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Process Mining – Taking Lessons from the Mining Industry

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It is interesting when I speak with customers and they ask if they actually have to draw their process maps. “Can’t you just discover them and render a drawing for me?” they ask. While the answer to that may be yes, and in fact there are a lot of so called “process mining” tools available that claim to do just that, it doesn’t mean that is where you should start.

I would like to take a moment and just draw a few similarities, and dare I say best practices, from actual mining that shed some light on when and how to employ process mining.

When a mining company decides to drill or dig for resources deep within the earth’s crust, it is not something that was just decided overnight. There are many months or years of exploration and discovery that go into that decision. Geological studies are done based on satellite imagery and ground penetrating radar. In short, they know where to dig, what they intend to find, what it looks like, and even approximately how much of it exists.

Process Mining is similar. While it will not take many months or years, there should definitely be an exploration phase. You need to have a decent understanding of your business and your process environment in order to know where start mining. Having a BPM solution provides the ability to identify and capture what processes you have. Only by doing so will you know exactly where to install your mining tools and what you are looking for. You will also need to have a general understanding of what your process looks like so that if you discover pyrite rather than gold, you’ll know the difference.

While satellites and sonar may provide a general idea of where things may be, mining companies must also take into consideration the geology and topography of the land. One cannot simply start hauling mining equipment into an area and begin drilling. Doing so can be costly, dangerous to the environment, and prove fatal for those working in or around the area. To capture this data, multiple surveys and core samples are taken to gather information on the geographical makeup of the area. Will it support the equipment? What will be the impact to the environment, people, and for how far and long?

When it comes to process mining, life and death may not be on the line, but before plugging things into computer systems and networks, you should take a moment to survey the topology of the environment. Where will this application reside (i.e. desktop or server), what will it have access to, who will support it, and who will see the data that is output? A BPM solution can provide you with the context of relationships between people, processes, data, and systems. In today’s data privacy world, it’s crucial to ensure that process mining tools have the access to the information they need while restricting them from information they do not.

Lastly, before mining operations begin – armed with the research from the exploration phase – they need to decide what types of equipment will be necessary. Setting up a drilling rig will not be beneficial if one is trying to extract ore deposits. And the use of explosives may prove fatal if mining for natural gas or oil. So, knowing what you are mining for also means using the right tools for the job.

With process mining, the same thing is true. It is important to note that the term ‘process mining’ is a bit confusing today as that term is also often employed by vendors when they are really mining for data, services, or systems and not for processes at all. That information may be important, but may not be what exactly what is required. To that end, you also need to ensure that your company is using the right tool for the job. And there also needs to be an understanding how the information will be used once extracted. Will the process mining tool allow for the easy integration to other systems of record for review and validation? While some have standard BPMN process outputs that will allow for the easy integration with a BPM, many employ proprietary outputs that are not easily migrated.

To summarize, before thinking about process mining, be sure you:

  1. Know where the processes are
  2. Know the what the processes look like
  3. Understand where and how the software will be installed
  4. Use the right tool for the job
  5. Ensure standardized outputs for integration and validation

You can read more about process mining here or here. Or, find out how you can use the power of iGrafx Business Transformation Platform with process mining to accelerate your Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects with our RPA Accelerator.

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