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Mining for intelligence: Why business process intelligence makes for agility

Business process improvement is a never-ending quest for betterment that can be lit up by a new generation of process mining software. We take a deep dive

The unpredictability of the past couple of years has confirmed and shaken enterprise digital transformation priorities and raised questions about how businesses think about agility and future resiliency.

What may have seemed like a good idea in 2019 could be inconsequential today, but how do businesses really get to grips with what is and isn’t working, especially with so many external factors impacting decision-making and business performance? How can organisations use business data more intelligently to boost decision-making accuracy?

For many businesses, the answer lies within the processes themselves. As Andy Watts, senior manager at management consulting firm BearingPoint, points out: “Business processes are at the core of every company because they provide the framework for how goods are made and how services operate.”

There is, he adds, a process behind everything an organisation does, whether that is buying, selling, paying, collecting, shipping and so on. “Therefore, when processes run better, a business runs better, and the services and goods to clients can be improved.”

Of course, common sense dictates that the opposite can also occur, and an organisation’s processes can undermine performance. While business process intelligence (BPI) is a way of breaking down processes into their most basic elements, to try to understand the intricacies and fallibilities of an organisation’s everyday functions, it is also the key to finding improvements and competitive edge.

Gero Decker, general manager at SAP Business Process Intelligence and co-founder of Signavio, says BPI is “integral to business transformation”.

For Dan Johnson, director of automation at Future WorkForce, an artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) consultancy, process mining helps organisations discover and improve the performance of their processes by, for example, identifying process bottlenecks.

So, how does it work? What can a business process mining function do?

“When implemented correctly, process mining reduces costs, improves service-level agreements (SLAs) and empowers teams to solve inefficiencies quickly,” says Johnson. “Process mining combines data science and process analytics to mine data from information systems. For example, ERP [enterprise resource planning] and CRM [customer relationship management] tools, create event logs with every transaction which provides an audit trail of processes. This shows what work is being done, when and by whom.

“Process mining software then uses this information to create a process ‘model’. This allows the end-to-end process to be examined, showing the detailed steps taken and any variations.”

Johnson adds that built-in machine learning models can then help give insights into any root cause of deviations. For example, it might point out that every time a new customer needs proof of address, the process is slowed down. These models enable management to see if their processes are performing efficiently, or if they aren’t, they provide the information needed to optimise them.

Invitalia’s Tibco use

It’s exactly the sort of process that Invitalia, a Rome-based government agency for inward investment and business development, went through. To increase efficiency, work smarter with funding initiatives and become more innovative in its approach to fuelling the Italian economy, Invitalia wanted to reassess and optimise its end-to-end business processes.

Many of its operational systems – including customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), human capital management (HCM) and its content management system (CMS) – needed to work more efficiently together, but understanding how to identify issues and focus its efforts required a deep level of analytics. The goal was to save substantial time, increase scalability, and inject greater sophistication and objectivity into decision-making.

Invitalia teamed up with Tibco to use its process mining technology and connected intelligence platform for analytics. According to Invitalia’s chief data and analytics officer, Mario Ettorre, the organisation applied visual analytics as the front-end layer for process mining discoveries.

By looking at the number of funding requests managed, Invitalia examined time to completion and performed a process-based cost analysis to remove hidden inefficiencies and boost the whole request management process.

Ettorre says that by detecting and fixing performance inefficiencies, Invitalia managed to improve the execution of business processes, including for purchasing, fund management and service desk support. Through process models, it gained an understanding of every possible path or variant in a process and was better able to accurately assess its performance.

“We saw the big picture by exploiting our internal and external data sources using the Invitalia Knowledge Lake to discover knowledge and accelerate business and decision processes, and provide more information to citizens and our internal operators, too,” says Ettorre. “By integrating this data into operational systems, we can make the best decisions, predict the best next action and create what we call augmented operational intelligence.”

Pivoting with the pandemic

For many organisations, the Covid-19 pandemic threw something of a spanner in the works. It exposed underlying issues and it continues to have an impact on business continuity.

For Jamie Anderson, chief revenue officer at San Jose-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) business Xactly, a pre-existing lack of collaboration and disparate datasets were exacerbated by the pandemic, exposing weaknesses in business and transformation plans.

