Process Mining the next BPM Wave

For historical reasons we Europeans are much more dedicated to scientific research unlike Americans much more effective to put their ideas and products in the market than the Europeans who love to publish scientific articles and to attend academic conferences.

Last year two important trends were introduced in BPM world: Adaptive Case Management and Social BPM.

Also last year Jim Sinur predicted in the future BPM would adopt Pattern-based strategy,  but unfortunately no one cared about, because of social BPM hype.

Returning to the initial paragraph about a month ago I rediscovered one of the most prominent academic thinkers in the field of BPM: Wil van der Aalst. This man was responsible for developing the basic concepts of process modeling through petri nets (where all the other mapping standards drunk inspiration), in addition to the enormous contribution to scientific thinking around BPM in the last decade.

Wil van der Aalst last proposition is Process Mining.  Pity both Gartner, Forrester and BPM community have not given  importance.

What is Process Mining:

  • Process Discovery: What processes are executed in our company, supported by enterprise information systems (ERP, BPM, total ad-hoc, e-mail).
  • Conformance checking: Business processes are executed according to the rules defined, or human variants exist?
  • Performance analysis: Where are the bottlenecks?
  • Process prediction: When will the process end? Something that BP Logix has adopted long ago with Predictive BPM.
  • Process improvement: How to redesign a process?

How this works?

According to the author, “Process mining techniques allow for extracting information from event logs. For example, the audit trails of a workflow management system or the transaction logs of an enterprise resource planning system can be used to discover models describing processes, organizations, and products. Moreover, it is possible to use process mining to monitor deviations (e.g., comparing the observed events with predefined models or business rules in the context of SOX).”

Application of Process Mining in Healthcare – A Case Study in a Dutch Hospital - R.S. Mans, M.H. Schonenberg, M. Song, W.M.P. van der Aalst and P.J.M. Bakker

Contrary to what you might think, Process Mining also supports process discovery and analysis through diagnostic techniques of natural language spread in e-mail or other records scattered, thus supporting the world of unstructured processes.

How important Process mining is:

  • In enterprise architecture, when analysts and people who work in your company lost time going fishing for processes that exist, in order to establish process and system architecture. Process Mining plays an important role in the discovery of true enterprise architecture.
  • Process Conformity, how many times people discovered that the processes are not performed according to the rules (our human nature love finding new ways to execute). This does not mean that the process should be executed according to the rules, because some times the rules were not correctly set up.
  • Process optimization: People that has the experience to perform process analysis by looking at process flows usually indicate easily where are the bottleneck, duplication, repetition, but nowadays (!) in the world of knowledge management where flows does not dictate the manner of execution is necessary to sit side by side with the people who perform work to understand what are the obstacles (in a large company this is a daunting task). But it is also true that normally escapes analysis teams some of the problem sources, or because there are biased opinions, or simply … bad reasoning.
  • Business Intelligence helps to understand how we do things, but does have predictive capabilities needed to understand how work could be performed?

Are not we on the verge of a new and beautiful BPM challenge?

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9 thoughts on “Process Mining the next BPM Wave

  1. Hi Alberto, thanks for an interesting post.
    I posted on Process Mining for Adaptive Processes one year ago.
    http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/adaptive-process-theory-and-reality/

    I have a few comments, questions and opinions:
    1) Process flows shouldn’t be part of an enterprise architecture and Process Mining only allows practical process discovery if you already have an architecture with business entities.
    2) If you don’t have any adaptive process system, processes can’t be executed against the rules. Rules would have to throw an exception anyway.
    3) Process mining does little in a normal BPMS to optimize flows. It can just discover exceptions that basically break the task or discover which paths of the process were taken most often. What else …
    4) Business intelligence has nothing to offer in terms of process mining. I would like to know what functionality you see there?

    The most practical approach to using process mining is to discover what actions people decide to take in a case management system that does not enforce a flow. The best way to achieve that is to discover the data patterns (based on a business architecture) that are the trigger situations for such actions.

    • Hello Max:

      You previous post is important to bring some real world questions to evolving BPM.

      Regarding your points:

      1) If a company does not have any architecture at all, no process names, flows, there isn’t semantic names to information entities (business entities), calls everything (work) a process, independently if they are rigid or ad-hoc, and if most of the processes are executed using systems, it can be a huge help using process mining instead of interviewing/observing people trying to catch what activities they perform. Process mining can play a very important role discovering hidden processes, things that (in some companies) managers don’t have the idea they exist (typical in government agencies where triplication is a standard).

      2)In theory yes. But sometimes processes are executed against the rules, because they become a bottleneck and people need to find other ways to execute work without wasting time (it’s possible to find some good examples on procurement processes).

      3)In a BPMS with stuttered process it’s OK, because the way people work it’s already draw in a process map, but in a BPMS that enables dynamic processes where people can design on the fly, modify, update is a completely different, and work is not performed using only a BPMS there are a myriad of systems where process mining can be performed and information can be extracted and analyzed.

      4)I see BI with a huge problem the way it was conceived: just respond to questions for which was structured (facts table and dimensions). Now it wouldn’t be interesting people could customize a BI solution working on the top of process mining, addressing questions with semantics engaged? That would be a great challenge to address.

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  3. All process mining requires is an event log (a case id, events, timestamps, users and attributes). It’s so simple that some struggle with it!

    Legacy systems with event logs have existed from the days when architecture just referred to buildings.

  4. I think that, indead,Proces Mining is an important add-in for BPM initiatives mainly in companies with variuous, complex and fast-changing processes (for example high-tech manufacturing compannies).

    For us, as a BPM based consulting company, and I think for many of the BPM projects managers, the insight provided by Process Mining is unique.

    Maybe you will find valuable some informationa related to Process Mining that I have posted on our company’s blog:

    http://enterprise-concept.com/index.php/ro/blog/item/180-bpm-improvement-with-process-mining

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  7. Hi Alberto,

    Thanks for this interesting post and discussion. Our experience with Process Mining (QPR ProcessAnalyzer http://www.qpr.com/products/process-mining-software.htm ) shows the technology is applicable both in case management (detect variation, path analysis and pinpoint improvement opportunities), ERP (e.g. SAP usage analysis), but also Enterprise Architecture where this is a valuable time saver for performing basline analysis.

    Contrary to some comments process flow is very much part of enterprise architecture management as any architecture should be in support of what the business is doing. Process Mining is essentially a helpful tool for shifting the EA practice to include the business side of the oprganization: a shift that many organizations have been struggling to achieve for quite some time now.

    Best regards,

    Martijn Iseger

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