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What's All the Hype About Automated Process Discovery?

What's all the hype about automated process discovery? Are you using the right tools to implement your automation journey? Find out how BP3 can help.

Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in client inquiries about Automated Process Discovery technologies including Process Mining and Task Mining tools. While the specifics vary, the underlying question is usually, “will deploying these tools enhance my automation program?”

Depending on who is asking the question, the short answer ranges from “yes” to “yes, but you have to be ready.” 

However, before digging deeper, let's take a step back and establish some context.

What Exactly is Automated Process Discovery Technology?

Process Mining and Task Mining tools are very distinct but fall into the same general category - Automated Process Discovery. Today’s Automated Process Discovery technology uses advanced AI techniques to analyze system logs or user work patterns and help identify inefficiencies and improvement opportunities. These insights can help with process design and guide automation initiatives.

Historically, process discovery tended to be a very manual effort, with organizations often engaging external consultants to map processes by interviewing employees, reviewing documents, or conducting time and motion studies. I’m sure many of us who have been in the business long have wondered the same thing - can we actually automate this work? What’s more, you’ve probably questioned whether or not you can spot the differences between how processes are thought to work and how they actually work in reality.

It turns out that Automated Process Discovery addresses exactly those opportunities. In addition to streamlining information gathering, automated discovery tools can help eliminate the “blind spots” often associated with traditional interview-based discovery and make discovery an ongoing practice, rather than a one-off project.

Process Mining Tools vs. Task Mining Tools

What is the difference between Process Mining vs. Task Mining tools? I like to break it down in terms of understanding “what systems do” versus “what people do.” 
Process Mining tools discover processes in an automated way by looking at a system or systems, rather than interviewing people. Many of the theoretical underpinnings of process mining evolved from the work of Wil van der Aalst and his colleagues at  Eindhoven University of Technology and other institutions. This should be no surprise as his work also formed the backbone of business process managem ent software in the 2000s. 
A key proposition of automated process mining is that software can examine your system(s) and infer what the processes are by following changes in transactional data over time (therefore, effectively looking at historical logs o r records rather than the present state). The resulting insights may be quite different from the conventional wisdom of those same processes described by interviewing the people who do the work.
If there is a gap in what automated Process Mining produces, it's  that it does not show me what our team members are doing in between the status changes captured in event logs, like consulting a spreadsheet or messaging colleagues. In other words, we know the state before, and after, but we’re not sure what happens in  between.
In the past, time and motion studies -  or various forms of user research -  might be used to get this data. More recently, enter Task Mining tools. These tools give organizations another option for capturing user activities, making it easier to analyze how people are getting work done, and how they can do it even better.

So How Does Task Mining Work?

Task Mining works by installing a recorder on your user’s systems and configuring it to record the key applications they use. Task mining goes deep into what the human does across all the tools they have at their disposal and helps identify variations in a “standardized process.” The tool can capture every application, excel file, reference document, and cheat sheet being used, and link all those actions to create a map of sequential steps completed.

By combining Process Mining and Task Mining insights together, you can see the entire process lifecycle of your transactional business with far greater resolution than is possible by just using traditional approaches to process discovery.

Will Deploying These Tools Enhance My Automation Program?

Previously, I said my answer ranges from “yes” to “yes, but you have to be ready” depending on who is asking the question. What did I mean by that? I’ve found that organizations asking these questions fall into distinct camps:

  • Later stages of automation. These organizations often approach the conversation by asking, “can Automated Process Discovery tools accelerate our process discovery approach and help provide ongoing process visibility?” With these organizations, my short answer is “yes, automated process discovery can help” and our conversation quickly shifts toward how to select the right tools and where to get started. Given the rapid pace of change in the technology landscape, there is often a lot to consider here. In case you haven’t been keeping track, in 2019, UiPath acquired ProcessGold. In 2021 SAP acquired Signavio, Automation Anywhere acquired FortressIQ, Appian acquired Lana Labs, and IBM acquired MyInvenio. In 2022, Celonis acquired PAFnow, Microsoft acquired Minit, and Pegasystems acquired Everflow.

  • Early stages of automation. These organizations typically lack expertise in traditional process discovery techniques and may be stalled in their process automation journey asking, “how do I get started” or “what do I do next.” Here, my answer is “yes, but you have to be ready”. Our conversation typically focuses on how to develop the right organizational mindset and capabilities to make this technology successful.

It is important to understand that the Automated Process Discovery tools are not the Tesla vision of self-driving cars where all you do is sit back and read the paper as it whisks you off to work. You will need to dedicate resources to interpret the data being collected - meaning resources will need to be allocated to truly find the value you are looking to achieve.

Consider the process discovery tools as just that, a tool. Not only will you need to have someone that fully understands how to use the tool, but more importantly, you will need that same someone to fully understand the blueprint of your business processes, and to know what’s load bearing or not. Implementing the tools and capturing the data is only the first step, you need the ability to dissect that data and determine what requires a deeper look. In organizations lacking this capability, I often hear clients suggest these tools “provide too much data and not enough insight.”

If My Organization Isn’t Ready, How Do I Start Building the Right Skills?

In some client conversations, it quickly becomes clear that jumping to Automated Process Discovery feels like an advanced course - and they are lacking the necessary prerequisites. In these situations, I often suggest getting started with an “old school” approach to process and automation opportunity discovery. Even without automated tools, traditional techniques - Facilitated Workshops, Persona Research, Journey Maps & Process Diagrams - can help you look across silos to identify high-impact process automation opportunities and start to build the organizational mindset to take advantage of Automated Process Discovery technology in the future.
Automated Process Discovery can provide a solid foundation as part of your larger process automation program, helping you understand what your associates and systems are doing, giving you a holistic understanding from start to finish, and firmly identifying where your opportunities lie. 
For over 15+ years, BP3 Global has been helping clients - just like you - streamline and automate the processes that drive your day-to-day business. To explore the value of leveraging automated process discovery, get in touch with one of our experts.

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