Process Mining 101 – Everything You Need to Know Guide for 2021

Think about the business world or just the world in general, and how things are run. Every single business outcome is the result of a flow of data known as processes.

This invisible flow stems from the actions and data that come from your assets, systems, and people. This is why process mining is becoming more critical and relevant. Process mining helps enterprises optimize every operational element to provide better experiences and performance. This guide will explain what process mining is and how it can improve your entire operation through intelligent process solutions.

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What is Process Mining?

All businesses are made up of several processes. Humans only do some functions, and others happen automatically. Most often, the procedures are a combination of both. However, almost every single process in the modern world is supported or enabled by IT systems and software. This means that the processes will leave behind a digital trace. Scanning through the event logs of your company’s system and software can help to identify trends and patterns within your system. This scan can demonstrate how your business actually works. Going through these real-time event logs is a big part of what is commonly known as process mining.

Four Stages of Process Mining

There are generally four stages of process mining that occur. These stages are:

  • Collection: involves collecting the event log data from transactional systems within your business.
  • Discovery: using the data that is collected to discover the processes as they occur.
  • Enhancement: using the processes to optimize outcomes of the business.
  • Monitoring: using the changes to watch for more opportunities to improve.
    collection

Process Collection

The first stage of process mining is the collection of data. Every interaction inside a company’s transactional system leaves behind a digital footprint. This is raw data that can then be turned into data records. During the first stage of process mining, a data engineer will be able to establish a link in real-time to help link these data sources.

Data engineers collect the raw data and turn it into an event log. Each event log contains three parts, the activity, a time stamp, and an ID or object. Process mining will aggregate these event logs and reconstruct the process flows throughout your entire organization as they occur, each time that they happen.

Process Discovery

The discovery stage is the time that points of process friction are discovered. Not only are the points of friction discovered, but also the root cause of these issues. Analyzing the event logs that are found during the collection stage provides information with more detail than any type of mapping software, whiteboards, or interviews could possibly provide. Each step of the process, each time it is executed, is provided.

During this second stage, data analysts will quantify the total process environment, including each case, pathway, variations, and any errors along with the impact on your business. During this stage, the objective is to discover any points of friction and what is causing them, optimal pathways and deviations from these pathways, business outcomes for the initial conditions, and the corrective actions taken.

Each process has an optimal path, which is the most effective and efficient route from the first input to the last. During the process discovery stage, this optimal path is found.

Process Variants

Every process has many variants that can deviate from the optimal path. Analyzing these variants can provide information about the underlying causes of friction, highlighting blind spots, and providing information about both quick and long term ways to improve. Using this information can help prioritize your responses to each variant based on the impact on your business.

Process Enhancement

The third stage of process mining is enhancement. During this stage, the causes and variations found during discovery will form the basis for enhancement opportunities. The enhancement stage is where improvements are made. Practical actions are taken to remove friction points and help automate the flow for both digital and human workforces.

In this stage of process mining, machine learning and AI models are used to execute enhancement models throughout transactional systems. These actions might include removing erroneous steps, adding new steps, correcting any errors, improving orchestration, reducing manual efforts, increasing automation rates, governance and standardization.

A process assistant will continually analyze data and create a live feed of actions to restore any processes that have been disrupted and help to get them back to their optimal path. Process automation will cut process costs and free up labor to focus more on the generation of valuable work. Combining process models with machine learning will unlock analytical insight that the human brain simply cannot possibly fathom. This will help to make fixing any issues much faster and easier as the machine will learn from the patterns and fix any issues as they arise.

Monitor

The final or fourth stage in process mining is monitoring. In order to continue to improve, the first three stages must be ongoing and monitored. Monitoring these stages is what helps keep your processes running at the highest levels and evolving with the needs of your business. During the monitoring stage, managers and executives will continue to look over the data that has been provided throughout the process and use that information in order to create fixes to any issues that are found.

Monitoring involves making sure that whatever is planned to fix the issues is executed properly.

Monitoring includes holding your team accountable to their progress towards the goals that have been set. Using process mining allows for correcting your course of action in real time. This will help grow engagement across your teams and build demand for more process mining initiatives for your business.

