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Privacy, Security and Ethics in Process Mining — Part 1: Clarify Your Goal

[This article previously appeared in the Process Mining News – Sign up now to receive regular articles about the practical application of process mining.]

When I moved to the Netherlands 12 years ago and started grocery shopping at one of the local supermarket chains, Albert Heijn, I initially resisted getting their Bonus card (a loyalty card for discounts), because I did not want the company to track my purchases. I felt that using this information would help them to manipulate me by arranging or advertising products in a way that would make me buy more than I wanted to. It simply felt wrong.

The truth is that no data analysis technique is intrinsically good or bad. It is always in the hands of the people using the technology to make it productive and constructive. For example, while supermarkets could use the information tracked through the loyalty cards of their customers to make sure that we have to take the longest route through the store to get our typical items (passing by as many other products as possible), they can also use this information to make the shopping experience more pleasant, and to offer more products that we like.

Most companies have started to use data analysis techniques to analyze their data in one way or the other. These data analyses can bring enormous opportunities for the companies and for their customers, but with the increased use of data science the question of ethics and responsible use also grows more dominant. Initiatives like the Responsible Data Science seminar series1 take on this topic by raising awareness and encouraging researchers to develop algorithms that have concepts like fairness, accuracy, confidentiality, and transparency built in2.

Process Mining can provide you with amazing insights about your processes, and fuel your improvement initiatives with inspiration and enthusiasm, if you approach it in the right way. But how can you ensure that you use process mining responsibly? What should you pay attention to when you introduce process mining in your own organization?

In this article series, we provide you four guidelines that you can follow to prepare your process mining analysis in a responsible way.

1. Clarify Goal of the Analysis (this article)
2. Responsible Handling of Data
3. Consider Anonymizatione
4. Establish a Collaborative Culture

1. Clarify Goal of the Analysis

The good news is that in most situations Process Mining does not need to evaluate personal information, because it usually focuses on the internal organizational processes rather than, for example, on customer profiles. Furthermore, you are investigating the overall process patterns. For example, a process miner is typically looking for ways to organize the process in a smarter way to avoid unnecessary idle times rather than trying to make people work faster.

However, as soon as you would like to better understand the performance of a particular process, you often need to know more about other case attributes that could explain variations in process behaviours or performance. And people might become worried about where this will leave them.

Therefore, already at the very beginning of the process mining project, you should think about the goal of the analysis. Be clear about how the results will be used. Think about what problem you are trying to solve and what data you need to solve this problem.

Do:

Don’t:


  1. Responsible Data Science (RDS) initiative: http://www.responsibledatascience.org  
  2. Watch Wil van der Aalst’s presentation on Responsible Data Science at Process Mining Camp 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewQbmINuXeU  

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