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Process Mining in the Cloud

Deliver Instant Insight into Process Performance with SAP Process Mining by Celonis, Cloud Edition

by Keith Grayson, Senior Director of Database and Data Management Solution Management, SAP | SAPinsider, Volume 20, Issue 2

April 30, 2019

Process Mining in the Cloud

Process mining solutions have emerged as powerful tools for supporting process optimization across increasingly global and complex landscapes. This article introduces SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition, a process mining solution that can be up, running, and productive in hours instead of the weeks usually required for an on-premise deployment. It first provides an overview of the major components of this new, cloud-based edition and then explains the different deployment options that are available to meet the unique needs of individual businesses.

As organizations continue to expand their global reach, optimizing business processes becomes increasingly important to ensure quality customer experiences and improve margins. In the past, process analysis and change were usually performed by business analysts and consultants using workshops, interviews, and job shadowing over extended periods of time. In modern organizations, however, these methodologies and practices fall short of delivering the insights needed to identify best practices and quantify the benefits of change. The metrics used to measure the performance of diverse, globally distributed business units are often not the same, so there is no consistent basis for comparison. Interviewees might also present an idealized view of what is going on, which can skew results, and consulting engagements are often viewed as one-off activities, without concrete plans to quantify the results of any changes. So how can SAP customers achieve the level of visibility and transparency required to optimize their business processes, as well as support constantly changing regulations, a growing move toward service-based business models, and increasing requirements for business-to-business and business-to-government integrations?

Process mining solutions — such as the SAP Process Mining application by Celonis — have emerged as useful tools for supporting these types of initiatives by enabling businesses to drill down into their key business processes, uncover inefficiencies, and pinpoint areas for improvement. Previously, SAP Process Mining was available only as an on-premise deployment. This article introduces a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) edition — SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition — that delivers all the functionality of the on-premise version with some additional features that take advantage of the speed and flexibility of the cloud. In this article, line-of-business owners, business process analysts, and enterprise architects will get an introduction to the major components of this new edition, learn how it differs from the on-premise edition, and understand the different deployment options that are available to meet the unique needs of individual businesses.

Before diving into the details of this new application, it will be helpful to understand how process mining works, the roles it can play, and where the new cloud edition of SAP Process Mining fits in.

Understanding Process Mining

Process mining is an analytical discipline for discovering and visualizing business processes using the raw data — or “digital footprints” — captured from enterprise application audit trails and logs. Because the visualizations are constructed from the raw data, without the influence of preconceptions or preexisting process models that structure and limit the results, they deliver accurate, valuable insights about how business processes are operating. Views of the data can go all the way from high-level schematic diagrams of process variants, all the way down to text-based reports at a very granular level — an order item in a specific purchase request in an end-to-end procure-to-pay process, for instance.

A process mining deployment can also help support the adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) platforms. Automation is fundamentally a rule-based activity, and automation activities tend to fail when the rules they follow require more manual intervention than the manual processes that they replace. An optimal automation setup requires insight into the exact process flows that are followed by the individuals responsible for them — when people are involved in business processes, they often fill in the gaps in documented process steps in their own ways, and these manual interventions can be missed as the process is automated. Process mining helps identify process flows and variants, including undocumented paths and exception handling, so that organizations can decide which steps need to be reproduced in the automation. Process mining can be the difference that makes an automation project successful.

While a process mining deployment demonstrates clear and compelling business value once it is configured and integrated into a business landscape, the technical implementation can represent a significant part of the project. With the on-premise SAP Process Mining product, the digital footprints — in the form of process event logs from the different connected applications — need to be loaded into an SAP HANA data platform, and the initial setup and configuration of the integrations, the configuration of the application to use the correct data tables, and the screen setup can take weeks before the application can be used productively to deliver business process insights. While large enterprises with dedicated business process centers of excellence and centralized IT operations have the appropriate resources for this type of implementation, organizations that are less mature can find it more challenging. At the same time, many businesses are moving to cloud-first IT investment strategies, which means that an on-premise approach does not align with their organizational goals.

To address the needs of organizations that do not have the resources for an on-premise implementation or are pursuing a cloud-first strategy, SAP and its partner Celonis have introduced SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition, which can be up and running and productive in hours instead of weeks.

