Why Process Mining is More Than an Add-on to BPM

George Varvaressos initiated a discussion on process mining in the BPTrends LinkedInGroup (you can join the group here). In this discussion, Paul Harmon commented on process mining:

I think its an important technical development. I suspect, however, that its too technical to gain widespread use as a stand-alone product. That isn’t to say that there won’t be early adopters that will use it and benefit, but I suspect that most managers will encounter process mining as a utility in a BPMS product. They will be using an existing BPMS suite working to model and improve an existing process, and realize that their BPMS tool provides them with process mining capabilities they can use.

Now, he may be right about that future Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) will have a process mining (checklist?) feature. But I am convinced that process mining has the potential to be much more than just an add-on component. Here is why.

Surely, it is interesting to collect existing logs and understand how the process works before designing and implementing a new, process-centric IT solution. It reminds me of the idea to wait until dirt tracks emerge around a new building complex before putting the actual walkways in concrete. But you can rethink the systems that support the execution of processes more profoundly.

In any BPMS, there is a natural trade-off between flexibility and support. The more support you want to give, the more you run the risk to over-specify and unnecessarily limit flexibility. But how often does over-specification actually stem from the desire to have transparency about the business process, from the desire to know what is going on?

Wanting transparency is not the same as wanting control, in the sense of preventing undesirable behavior to happen in the first place. Control and flexibility are also a natural trade-off. But flexibility and transparency do not need to be.

The mining and monitoring of processes based on good quality, ‘after-the-fact’ data can provide transparency about the actual process without limiting flexibility. Where appropriate, process mining technology can help to move towards more human-centered IT solutions that are still process-oriented and let managers stay in control by providing them with a clear picture of the process reality.