Conformance checking is important as this helps assess how close each core process adheres to their optimal path. Identifying new points of friction as they come up is important as this can help regulate processes in a timely fashion.

Why is Process Mining Necessary?

Every business uses processes as they are foundational for infrastructure, which is the core element of all business operations. In the past, business processes were quite simple and most of the time done manually. For example, you create a product by procuring materials from a supplier, then you manufacture the product and store it. To fulfill purchases, you receive the order, gather the product or products, package the product and then send it out. To make a payment to a supplier you would receive an invoice, make the payment, and then send a confirmation.

Since most businesses have digitized almost every aspect of these processes into an IT system, the basic core processes have become more complex. This new system is too frequent, fast, and interconnected to be managed manually. As businesses evolve through time, the way that things are done has to evolve with it. From using a credit card at a machine in a store to making purchases online, the world of technology has drastically changed the way things are done.

Businesses are expanding faster than ever. This includes scaling up production, procuring new systems to use as old ones quickly become outdated, ditching old processes to adopt faster and better ones, entering into new areas, and migrating to the cloud interface. Each of these changes affects the environment of processes, making it impossible to optimize those core processes for a business outcome without fully understanding how the entire landscape is being connected. Process mapping software and the use of consultants just cannot keep up with all of this.

Process mining is designed to handle the complexities of the modern world of processes. It provides visibility and control of even the smallest individual processes.

This includes the relationships between the processes, and the outcomes that are delivered through each.

Gaining Critical Insights

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that process mining is necessary in the business world today is simply because of the critical insights that it provides. The ability to run a process analysis on your business data that will identify all of the root causes of processes that are not performing well is simply invaluable. Additionally, process mining not only finds these issues, but also is used to create compliance violations and then continue to monitor the performance in order to ensure that the problems are solved.

Process mining provides insight into your company without all of the time and money investment of a data analytic project. Many processes that need to be optimized, changed, or re-automated already can be found in the systems that you are currently using. The quicker that you find what you have, the faster you will be able to make changes that can make a big difference within your business.

Getting Started With Intelligent Process Mining

When you start to think about process mining, it is easy to become overwhelmed. However, process mining is actually much simpler and faster to get started with than it might seem. One of the great things about process mining is that it is an approach that is designed to make incremental improvements that work on any scale. This means that you can use process mining to support a large level transformation for your business or use it to improve just a single area. The underlying steps for a big project are exactly the same as they are for a smaller project.

There are only four real steps, first you discover your processes, next you root out any friction points and resolve them, enhance your performances, and then continually monitor outcomes.

One of the best things to do is to simply pick a process and focus on resolving the issues within that process first. Once you have resolved the friction points within that area of your business, move on to the next area. Having a good strategy in place is important to your long term success. Starting out small and then moving on is often the best option as this takes

Starting Small

For those that are new to process mining, starting small is the key. The first thing that you need to do is understand where there are issues within your company. Let’s say that there is some friction with your ordering process. Perhaps your people are spending a lot of their time manually processing the data for orders. The time that is spent processing orders is making customers unhappy as many orders are going out late. Your company is restricted by no working capital to use to seize growth opportunities as it becomes available.

This is where process mining can be helpful. The solution to these friction areas often will neatly tie into the four steps of process mining, discover, enhance, and then monitor.

Once the root cause of the problem is found, the friction can be taken care of using streamlining processes to optimize the flow of orders. If your employees are spending too much time with manual entries, finding a way to optimize this area of your business can improve the time spent on processing orders, which then leads to more orders being delivered on time, which in turn leads to customers being happier.

Readying your Company for Process Mining

The first step will be to collect event logs from your system. Once you have time-stamped data to use, it is time to meet with your employees to discuss the issues as well as a plan that is focused on fixing the issues. Your plan should include strategic goals, existing and new initiatives to reach these goals, specific pain points that are currently inhibiting these goals, metrics that indicate processes along the pain points, and a roadmap for a successful future.