Process mining can be the difference that makes an automation project successful.

Introducing SAP Process Mining by Celonis, Cloud Edition 

Cloud-based solutions not only offer businesses a number of economic and technical advantages — such as removing the need to invest in and manage an IT infrastructure and interdependent software release cycles — they also provide richer, more personalized services than on-premise solutions, such as centralized user collaboration, messaging, and alerting features. SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition, brings these benefits to SAP customers by extending the process mining functionality of the on-premise SAP Process Mining application with cloud-based capabilities. The speed of provisioning and productivity provided by the cloud-based edition leads to a rapid deployment with a low dependency on skilled technical resources for integration, which in turn leads to a quick return on investment and an accelerated time to value.

Released in October 2018, the cloud edition is available from SAP and is a complete managed SaaS application provided by Celonis — via its Intelligent Business Cloud environment — to support the rapid analysis of business processes, such as order-to-cash, in system landscapes. Figure 1 shows a visualization of an example order-to-cash process in the application — in this case, measuring on-time delivery.


Figure 1 — A visualization of the order-to-cash process measuring on-time delivery in SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition


As you can see, the screen shown in the example consists of a number of separate elements, which are configurable. In this order-to-cash example, at the top of the screen are the headline numbers in terms of performance, number of items delivered, and order value. On the left is the Process Explorer, which shows the process variants or the paths through the end-to-end business process that are taken. These process variants can be analyzed in depth, showing cycle times between steps and the frequency of each variant, for instance, and animations can even be used to show the path of a specific process variant in the visualization. At the upper right are the range of times taken to deliver orders from order receipt, and at the lower right is a breakdown in greater depth of the performance of specific distribution channels. If you decide to focus on a subset of process variants or a subset of the business process, the screen updates dynamically to reflect the new selection. You can also drill down into more detail on any of the selected areas.

The cloud edition includes all of the functionality of the on-premise edition — including functionality to support data integration, process discovery, and process analytics — as well as some brand-new capabilities, such as prebuilt connectors, an Intelligent Business Apps store for accessing ready-to-use content, a Transformation Center for process optimization support, and a Cloud Teams concept for collaboration. Figure 2 provides an overview of the major components of the cloud edition, with the areas in blue indicating how the cloud edition expands the functionality available with the on-premise edition, which is shown in gray.


Figure 2 — The key components of the cloud edition of SAP Process Mining, with cloud-only functionality in blue


A previous SAPinsider article covered the on-premise edition of SAP Process Mining in detail — here, we’ll take a closer look at the new capabilities that are included in the cloud edition.

Intelligent Business Apps Store 

The Intelligent Business Apps store (Figure 3) is a key new service provided in the solution. It is accessed through the home screen provided by the service and provides prebuilt content, including out-of-the-box connectors and preconfigured analytics, that dramatically decreases the time to productivity of the solution. The store provides two types of prebuilt content: prebuilt processes, including out-of-the-box connectors to enable access to process details, and prebuilt apps to support process analysis. 


Figure 3 — The new Intelligent Business Apps store provides prebuilt content that speeds productive use of the solution


The Intelligent Business Apps store offers predefined process definitions for commonly used processes, such as order to cash and accounts receivable, that can be customized using a wizard-based tool, as well as preconfigured connectors to support extracting process data from typically connected systems. To connect SAP Process Mining to a system, select a process and choose to install it. This allows you to either create a new connection or use an existing connection that will be presented as a tile on the configuration screen. If you choose to connect to a new system, the wizard-based tool takes you to a screen to enter the connection details. 

These connections use scripts and adapters to extract the required process event details from the connected source system, and are controlled by data jobs that trigger the data extraction and prepare the data for process mining. All connections aggregate data through an event collection component that feeds data pools. The data pools cluster data connections (which handle the connection required to extract the process event data); data jobs (which extract the data from the connected systems and prepare it for process mining); and schedules (which determine when the data extraction runs). After setting up the connection, you can adjust details such as the process start date, currency, primary language, and the scheduling for the data extraction runs (weekly, nightly, hourly, or on a custom schedule, for instance) as needed. You also do not have to start the initial data extraction run immediately after you configure the connection — you can choose to delay the job to ensure it takes place during an off-peak time period, for example.

