Léonard Studer City of Lausanne, Switzerland

Léonard is setting up an internal control system using process mining at the City of Lausanne. He talked about the benefits of process mining in a resource-constrained environment.

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Fireside chat with Léonard Studer

As a warm-up for Process Mining Camp 2012, we asked some of the speakers for an up-front interview.

Anne: Can you still remember where and when you first heard about process mining? What exactly caught your attention and fascinated you about the topic?

Léonard: Well… let me think about it! In 2010, I led a project to set up an Internal Control System (ICS). Among other tasks, in this project, we had to conduct interviews to model the actual processes (before identifying risks that we wanted to control internally).

These interviews were not very efficient in elucidating the processes for two reasons: First, people usually tell you about their idealized model of the process and quite never of the actual process. Next, in my context, people were not very knowledgeable in process matters. This meant that I had to teach them about processes, which was consuming too much resources in the context of the ICS project.

Facing this situation, I started to look into alternative ways to model business processes. As I practiced data mining for more than 15 years, one day I wondered if data mining techniques would help… So, I googled the web with words such as “data mining” and “business process” which lead me to the sites linked to Wil van der Aalst and his group and… here I am. By the way, the ICS project itself had been stopped but not the process mining activity!

For me, apart from the “applied data mining” aspect, one thing that fascinates me in process mining is discovering how people relate to each other in their everyday work. Who is the central person in a operational process? Usually, this is not the boss! Who should delegate work? Who calls whom to complete a task? What happens when a key person is away?

Anne: You mentioned some of the typical problems of manual process discovery sessions. It’s quite hard to get an objective picture, and this is where process mining can help. I have always been eager to point out that process mining is not a replacement for talking to people, but that it can objectify and speed up the as-is discovery. How was your experience when you presented your process mining results to people who actually work in these processes?

Léonard: My first study was on some Human Resources data logs. I presented the methods of process mining to a project manager who is responsible to set up a new ERP for the HR department. She was interested in these process mining methods but…

Almost all meanings are included in this “but…” and reality bites!

This new ERP implied a lot of changes for HR people. The project manager acknowledged that the process mining results could help her to better fine-tune the new processes. However, like with every noteworthy change, some people are uneasy and keep negative concerns with the changes introduced. This is what happened with the project introducing the new ERP. When I presented the process mining results, the level of uneasiness of concerned people was high (too high) and the project manager didn’t want to introduce another destabilizing factor. So, we agreed to not yet use the process mining results.

So, my HR process mining results remain “academic” which is not a bad thing per se. It allows me to better position process mining methods, to raise their visibility, and to work on lowering the potential fears that such methods could trigger.

I also presented the Process Mining methods and results to some colleagues who are in charge of the software development team, and to some colleagues who offer an internal counseling service on organizational matters (optimization, change management, new tools like BI or RM etc). Here, the interest was undoubtedly much more positive. My presentation of process mining methods even triggered some changes in one major project in our organization.

Anne: This sounds like there can be quite some politics involved. For other people, who are trying to introduce process mining and run into similar situations, how would you recommend they approach the situation to get the best possible outcome?

Léonard: Would you welcome somebody who you don’t know and who tells you things that will be intrusive in your work? As your process mining project or study will induce changes and could be rather intrusive, it can trigger anger and fear as a reaction. Don’t forget that process mining is about people and their everyday tasks.

With this in mind, I would recommend to consider a process mining project or study in three different steps.

A first step would be political and relational in nature. You have to be allowed in your right to investigate, hence you should concentrate on gaining a strong sponsorship at the “C” management level. On the relational side, you should try to reduce your distance to the people carrying out the activities of the investigated process. Either the sponsor or the process actors will tell you a lot about the process that is not necessarly included in the audit logs – things like why it is like it is, or to what extent you can change something. The second step will be about the technical process mining work using wonderful tools such as Disco. For a part of this step, you’ll work alone, freely investigating the data logs to “get an idea” of what is inside – you aim to learn what the process is about. For another part of this second step, you should work closely with a few experts of the process investigated. You should co-construct or co-discover the results that will be presented later – this could be a rather short but intensive session. In the third step, you will concentrate—together with the process experts and the sponsor—on what and how to present the salient results you got to the involved process actors. You should concentrate to how the investigated process actors will react when they will be presented with the results. These three steps are not fully independant. For exemple, during the first step, it could be a good tactical move to have a first quick look to the audit logs in order to lower the risk of not being able to complete the process mining investigation, or to get strong arguments to convince the “C” level guy to sponsor you. During the second step, you could discover sensitive facts about which you should inform your sponsor. In the third step, you could be enforced to better understand something you discovered.

It is also very useful to initially set up an ethical chart for your process mining study – What are the privacy concerns? What will you do about suspected unlawful activities? Who will access the results? etc.

As I said before: Don’t forget that process mining is about people and their everyday tasks.

Anne: Absolutely! This is very important to keep in mind. Thanks a lot for these interesting insights and recommendations, Léonard.

Process Mining Camp 2012.

We had a great time at Process Mining Camp 2012, which was held on 4 June in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Catch a flavor of the talks at Process Mining Camp 2012 below!

Process Mining Camp 2012 was organized by Fluxicon and supported by TU Eindhoven, the IEEE Task Force on Process Mining, the Ngi, and the BPM Roundtable. We also want to thank Elham Ramezani and Tijn van der Heijden for their great support.

Why camp?

Process Mining Camp is where professionals gather to learn from seasoned experts. A place where you can meet fellow explorers and exchange ideas and business cards. Old-timers and greenhorns alike, this is where we get down to business and share stories from the frontier at the campfire.

Whether you are an expert or have just recently heard of process mining, here you can meet other people who are just as curious and passionate about process mining as you are. Learn about how others are using process mining, and what they have to tell you.

Christian W. Günther Fluxicon, Netherlands

The Fluxicon co-founder welcomes the campers with a story about process mining in the 19th century and shares some glimpses of our vision for process mining.

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Frank van Geffen Rabobank, Netherlands

Frank is applying and promoting process mining within the Rabobank. He told us about the added value he has found, and also about organizational challenges, like identifying the right people.

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Mieke Jans Deloitte Analytics, Belgium

Mieke has not only a PhD in process mining, but also lots of experience with projects with an auditing focus. At camp, she shared the seven steps she is using in her process mining projects in an audit context.

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Léonard Studer City of Lausanne, Switzerland

Léonard is setting up an internal control system using process mining at the City of Lausanne. He talked about the benefits of process mining in a resource-constrained environment.

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Wim Leeuwenkamp Dutch Tax Office, Netherlands

Wim shared his experiences from a pilot project in the audit department of the Ministry of Finance in the Netherlands. He told us about the challenges involved in the construction of event logs in a legacy environment.

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Bram Vanschoenwinkel AE, Belgium

Bram is one of the process mining veterans. He presented three case studies in payroll accounting, public administration, and postal services, and shared tips, tricks, problems he encountered, and lessons learned.

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Anne Rozinat Fluxicon, Netherlands

Anne showed us how a typical process mining analysis looks like, live on stage. She quickly simplified a complex service refund process data set, cleaned incomplete cases, and tracked down a bottleneck in the forwarding company.

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Wil van der Aalst TU Eindhoven, Netherlands

Wil is an icon in the field of process mining, and he is heading the leading process mining research group at TU Eindhoven. He gave us an exclusive overview about current research from his process mining group.

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