Process mining can bring true transparency to business management

There is a growing – and well-founded – evangelism for operational excellence. Much like cycling’s Team Sky and its now famous ‘marginal gains’ approach, small improvements to key processes can have huge business benefits. Business intelligence has developed during the last decade, helping enterprises of all shapes and sizes refine the way they approach their operations, using actionable data and insights.

However, there is an important next step that can put that insight into the proper context. Process mining is the investigative side of business transformation, allowing businesses to drill down into processes and root out inefficiencies and their causes. We use process mining to discover and visualise the nature and impact of processes, be they digital or physical – anything from stocking a supermarket’s shelves to managing online insurance claims.

Significantly, Business Process Management (BPM) providers recognise the benefits of process mining to their users and incorporate those capabilities into their platforms. In many cases, this represents the best of both worlds: organisations can use the transparency and insights that process mining offers to optimise process automation.

What appears to be the problem?

What success looks like will vary from business to business, but the fundamentals of process mining are always the same. We can’t improve a process if we don’t understand it. With full transparency on process reality, an appraisal can be made regarding the efficacy of process execution – is a process working, or isn’t it?

Process mining solutions can identify process variants and deviations through a conformance check that compares “to-be” process design with actual “as-is” execution. Once these variants have been identified, process mining tools can analyse their impact on the KPIs. This involves benchmarking them on anything from cycle time to how many manual cycles or interventions have to take place.

From there, process mining can dig deeper into the root causes for this kind of behaviour. It’s only then that actions can be taken to address it. Using the insights gathered, you can identify a so-called “happy path” in process executions and implement measures to establish them as the new standard. That way the variants, along with their ill effects, can be cut out of process execution moving forward. This has huge benefits because, according to the Pareto principle, 20% of causes result in 80% of consequences; if variants causing issues are removed, so too is their disproportionately felt influence.

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Seeing the bigger picture

Pure-play process mining is a powerful tool when used in isolation by an analytics or IT team, but it can be even more effective when embedded in a business’s wider approach to process management. That way, process mining is incorporated into the way that companies coordinate people, information, systems, and other aspects of operations, informing these structures and unlocking advantages that cannot be achieved in a standalone scenario. By seeing the bigger picture, businesses can improve accessibility, performance, and compliance.

Simplicity is a major advantage of an integrated approach to processes. In part, this is straightforwardly a case of having everything in one place – no more unnecessary jumping between windows to view process mining and the process itself. A single platform means less complexity for IT departments, as well as business end users and process owners. Teams that might not previously have used this toolset are able to get quick snapshots of processes, quickly document findings and even transfer the baseline model to the process mining engine for efficient conformance checking.

This integration also has implications for performance. BPM platforms already offer impressive process automation, which can be optimised over time using analysis derived from process mining. The impact on ROI can be substantial through the reduction of lead times and costs associated with core processes.

Compliance is the final area where companies will see benefits from this approach. Again, automating processes is at the heart of better risk and compliance solutions. In an area where set rules and standards are everything, developing consistent, automated processes can ensure compliance and reduce the risk of human error. Here, process mining plays a key role in identifying variants that may risk deviating from standards and chart ways to address them head on.

A connected approach is the way forward

As more and more businesses begin to recognise the need for digital transformation, process mining should not be overlooked — in fact, it should become central to change management. It is not only a vital tool for IT departments and analytics teams, but can also be leveraged to inform process management across entire businesses. Whether a company is looking to simplify the way it manages and analyses its processes, improve ROI, or ensure compliance, process mining may well be the answer.

Written by Nadeem Malik, head of UK and Ireland at Software AG

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