Building a Process Mining Team

One of the most important steps for getting started in process mining is to build a quality team. The system will be the most valuable to your company when viewed as a long term function of your company. A quick fix is great, but if it is not sustainable it is not going to do your company much good. Remember, you are only going to get what you are putting in. If you are noticing an area of your business that is not functioning as well as you think it should, creating a team to work out the process flow is one of the best things that you can do. Starting small and getting those quick wins is great, but if you want to fully improve your overall business and ensure that everything is running as smoothly and efficiently as it should be, creating a quality team of people to focus on process mining should be your ultimate goal.

What Process Mining Looks Like in Practice

When process mining is being practiced it will look like:

  • Process discovery that is quick and easy, allowing employees to diagnose issues quickly, make the best possible decisions, and put the proper changes in place to optimize the business.
  • Developing a real time, constant narrative of the operational health of a business, the efficiency of the processes in place, and any risks in the processes.
  • Identifying bottlenecks and other performance issues quickly, creating troubleshooting that is much faster and more cost-effective.
  • Compliance and risk management systems that are more robust and can easily be updated when new requirements or regulations are put into place.
  • Alignment of your underlying business processes with the expectations and demands of your customers is much easier.
  • Consolidating process data throughout many systems, which ensures a comprehensive view of the entire landscape of your company.
  • The ability and the capacity to be able to conduct a complete analysis of all processes in your company and the ability to identify processes that are suitable for any type of automation initiatives.

Process Mining that is Effective

When a process mining initiative is effective, it will provide you and your partners with a more accurate picture of what is actually going on within your business. Even when this information is provided through the process mining project, you will still have staff members that will have different ideas and views on how to solve the problem. For this reason, it is important that there is a space available so that your team can discuss the processes that were discovered throughout the mining process and develop a plan to implement the changes that are necessary in order to optimize the system.

The goal of an effective process mining program is to be able to move quickly from identifying the problem to creating a collaborative solution. Process mining provides your company with the opportunity to create collaborative action plans instead of simply acting based on your instincts or in isolation. The action plans can be shared with your team right away and in real time as the problems are occurring.

For example, one area where process mining is paying off greatly is through IT incident management. Incident is any time there is an interruption to IT services that are not planned. This could be a reduction in quality or complete unavailability. An incident management process will act to restore normal services as fast as possible in order to minimize the impact that this has on your normal business operations. Incident management is critical and when an incident happens, responses are needed from many staff members throughout your teams within your business.

Decreasing Resolution Times for Incidents

Incident management processes can be greatly improved through process mining as it will increase the transparency and visibility throughout your IT processes. Using the data that is gathered during the event and the response to the incident, will allow you to examine the work habits across individuals and teams. This can be very useful to detect non-conformance instances. This analysis can provide you with ideas to help decrease the amount of time it takes to resolve issues, which can reduce the amount of impact that an IT incident has on your company’s normal functions and on your customers.

Once critical causes for bottlenecks, unnecessary risks and costs are fixed, you will then be able to address other issues that may not be as important, but still have significant costs or are keeping you from increasing your overall revenue.

The analytics provided through process mining can help you build detailed records for your data, which will ensure that you will be able to quickly identify any future issues that arise and be able to respond very quickly to them. For this reason, process mining should be looked at as a way to continuously improve your overall processes and not as a one off or time limited project.

Understanding the Data

When it comes to successful data mining, one of the biggest gaps between a successful initiative and one that fails is the application of knowledge. It is important to make sure that you are not only choosing the proper mining techniques, but also to make sure that the people who are overseeing these projects truly understand what the data is telling them before they attempt to make any type of change. Event logs and process maps are only going to provide you with so much. Knowing where the issues are only half of the issue, knowing and understanding why it is happening and how you can fix the issue is the other half. It is important to make sure that the data you are getting is something that is fully understood as this is the first step in trying to fix the problem. After all, you do not want to create a bigger issue with your fix.

The solution to these issues is to make sure that you are combining the process mining program with a larger commitment to your overall business process management. Without a strong foundation of business knowledge, transformational change will not occur. A strong business knowledge must also be supported with technical expertise, which helps to accumulate even more knowledge. A proper and well implemented process mining program can pay off greatly, but only if you are using the knowledge that you are receiving in the appropriate manner. The processes can become truly sustainable throughout your entire enterprise if implemented correctly.