The Intelligent Business Apps store also offers apps that consist of predefined analyses and objectives that focus on key areas of interest in a business process. Analyses, which can be selected and installed via the store, are predefined screens that visualize data about business processes in ways that are relevant to specific stakeholders in the defined business process. They show performance against commonly measured industry benchmarks. For example, an analysis could be for days payable outstanding in the accounts payable process, or for the automation rates in the warehouse management process. The analyses are accessed through the Process Analytics screen in the SAP Process Mining application. Objectives are installed in a similar way to the analyses and can be thought of as strategic initiatives. Objectives are a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that are core to the strategic aims of a specific business process, such as days payable outstanding in the accounts payable business process. Objectives are shown and tracked using the Transformation Center (more on this in a moment). Analyses and objectives are fully configurable if required.

The prebuilt content for mapping processes, configuring the event collection component, analyzing processes, and supporting the Transformation Center is the central benefit of the cloud edition of SAP Process Mining. The aim is to provide both a rapid out-of-the-box solution that enables process mining for specific, standardized business processes as well as the flexibility to implement a complete enterprise-wide process mining platform for complex, non-standard, end-to-end processes.

Transformation Center 

The Transformation Center is accessed via a menu option on the main SAP Process Mining solution screen. It is the go-to view for continuous improvement where specific company objectives are set and actual achievement against them is tracked on a continuous basis. It serves as a central repository for all KPIs that are relevant to the business processes being mined. These KPIs can be configured by authorized users, or they are included in the predefined objectives and installed from the apps available in the Intelligent Business Apps store. 

Using the new Transformation Center, you can perform quantitative analysis on end-to-end business processes by tracking their performance against predefined objectives that can be installed from the Intelligent Business Apps store and adapted as needed. Objectives are measured against KPIs that can be added to the objective from any process or data model. You can even connect multiple KPIs from different data models within objectives. For example, a global procure-to-pay process objective might include KPIs at a global level and also regional KPIs that are combined from regional processes and data models. You can also attach milestones, which are a combination of target value and target date, to KPIs to measure readiness for system migration — for example, migration to a cloud-based system architecture or from SAP ECC to an SAP S/4HANA system landscape. Think of the Transformation Center as an engine for measuring the business impact of the process insights and recommended actions delivered by SAP Process Mining. 

Figure 4 shows the performance of business processes against objectives visualized over time in the Transformation Center. As you can see, the example shown is tracking days payable outstanding, which is a strategic finance indicator. The performance is measured over time in a number of different ways, both in text format and graphically, and also shown are the owners responsible. Actions can be assigned to team members and tracked.


Figure 4 — Days payable outstanding visualized over time in the Transformation Center


Cloud Teams

Cloud Teams is an enhanced capability that enables collaboration between cross-functional teams on business processes and accountability for hitting performance objectives via defined business process owners. The use of Cloud Teams is integrated into the Transformation Center. With this new functionality, you can assign KPIs defined in the Transformation Center to owners to make it clear who is responsible for specific outcomes in a team, and you can set up actions to assign tasks and initiatives to teams. For example, in specific cases where a customer service request or outage is affecting a KPI, a positive action can be assigned to a team whose members would be alerted. These capabilities are underpinned by alerting and messaging functionality that enables communication among individuals and teams.

In the application, teams are distinguished by a logo and a name. There is also a privacy policy that governs how new team users can be invited — there can be public teams, where anybody can invite anybody else, and there can be private teams, where only team administrators can invite new members. In addition, there are domain-based restrictions where members can invite others with the same domain email address, or those with domain email addresses from a set defined in the solution. Roles within the defined teams are administrators, analysts, and members (note that these roles are specific to SAP Process Mining and have no link to any of the connected applications or roles within an organization). Administrators can add new users, invite new team members, and manage user permissions. Analysts can create, use, and edit the processes that they have access to, according to the access policies. Members can be assigned actions, but don’t have the capability to create or edit elements of the processes that they have access to.

The addition of Cloud Teams enables collaboration on previously siloed business processes — for example, in complex end-to-end business processes where cross-functional teams contribute, such as in order-to-cash processes and customer service processes — and the ability to address shortfalls and improvements to business processes in a collaborative way.

