I wanted to share my thoughts & some information about a newly introduced product in the Japanese market, and even more recently, the North American market. Developed by Fujitsu’s Interstage group, this product/service is called Automated Process Discovery, and I think it has the potential to make a significant impact on how BPM is used in organizations and how it is used by practitioners, whose aim it is to help people understand & improve their IT architecture in the context of their business processes. But before going on, I would like to jump start your attention by putting forth a question: Would this product (or products like this) assist you as a BPXer, and to what extent would it enhance & expedite the manual process analysis?
What is it & how does it work?
So in a nutshell, the automated process discovery engine enables companies to extract information from their present enterprise applications, which are saved through log files & databases, in order to see a complete picture of their business processes (to whatever comprehensive or over-simplified degree desired). In other words, if you want to understand & see a visual representation of what business processes & workflow are happening within your organization, the automated process discovery will generate a report showing a pictorial representation of any and all events, as well as the exceptions. You likely have heard the common ‘hairball’ analogy associated to a dense spaghetti-like congestion of process paths…well comparatively, the automated process discovery’s data output of an organization’s overall workflow process is about as hairy as it gets! You can see what I mean in the image below, which shows an actual report from Fujitsu’s process engine, referenced from Paul Harmon’s blog/article about the technology.
These path analyses can also be refined & sifted according to different criteria such as variations, recurrences, frequency, feedback looping, and particular transfers that may indicate potential bottlenecks. Better yet, it doesn’t interfere with existing systems or users throughout the process, since it is external & doesn’t require an adapter to be running on the ERP/legacy system platform to do the process mining (which I believe is the case for a similar tool from ARIS called Process Performance Manager (PPM)). For a series of different process analysis results, check out Sandy Kemsley’s flickr photostream on automated process discovery.
Who can benefit & how?
There are many different groups/roles who could benefit from this service/product, namely:
- the business analysts (who spend arduous hours sniffing out clues, gathering interviews & documenting everything that happens in an organization’s workflow processes).
- the quality managers (where, much to their satisfaction, particular case study trends could seemingly pop-out of a data visualization, to which they can make decisions & improvements accordingly).
- the stakeholders (we’re talking minimal investments in time and $$$ when considering what would normally take hours-on-end for high-priced consultants to weed out workflow issues with interviews & sample transactions selected, to some extent, at random).
- the security specialists (whereby a tool to this level of sophistication could potentially expose unwanted legal issues, fraud, and breakdowns in compliance that may be concealed beneath the workflow’s surface).
- the operational/administrative personnel (since automated process discovery’s ability to optimize, identify, predict, & locate specific data based on different process criteria has virtually no impact to customers or the general day-to-day operation of the company, as does a standard process mining exercise).
And in the spirit of what BPM strives to bring to our present-day industries & markets, one of the greatest virtues that automated process discovery provides to the BPM world is a means to facilitate the interactions between business managers & IT, such that business managers can be involved from the very beginning, being better-equipped to inspect process data laid out in front of them & to understanding how everything fits together, based on the visual representation produced by the actual event log files of their business processes. Furthermore, when applying different parameters using this engine, these same business managers can make well-informed & important decisions relevant to the processes’ data findings as their organization’s environment evolves.
How is it applicable to BPXers?
Most of us in the BPX community understand how complex business process mapping can be, and despite whatever advancements have been made to the requirement/information gathering process, it is still not altogether a straightforward task to get to the bottom of any given organization’s business processes as they relate to its IT architecture. Moreover, this very labor-intensive mapping process oftentimes only offers a glimpse (at best) into the yarn-like maze of IT & business paths and may even lack the accuracy necessary, which an automated devise such as process discovery can deliver. With simulated execution, human error is not really a factor because this tool sets the parameters to highlight not only the key workflow paths, but also the exceptions, as well as infrequent & indirect paths.
By no means is this blog meant to endorse the Fujitsu product – I was actually led to automated process discovery by a well-informed BPXer in her own right (thanks Marilyn!) and have gotten quite interested in this innovative tool now that I know about it.
So to get to the point as to why members of our community might care about such an advancement, I would like to draw your attention to a statement which resonated with me, written by Sandy Kemsley in her recent article about the subject. She writes that it’s “sort of like using simulation with real data. This isn’t an automated tool that takes data in one end and spits out the answers at the other; it’s meant to drive discussion and analysis, not replace it.” That’s at the heart of the business requirement gathering process in my view – the ability to generate a productive interaction between the business experts & IT experts (or somewhere inbetween). And wouldn’t that be a good space for the Enterprise Architect to fill (that inbetween part)??
So now that you know a bit more about Fujitsu’s automated process discovery, I return to my original question: Would this product (or products like this) assist you as a BPXer, and to what extent would it enhance & expedite the manual process analysis?