Modern ERP platforms provide an indispensable backbone of complex functions and processes that represent a significant technology investment. Understanding all the details of a business process is ultimately one of the keys to any successful RPA project, especially when it involves configurable processes within an ERP platform dependent upon manual data inputs derived from numerous sources.
What is Process Mining?
Process mining is an analytical discipline for discovering, monitoring, and improving real processes (i.e., not assumed processes) by extracting knowledge from event logs readily available in today’s information systems. Process mining offers objective, fact-based insights, derived from actual event logs, that help you audit, analyze, and improve your existing business processes by answering both compliance-related and performance-related questions. Celonis, What is Process Mining?
This is equally important whenever process mining is used in conjunction with RPA technologies as a way to prioritize efforts. Process mining technologies unquestionably provide significant value to process mapping efforts, and have in particular been most effective in mapping backend, structured data scenarios.
“The benefit of process mining is then that it can provide complete and fact-based visualizations and measurements of the actual process flows with all their variations. Usually, nobody has a complete overview of what is actually going on. Process mining can provide this overview in an objective manner, across multiple people, departments, and even across organizations. So, process mining is for IT supported processes with human touch points.” Fluxicon, Process Mining for Professionals
The reality for most organizations, however, is that though processes associated with unattended activities may be fairly well defined, for those that require manual interaction and the acumen of human judgement, details of data entry and data sources, and the so-called bulk of “tribal knowledge” remain murky at best.
As RPA continues to mature, and organizations begin to push out from early gains in unattended RPA and into the attended space, this becomes a critical factor for success. Furthermore, early adopters are now beginning to understand that bridging the process gaps between unattended and attended RPA can ultimately deliver impressive results. However, the vast majority of RPA projects continue to treat unattended and attended RPA as separate entities.
“Businesses have always tried to understand their processes, which can often change without management oversight, says. The problem is, if you interview three different people about a task they perform, then they can come up with three different answers. It has a lot to do with bias and interpretation. On average, there is a 46% gap between how businesses believe processes are carried out, and how they are done in practice.” Marc Kerremans, a research director at Gartner
Attended versus unattended…conceptually, this has always existed in enterprise software. As organizations take stock of their accomplishments to date where RPA projects are concerned, perhaps it also represents an opportunity to rethink the notion that attended and unattended are naturally divided, rather than a continuum. That notion can and is having a profound impact on the industry.
Taiichi Ohno is generally credited with creating the Toyota Production System, also known as lean manufacturing in the United States. “Genchi Genbutsu” or “go and see it for yourself” is one of the pillars of the Toyota Production System. Genchi Genbutsu places a high emphasis on being embedded in the actual day to day, hands-on experience of any given process. This focus on the end user experience, namely, the actual act of entering a sales order, for example, provides deep insights into the immediate as well as the ancillary details of human interaction and intervention.
In exploring the intricacies of any complex process that requires human interaction and inputs from a variety of external sources, process mining alone can’t achieve that “rush to the finish line” jump in productivity and process optimization needed in today’s complex ERP landscape, simply because any potential process insights gleaned from mining will always be viewed through the lens of application-level process flows. Process mining can provide a better understanding of business process flows and efficiencies at the data level, but only a comprehensive end-user focused commitment can provide the insights required to achieve significant breakthrough improvements.
“Process standardization is the top challenge faced by organizations across all stages of the RPA journey. Put simply, process complexity drives robot complexity: it increases the cost and difficulty to design and implement RPA, increases operating costs,and increases business disruption. Robots require detailed process accuracy and needto be taught at the keystroke level. Yet, organizations are finding processes are not always well understood,even where robust process documentation exists.” David Wright, Deloitte UK
The question isn’t just about making small improvements that add up to huge gains in productivity or revenue. How we do it matters, and this is becoming much more important as RPA as a technology category continues to mature.
The best opportunity for more significant process improvements during a process reengineering exercise arises from intense boots on the ground efforts, coupled with RPA solutions that can model and configure optimized processes as an inherent part of the discovery process with end users. End users involved in this effort can also become the first line of a burgeoning cadre of subject matter experts that now possess a powerful combination of in the trenches business acumen, knowledge of optimized business processes, along with a deeper understanding of the relevant RPA systems.
Ultimately, RPA can provide a foundation for true digital business transformation by aligning core business technologies with the needs of employees and customers, empowering people to do better work by simplifying how they interact with complex business processes. We have an obligation to build a better world.