Process Mining in Process Optimisation: An Introduction

Publish date:

Process Mining is a form of business process analysis based on recorded process data by IT systems

First time I ever heard the word Process Mining was in a conversation with a colleague. I was confused and puzzled by what it meant. , This blog is aiming to introduce this topic, answer some of the questions and hopefully spark some interest. What follows below is my understanding of it so far, also because it is always good to share useful information.

What is Process Mining

Process Mining is a form of business process analysis based on recorded process data by IT systems e.g. SAP, Oracle and many other enterprise systems. Process Mining tools support organisations in retrieving structured process information using the logged events to discover, monitor and improve their processes.   The systems running the processes generate data, that uncovers precisely which tasks were executed when and by whom. If, for instance, a buying process is initiated in SAP software, each stage in the process is shown in the matching SAP tables. These digital footprints are the result of the increase in digitisation and IT support of business processes.

Process Mining provides a precise and methodical approach to logbook analysis. It is a must-have for organisations facing a complicated process, which require efficiency and structure. By examining the order of events and their timestamps, the exact process can be recreated within the tool, showing all the paths taken for the process and highlighting where it can be improved thoroughly. The tool takes the system logs and automatically builds the process models, along with the quantification of the volumes through each step as well as time taken between steps. This can then reveal any delays, rework loops or any other variations in the process leading to inefficiency.

History and origins of Process Mining

Process Mining is a relatively new discipline, in comparison to Lean Six Sigma in the business process management world.  Attempts to improve workflows started in the nineteenth century with the aim of systematising and advancing assembling processes (mainly manufacturing). The decades that follow saw academics and CEOs, just to name a few, trying to find new ways to simplify business processes, in order to be more efficient and save resources. This led to the emergence of disciplines such as Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Agile manufacturing, and other process optimisation techniques. They tackled process improvement from differing viewpoints but with the same goal in mind: getting rid of waste and becoming more efficient.

In the 50’s, IBM created the hard disk and in doing so brought about the era of database management, creating a market ripe for warehousing and data mining. Increasingly, organisations came to understand that their IT functions were generating a wealth of data which could be utilised to improve their operations.

The pioneer of process mining is a Dutch gentleman called Wil Van der Aalst. He has a data science background and profession.  He has written extensively on the topic in the form of books, articles, blogs and many other publications[1]. Amongst many of his responsibilities, he is a professor at RWTH Aachen University. Leading the Process and Data Science group (PADS), he also sits on advisory boards of various process mining vendors. According to Google Scholar, has been cited over 100,000 times and his ideas have influenced researchers, software developers, and standardization committees working on process support.     Under his watch, Process Mining has developed incredibly fast and become mainstream. With that recognition the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc) published its Process Mining manifesto in 2011, seeking “to promote the research, development, education, implementation, evolution, and understanding of process mining.”

Why do we need Process Mining?

I have witnessed situations in which one asks the client about how their process is being carried out, and often, I have heard an answer in the form of step one, we do A, then B, etc.in a linear fashion. However, real processes are significantly more complicated than that. In some instances, rework needs to be completed, because steps were not done well initially. We also have cases in which various individuals carry out the same process in different ways. This creates a disparity between how individuals believe the process is carried out and how it is really performed.  After looking closer, the disparity is not the main issue as not everything always goes according to the plan. The difficulty is capturing all the variations based on real-world experience.  Another main issue is that in a lot of circumstances no one person has an overview of how the true process works end-to-end.

This difficulty emanates from the following reasons:

  1. Individuality – most of us hold a subjective view of the process, depending on the role and responsibilities one has. Attempting to bring that to life in a workshop or interview to establish “as is” is challenging;
  2. Limited view – particularly, for processes in which no single individual carries out the task from start to finish. Often various individuals, teams, departments work in conjunction to deliver the final product/service;
  3. Change – processes often change and do so many times, whilst being examined. Thus, even if the documented process is up to date initially, at some point in time it will not be a true reflection as documented changes are hard to maintain.

Conclusion

Essentially, Process Mining tools automatically uncover, visually organise and display a step-by-step view of the actual process as it is being performed, as well as any deviations. It accomplishes this by tapping into the raw data, available on log files. Process mining visually displays the true “as is” process very rapidly. It is an interactive tool, which allows consultants or subject matter experts to quickly identify issues and opportunities to find efficiencies. The advantages are a speedy and precise insight into the real processes, augmenting process knowledge and transparency (just to mention a few). With that knowledge, process improvement projects become easier, enabling us to unlock potential for the operations transformation team.    Process Mining is an exciting new topic for us, and this is a great time to engage with it. The process transformation revolution has started, join the front line!

[1] http://www.padsweb.rwth-aachen.de/wvdaalst/

 

Author


Alassana Dumbia

Operations Transformation, Process Optimisation Consultant