When I started researching the RPA space five years ago, vendors were working hard to position themselves in the unattended automation space, where robots ran on servers in the data center, according to schedules, typically delivering back-office functions.
This was a departure from attended automation that for some years had boosted (and still does) agent efficiency in the contact center.
Today, the market has come full circle, with a focus on helping other office workers, not just contact center agents, increase their productivity. A robot per employee is a marketing message we are hearing increasingly frequently, boosted by the concepts of lo-code software and citizen developers who can build their own robots with little help from tech developers.
Examples of automation vendor activity in this space include:
- NICE’s NEVA, an avatar for NICE’s attended automation, to help all office workers automate their repetitive tasks
- Softomotive’s People First approach, which intends to democratize automation in the enterprise. This applies to both attended and unattended automations, but puts the power in the hands of employees
- UiPath, which is putting out a robot per employee messages in addition to its Automation First campaign. It has even showcased robot-based consumer apps at its event.
One could argue that going full circle back to attended is because unattended automation is proving tough to scale. That does not diminish the potential opportunities that the concept brings to the enterprise and its employees. But it is not immediately obvious what attended robots could do for the average office worker.
Here are a couple of examples.
At the recent Pegaworld event in Las Vegas, a healthcare payer company showcased several examples of how it is using attended automation, including logging employees in to half a dozen systems, a task they need to perform every morning, through what the company calls “start my day,” and changing passwords on those systems on behalf of the employees, at the frequency dictated by the corporate IT policy. Another is helping with repetitive sales administration tasks, e.g., the robots update daily sales information for reporting purposes.
The big question is, do these kinds of examples, good as they are, justify the investment in desktop/attended automation robots by the thousands? True that attended robot licenses typically cost much less than unattended ones, and vendors are likely to offer good rates for bulk orders. But overhead costs, such as training employees to code their own robots and for the enterprise to support them, also come into play, as do robot performance: how fast can they run on those desktops, and can employees get on with other work while the robots are running?
It is early days for a robot per employee model, but it is high time that we boosted office worker productivity again. It has been decades since the advent of personal office software led to the last productivity revolution.
Personally, I am looking forward to seeing attended automation evolve and become really useful. I cannot wait to “robot-source” some of my daily routine work. First though, we (office workers) have to try attended automation for ourselves and see what works and what doesn’t. Lessons learned in the contact center can help us with this, but hands-on and trial and error is the best way forward.