Deployment Options Tailored to Data Security Needs

The cloud edition of SAP Process Mining by Celonis can be deployed in two different ways: either fully on the cloud or with data remaining on premise. Figure 5 provides an overview of the architecture of the cloud edition and of the two deployment options.


Figure 5 — Architecture and deployment options for the cloud edition of SAP Process Mining by Celonis


A native cloud solution, SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition, leverages the Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud environment. It is hosted on the multi-tenant Celonis Cloud through Amazon Web Services (going forward, the intent is to broaden this to include other hyperscaler providers). Communications with connected systems are through encrypted HTTPS/TLS to a specified IP address at the customer’s organization. Celonis is ISO 27001-certified for providing secure services and has a comprehensive information security management system in place.

In a full cloud deployment, the data is extracted from the source systems through a secured connection, typically protected at the customer side through a firewall and other security infrastructure and extracted to the Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud environment. In some scenarios, however, key business process data cannot and should not be transferred across corporate, national, or regional borders — in heightened information security scenarios, such as government, state-run businesses, government contractors, financial services, and other regulated industries, or scenarios involving regulations or other requirements for safeguarding personal data. There can also be architectural reasons and data volume constraints that require process event data to remain local within the SAP HANA data platform. 

For organizations that need to keep data local, there is a “leave the data in place” deployment option. This allows organizations to leverage the new functionality in the cloud edition, including the Transformation Center and the Cloud Teams functionality, while keeping the process event data that is mined on premise within required borders in SAP HANA. In this deployment scenario, an on-premise connector is installed locally to the SAP HANA instance, communicating with SAP HANA through Java Database Connectivity (JDBC). This connector connects to the Celonis Cloud tenant via a secure HTTPS/TLS channel. The SQL queries that would normally prepare and gather the data for the business process visualizations from the cloud-based database layer are instead executed on the SAP HANA platform through the on-premise connector.

Ensuring Process Mining Success

SAP Process Mining by Celonis, cloud edition, extends the process mining functionality of the SAP Process Mining solution with cloud-based capabilities that enable rapid insight into and optimization of complex processes. The solution provides prebuilt content — available via an Intelligent Business Apps store — that can be used to connect both SAP and non-SAP applications. The standardized processes and apps extract the required data, transform that data into the necessary format, and install predefined analyses and objectives without the need for time-consuming configuration of separate tools. It also includes a Transformation Center that provides quantitative analysis of end-to-end business processes, measuring their performance against objectives and milestones, and a Cloud Teams functionality that allows team members to collaborate with each other to address business process inefficiencies together. Enterprises can differentiate themselves through data-driven business process analysis, measurement, and actions, creating a high-performance collaborative platform for continuous improvement.

Using the cloud edition of SAP Process Mining delivers a transformational level of insight into end-to-end business processes with speed and ease, allowing organizations to shine a spotlight on key outcomes and gain accurate, quantitative insights that can be shared across the entire organization. A tool can only take you so far on its own, however — you must set up that tool for success. Here are some best practices for ensuring a successful process mining deployment in your organization:

  • End-to-end business process analysis requires an empowered center of excellence team that has the authority and support of the business to champion and coordinate the use of the tool across organizational boundaries.

  • A process mining platform that can be shared with business owners and business users on the ground is the most effective deployment model. It gets everybody speaking the same language, enables continuous improvement, and measures the effectiveness of changes.

  • Process mining can be used to benchmark the automation ratio of business processes and identify areas for improvement. It is equally important to use process mining to map out as-is processes to ensure the success of automation projects, such as the implementation of an RPA platform.

With thoughtful planning for your process mining deployment, you can step confidently in the direction of becoming a data-driven intelligent enterprise. Learn more at https://www.sap.com/products/process-mining.html.

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Keith Grayson
Keith Grayson

Keith Grayson (keith.grayson@sap.com) is a Senior Director of Database and Data Management Solution Management at SAP. He is responsible for a set of products in SAP’s Enterprise Information Management and middleware portfolio that help organizations build best-practice capabilities to deliver process and integration excellence. He has been with SAP for 12 years, and initially specialized in identity management, single sign-on, and cybersecurity. Prior to joining SAP, Keith had been working in the technology industry for 19 years for both large companies and startups including Atos, HP, Cyberguard, and Siemens.



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