“If the numbers and pipeline are solid, a business should be able to see where demand is,” says Anderson. “For this reason, data is the most valuable and unique resource available to each business. When undertaking sales planning without using data, leaders must make assumptions about how long it will take for reps to close a deal, attrition rates and the time needed to hire replacements.

“With the inaccuracy of each assumption being high, the cumulative room for error is enormous. Why should business leaders guess, when instead they can make effective, fast, and accurate decisions that are more likely to achieve the desired results?”

Too often, businesses focus on raw revenue when a revenue intelligence approach is key. This approach means organisations can combine structured and unstructured data to build a bigger picture, a holistic view of the sales pipeline, drawing on insights from across the business to assess the health of accounts.

“It’s about transforming revenue into smart, intelligent revenue,” adds Anderson. “To do so, businesses must continually learn about their customers and their buying patterns, and add value to increase the usage of the software. To these points and more, data mining is your friend.”

BearingPoint’s Watts agrees that the pandemic has shaken things up a bit, with a future that now looks very different to the recent past. Processes have had to evolve quickly and, in many cases, inefficiently. Finding quick fixes was all very well, but without flexibility in the model and the ability to view and review in real time, organisations will always be playing catch-up.

“This requires technology that provides recommendations based on business outcomes that clearly show the impact executive decisions will have on the team and its objectives by taking into account end-to-end interdependencies,” says Watts. “This solution also needs to ensure that information aligns across the organisation, so that knowledge can flow with minimum friction.”

Watts adds that such an outcome-driven solution can be created through a combination of process mining technology, automation and artificial intelligence. The underlying process mining foundation provides the business context the AI requires to learn the nuances and subtleties impacting business goals, to sense friction, and to take intelligent action to eliminating repetitive tasks and decisions. Business leaders can then set objectives and track performance, fuelled by real-time data that enables them to make informed decisions.

“Companies that take advantage of a process improvement mindset and associated tools are able to identify gaps and changes in the market and their operations more easily and are able to realign their businesses to meet these requirements,” says Watts.

“Rather than making decisions based on intuition alone, or arbitrary moves to pivot the business, the organisation now knows exactly what processes to adjust and what technology to invest in,” he adds. “This allows them to stay ahead of the competition, by reacting to changing customer behaviour and business conditions quickly and with foresight to the outcomes.”

Bavarian Government uses Pega for pandemic agility

However, the pandemic also initiated rapid innovation and change, something that also would not have been possible without the ability to mine data quickly and find quick fixes in processes.

Pega’s work with the Bavarian Government in 2020 is a good example of this, where the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs and T-Systems worked with Pega to develop a remote application system in just five days. Businesses that required government support during the pandemic could then apply for funding through a remote system that also enabled approvals and payments in record time.

The use of AI and RPA in enabling and analysing business process mining will only become more acute, not just out of necessity (according to BearingPoint’s Watts, Celonis reported that last year 64ZB (zettabytes) of data were created and that this will rocket to 680ZB in 10 years), but also out of accuracy and intricacy.

As organisations look to prepare for an unknown future, to grow agility and resiliency, so they will need this increased accuracy and automation.

Skills shortages are only increasing, so the need for underlying processes to be efficient and, where possible, automated, becomes even more crucial. Understanding where to make those calls will, of course, demand intelligence in the processes. Finding efficiencies by identifying what to and what no to automate will determine the future viability of organisations.

It’s what Blue Prism customer Mass General Brigham, one of the US’s leading biomedical research organisations discovered when it helped staff return focus to clinical work by bringing automation into their operations. Using process intelligence to identify and maintain automation opportunities, Mass General Brigham’s administrative work is now carried out by digital workers, leaving staff to do what they do best – care for patients. And that is where most organisations want to be – clearly focused on core competencies and therefore efficient and competitive.

While it may not be the answer to everyone’s ills, business process mining is certainly one of the key tools is making sense of the current state of businesses and services. Given the disruption of the past two years, and the ongoing supply chain and socio-economic challenges around the world, there’s something to be said for that.

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