in a separate «lights out environment».

Each type of robot has a given set of advantages and challenges. They can be assessed by observing the implications on key success factors such as:

  • Risk (confidentiality of data, traceability)
  • Scalability (respond to volatile demand, costs to implement new processes)
  • Ease of Governance (monitoring, controlling, accountability, auditability)
  • Time to Market (speed to deploy an RPA solution)

We have observed that the dissimilar types of robots fulfill the key success factors differently in the course of the RPA adoption maturity.


Attended robots have an edge in the short term

Robots controlled by the business owner are attended. He directly manages the interaction with business applications. The biggest advantage of attended robots is time to market. Since robots are conceptualized, developed and run by the same business owner. This is a great asset when it comes to handling business challenges or work peaks. Given that RPA deployments can be realized individually and in line with the specific requirements.

Yet attended robots are not centrally managed and monitored. This implies a significant as well as latent risk especially to processes containing confidential data.

As such, the business case of attended robots is centered around tactical deployments of processes with limited exception handling. The responsibility of the roles required to deploy and operate a robot are with the business owner. This is an advantage at the beginning, as accountability is clear, but can turn into a limitation for large scale deployments.

While attended RPA brings efficiency gains, the business owner cannot work, while the robot is deployed. This «extended coffee break» effect has to be bypassed by proper logistics otherwise it limits capacity gains brought by RPA.

Unattended robots pay off in the long term

Unattended robots are working according to a schedule or specific triggers. The execution takes place in a separate environment , a (virtual) data center. The human workforce is notified upon completion or in case of exceptions, but otherwise there is no need to interfere with the robot’s work.

The roles and responsibilities are segregated for the development, maintenance, and execution of the robots. They take longer to be developed and tested, since no manual interaction or monitoring is planned during execution. The higher level of programming detail translates to a higher upfront investment.

In a long-term perspective, unattended robots tend to become more efficient, with lower costs for deploying new ones, scaling up or maintenance. This is mainly due to the higher utilization rate of robots and that existing developments can be reused. The centralization aspect during execution also ensures that risk aspects around confidentiality and data are managed better.

The choice depends on the strategic focus of the initiative

The choice between attended and unattended robots depends on the time perspective and the specific automation requirements on hand. The time perspective can be addressed by the model outlined in this article. For short term tactical deployments, an attended robot may be the most effective solution. For deployments as part of a strategic automation or process excellence initiative, unattended robots come at lower total cost of ownership. Regarding the suitability of the solution for the specific automation requirements, a detailed evaluation is required.

If you would like to know more on attended and unattended RPA, our dedicated experts will be happy to assist.



  • David Steiger
  • Pascal Wagenhofer
David Steiger
Associate Partner
 David Steiger
Pascal Wagenhofer
Manager (Topic Expert)
 Pascal Wagenhofer
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