Just like the physical mining for ores or minerals, business process mining extracts data from enterprise IT systems. The goal of such activity is to discover, analyze, monitor, and improve business processes.
Process mining solutions have been around for a while but recently we’ve started hearing more about “process intelligence”. The new name is meant to reflect the expanding capabilities of this software solution family but make no mistake, process mining is still at its core. After all, you need to get that intelligence somehow.
How Does Process Mining Work?
When business transactions are entered into an SAP ERP system or another application, they leave a trace. For example, when a sales order is created, the creation date and time is captured in the respective database table. And all the subsequent activities, such as credit approval, delivery creation, goods issue, billing leave their marks in the database as well.
Process mining software looks for such information to model and analyze the business processes: what do they look like, how long do they take, what are the bottlenecks and deviations from the common scenarios.
Image source: Everest Group
From Mining to Intelligence
When we mine natural resources, after extraction they are shipped to be processed and transformed into something useful. Similarly, process mining is just the starting point for business transformation. That’s why these solutions are usually offered as part of the suite that can turn mined data into valuable intelligence. This software also provides a feedback mechanism that is vital for driving continuous improvement.
You also might have heard the term “digital twin”. It’s used to describe that process intelligence solutions help you to create a working model of many connected processes in the enterprise. This model can then be used to brainstorm, prototype, and evaluate potential improvements without disrupting the “non-digital twin”.
Do We Need a Process Intelligence Solution?
Companies that are looking to optimize their business process should consider investing in a process intelligence solution, so that decisions can be made based on verified data. In order to improve a process, we need to understand and measure first. In absence of special tools, the organizations have to rely on anecdotal evidence or homegrown information that is not always accurate or compliant with good business management practices.
As many customers undergo migration from SAP Business Suite (aka ECC) to S/4HANA, they face having to re-implement or adjust their business processes. It’s likely that your processes have not been looked into since the original SAP ERP go-live many years ago. Migration to S/4HANA is a valuable opportunity to improve and streamline how your business runs. As a bonus, there might be custom code associated with the processes that will become obsolete and thus reduce your remediation and migration effort.
Process Intelligence solutions also help measure the impact of process changes made and confirm that improvement activities yielded expected results.
What Process Mining Cannot Solve
Software can feel like magic sometimes, but it does have limitations. Some customers may find it disappointing that the best process mining software cannot just magically figure out the Byzantine customized processes.
If you are looking for an answer to “what did we even implement?”, then these solutions will likely be of limited help. There is a reason they are not called “process sniffers”. We don’t mine for ores at random places, we need to know where the resources are first.
This seems like a catch-22 and you might ask “well, what’s the solution for me then?” As Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Unfortunately, untangling the mess unique to your organization will most likely need equally unique effort and a variety of different tools.
It is also important to understand that process mining is based on specific data models. These days, end-to-end processes of SAP customers are not always contained within SAP systems. While the solutions mentioned below have great awareness of SAP processes, they will not have immediate or automatic visibility of enterprise application interfaces and connectivity at your organization. It is definitely possible to add such information but it requires process knowledge and some manual configuration.
Understanding both advantages and limitations is vital to the success of a project mining and project intelligence initiatives.
What Solutions Are Available for SAP Customers?
Quite a few software companies have jumped on the process mining wagon (see this Gartner list). Here are the most prominent ones in the SAP ecosystem.
Celonis was the first to the process mining party and they have been a long time SAP partner. Their solutions are most mature, including models that reach beyond SAP specific systems and ability to define processes across platforms. They provide immediate value in mapping core processes (such as OTC or P2P) and providing KPI’s to allow companies to define benchmarks.
Celonis offers a variety of options for free access to their solutions. They also have a passionate community of Celopeers and a large library of learning content.
Acquired by SAP in 2021, Signavio may be “the new kid on the block” but SAP ownership also comes with easier access to best practices, “fit to standard” information and benchmark statistics. Another strength is the integration of data mining and business process management (BPM), ability to document and control the process modifications going forward. Integration with SAP Build solutions also allows to use Signavio as a one-stop tool not just for process mining and intelligence but for automation as well.
SAP is notorious for lack of generosity in free/trial access to their products and, unfortunately, this is where Signavio is at disadvantage. Very limited trial offering makes it difficult for partners and customers alike to kick the digital tires on their solution. Some free courses on Signavio are offered on SAP Learning website and openSAP.
UiPath is well known for their robotic automation tools. Since automation is one of the biggest process improvement potentials, the customers can benefit from such focus. With former SAP executive Rob Enslin at the helm, I won’t be surprised if UiPath will keep extending their reach into the SAP customer base.
UiPath offers free access to their automation tools but not to process mining, unfortunately. Free online courses are available in their Academy.
What About AI?
These days every software vendor rushes to add “AI something” to their offerings. Right now it’s simply too early to tell whether any of these offerings add substantial business value. We are watching this space closely and with optimism while being cognizant that there is a certain element of hype around AI in general.
What Can Mindset Do for Your Business Process Improvement
We are a consulting company, so you know the drill, here comes the sales pitch.
As an independent consultant, we work with a variety of vendors to make sure the process mining solution you choose to invest in is right for you. Our only success measure is customer satisfaction, and our goal is to help your organization find and implement the products that offer best return on investment and functionality most suitable to your specific needs. And if you are in the unfortunate “hot custom mess” situation, give us a call and we’ll see what can be done.
View our LinkedIn, here.