Before Process Mining
Historically, if a Business Process Management (BPM) practitioner wanted to discover the steps involved in a business process (‘process discovery’), they would typically engage process performers or managers, capture their accounts of the process and using a drawing tool like Microsoft Visio manually create a diagram of the process.
Because the accounts of different stakeholders often differed from one another, the process of engagement, drafting and review was typically performed multiple times to reconcile these differences and ensure that the resulting diagram had the right level of detail and was fit for purpose.
In fast evolving business environments, the actual business processes performed would frequently change by the time such analysis had been completed.
Two main challenges to the efficacy of this approach were thus the cost and time to prepare the diagrams initially and to subsequently maintain alignment between the diagrams and the evolving process in the real world.
Enter Process Mining
Process Mining was borne of the insight that with increasing use of information technology systems to support process execution, and with these systems often capturing detailed records of how the supported process was executed (frequently into ‘log’ files), there was thus abundant information about how the process was performed. And that such sources may provide a more rigorous ‘source of truth’ than previous ‘process discovery’ approaches.
The promise of Process Mining was thus faster, cheaper and more rigorous process information to support process analysis and management.
However, there were significant challenges to develop appropriate tools for analysing such data sources – and in particular at enterprise scale. Recent years have seen significant advances in this space with viable commercial tools now available to practitioners.
Because of these significant potential benefits of process mining, I believe that everyone involved in managing and improving processes should have an awareness of what process mining is, what data sources exist in their organisation and where to begin if they wish to leverage these data sources.
This blog thus aims to assist in raising this level of awareness – and in particular beyond researchers and consultants to this broader group of stakeholders.
Want to learn more?
The following are pointers to a few excellent sources for further information about process mining:
Process mining techniques are often used when no formal description of the process can be obtained by other approaches, or when the quality of an existing documentation is questionable. For example, the audit trails of a workflow management system, the transaction logs of an enterprise resource planning system, and the electronic patient records in a hospital can be used to discover models describing processes, organizations, and products. Moreover, such event logs can also be used to compare event logs with some prior model to see whether the observed reality conforms to some prescriptive or descriptive model.
The Process Mining Manifesto prepared by the IEEE Task Force on Process Mining provides a more detailed overview which does a great job of contextualising process mining for people already familiar with process management and / or business intelligence.
Process mining tool vendor, Fluxicon, has a great post on how process mining differs from other process management methods and tools you may already be familiar with (including lean, data mining and business intelligence).