Proper Process Management

Process mining, when it is working its best, will build a bridge between management, business process experts, and employees of the company. The idea is to avoid one-way thinking and to provide everyone with a transparent design of process steps and handovers within the organization. To run a successful business it takes a large team of people and process mining is one of the ways to ensure that all of the team members are working together for the common good of the company.

In order to truly achieve this goal it is essential that all of the processes work in harmony from the regional locations to other fragmented sectors of the business. Statistics and data sets from all of the processes involved instead of solely relying on the estimations and instincts of individuals, is just one of the reasons that mining data is so important. Essentially, these programs will broaden the scope of your company, making it into a more cohesive unit.

Orchestration, Automation and Optimization

In order to fully optimize the landscape of your processes and keep it running at the highest levels for the long term, the goal should be to understand exactly how each process is being carried out. The best way to fully understand the landscape of your business is through process mining. It will remove the need for external analysis, which can not only be time-consuming, but also very costly, not to mention the likelihood of human error. Modern tools are available that allow you to launch an automated analysis of your processes.

Process Mining Principles

As mentioned above, there are four main stages for process mining. In addition, there are some principles that you should adhere to as well.

Defining Goals

Whether you are planning a large company wide project or just starting with a small pilot program, it is important to make sure that you have a clear reason for it being done. There should be criteria that are clear and measured that outlines what will count as being successful. Creating these goals should be the start of any type of improvement project for your business.

Start Small

It is important to make sure that when you are starting out that you choose a manageable area of your process landscape digital transformation. This will help you avoid a huge and long project and also ensures that results will be quick. In order to get the best results, choose a process that is defined as a part of your core business. The process should be simple, but something that is done frequently. For example, logistics, customer support, procurement, or sales process are often good places to start.
Communication and Collaboration

It is likely that you have staff that have specialized knowledge about different areas of your business. Additionally, other staff members may interact with the same process in a different manner. Each of these members of your staff can bring different perspectives on improving the process. Bringing both of these groups together will require collaboration and effective communication. Any actions that are taken should be based on this collaboration.

Discussion regarding processes throughout different departments has developed greatly over the past several years. Many organizations are rejecting individual assessments, guesswork, and blame shifting and are focused on objective displays, variants, and optimization. BPM is the secret for reducing inefficiencies in their business and improving their overall process. Through collaboration and communication, the right software to help support continuous improvement of processes is key.

Action and Measurement

All of the data that is found about the processes will be interesting to someone. However, unless this data is given some meaning, the result is that you are simply giving out information. The actions that are taken as a result of the insights into the process are what provide meaning. Once you have defined and taken action, monitoring and analyzing the process again will show you the effects of the actions that have been implemented and replicated as needed.

Process Mining Challenges

As great as process mining can be, that does not mean that it does not come with some challenges. Software provides a wonderful way to analyze event logs, examine processes in detail, and ensure conformance through the identification of variations between the model and how it functions in reality. However, one of the biggest issues with process mining is simply software. Process mining tools are limited to the investigation of your information systems. The program will not be able to hear or see the areas of the business that occur in real life.

Additionally, as a pure technology, process mining cannot incorporate human understanding. Combining feelings with facts is a human skill only and software simply cannot replicate this. The mix is needed for understanding the process structure and its actual purpose completely. The actual purpose of a process is not always the same thing as its true function. For example, a process structure may ask that an employee acknowledges that a notification has been received. The purpose of this function is accountability, to create a record of who received the notification and when they received it. A software program will only understand the acceptance and not the reason behind it.

Process Mining Benefits

There are many benefits of process mining as you can see. Mining your data is one of the best ways to extract insights into how your business is currently running and how it actually works throughout the line. The mining will allow the driving of digital transformation as it improves the effectiveness and efficiency of your business processes throughout the entire organization. Essentially, process mining service providers will provide you with answers to all of your questions about why your processes are not working and how they should be working and also provide you with ways to make your processes better. As any person in business knows, there is always room for improvement.