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The Top 5 challenges facing Process Mining projects


Last week, we sketched the outlines of a process mining project. Of course, we simplified the process somewhat, and, as I’m sure you know, not all that glitters is gold. For this reason, we will show what things you need to take into consideration if you are planning a Process Mining project in the near future and which no consultant will tell you about! So, hold on to your hats, because what follows is going to be mercilessly honest.

The fairy tale of the standard process

Before a project can really commence, a number of important boundaries are set out in the planning phase and many questions have to be asked, e.g.:

  1. Which process should be the subject of the analysis?
  2. What does the process in detail look like?
  3. What are the current challenges that need to be analyzed?

In response to the 2nd or 3rd questions alone, you will probably receive 10 different answers from 5 people consulted independently, so that at least one workshop will have to be held to delimit the boundaries of the project. And the cost of that? That all depends, though both internal as well as external resources will have to be engaged, meaning that on average a four-digit sum is likely to be required.

For a workshop!

And the result?

– We will first analyze the purchasing process and then look at how the project went.

But that’s not all.

In addition to the standard process, which is manually examined beforehand using surveys and other methods, the workshop also agrees to evaluate the critical paths outside the standard scope. In this context, we also speak of deviations from the “happy path”, i.e. the process that we consider to be the standard.

But you know what?

There is no end-to-end standard process in SAP! How do I arrive at this conclusion? Because some research was done into the matter more than 7 years ago, and, tell me, can you find a standard process in the picture below?

Complexity of Process Mining processes

from: Gehrke, N. (2010). Basic Principles of Financial Process Mining A Journey through Financial Data in Accounting Information Systems. AMCIS.

You still don’t believe me? Then, after reading the next section, you will find a way of convincing that the opposite is the case.

And where does the data come from?

Probably the biggest problem when the scope of the project has been clarified is the question of the origin of the data. This question can actually be broken down into two separate questions:

  1. How do I know what data has to be extracted?
  2. How do I get the data?

Regarding 1. I can tell you that, based on our experience, 95% of companies have not done any customization of the standard tables and therefore there is always a fixed component of data available. In addition, I can hardly count the number of times I have heard the statement:

“That doesn’t work for us because SAP is too heavily customized.”

The answer is always the same:

– That may well be the case, but the standard tables, such as BKPF or BSEG, cannot changed by anyone – except perhaps Chuck Norris.

On the 2nd question, as to how to get the data, I can reassure you. From now on, there is no need to trigger a whole change management process for importing an ABAP module into the production system. Whereas such a process can often take several weeks or even months, zap Process only needs one SAP user with the appropriate read rights and the data for the processes.

  • Purchase-to-pay,
  • Order-to-cash,
  • Fixed assets,
  • Supply Chain Management and
  • Accounting

are extracted, transformed with our process mining algorithm and then an event log is generated.

And the best part about it all?

This, as usual, all happens at the push of a button. For small accounting groups, zap Process even extracts and reconstructs all the processes mentioned free of charge. The result is a .csv file that you can import into the process mining tool of your choice. From the end of the week, zap Process will also be available from our webshop.

We have thus reduced not only the technical but also the organizational preparatory measures to a minimum. In this way, project lead times and the effort required on communication with stakeholders can be reduced and costs saved. True to our motto: Spend more time on the essential things.

Does data really have to be polished like silver cutlery?

The simple answer to this question is of course “Yes”. In detail, however, the third challenge is somewhat more extensive. The process is based on the well-known ETL process, which is originally known from Business Intelligence. The abbreviation stands for: E(xtract), T(ransform), L(oad). We have already ticked off the extraction of the data. A large number of activities fall under Transform. These include, for example, the cleanup of data, or the pseudonymization of personal data, which has become a very controversial and topical issue since the GDPR came into force a year ago. After cleanup of data, it is then stored in a format in the “load” phase so that it can subsequently be processed further. All these activities are usually carried out by an expensive developer on every project over and over again. This not only generates costs, but valuable time is also lost, not to mention the potential for standardization that falls by the wayside. With zap Process, we have also completely automated these activities.

The costly business of licenses

But even if the event logs are finally available after all the effort you’ve put in, no process can yet be visualized. The actual process analysis is really only just beginning. Accordingly, a tool is needed to present the event logs in an appealing way. Even if the external consultants can name a flat rate for one of the known tools, horrendous sums are still necessary for the licenses. And the problem with licenses? Licenses are often required per user and process. With zap Process, all doors are open to you. Completely independently of the number of users or processes. You get all processes for as many users as you like and the final choice remains completely up to you when looking to put together an inexpensive and goal-oriented Process Mining solution.

One thing that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett did agree on

Do you know the story about the first meeting between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? Bill Gates didn’t even want to go to the dinner that Gates’ mother had organized. But, in the end, she persuaded him and everyone at the dinner table was asked for a single word to sum up what they thought had the greatest impact on their success in life. Both responded independently with the word “Focus”.

And this is exactly what is lacking here due to the failure to formulate any precise questions on a large number of projects. The result? Too often, we hear that the quality of master data is poor. This realization does not require an expensive process mining project, because process mining is, first and foremost, just an explorative tool with integrated business intelligence methods, which tries to represent complex reality and gives results which are cognitively difficult to grasp. Therefore, it requires a clear definition of precise questions to be asked about the processes. So why, in the end, am I telling you all this? Because with zap Audit version 2.1, we have implemented 26 new indicators and optimized 35 existing ones. We can therefore proudly claim to be the leading provider for SAP data analysis.

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