Before you can optimize a business process, you must understand it. And the first step to understanding is to model, map, visualize or otherwise describe the process (or processes) you’re dealing with.
There are many tools at your disposal, and plenty of jargon to make sense of, so it can be a confusing proposition. Let’s take a look at one of the core concepts in this area, BPMN, and break down what it is, why it matters, and how it enables better process design.
Business process model and notation (BPMN) is a global standard for the graphical representation of business processes — much like a flowchart — with its own set of symbols and diagramming elements.
But if we want to really understand BPMN’s role in process design today, we must take a quick detour through the history of business process management, the evolution of process mining, and the journey to process improvement that BPMN 2.0 helps to advance.
BPMN emerged as a process discovery capability in the early days of business process orientation (BPO) and business process management (BPM). Back then, process discovery was a largely manual task involving consultants, subjective interviews, trawling through documentation, and piecing together process maps — often in the form of sticky notes. (We say “back then” but actually this kind of manual, static and error-prone approach to process discovery is sadly very much alive in some organizations today.)
The rise of process mining has helped businesses modernize their approach, swapping the static, two-dimensional view of their processes for a living, breathing, three-dimensional picture.
As Professor Wil van der Aalst, “the Godfather of process mining”, has written about the transformation of BPM and process discovery: “The uptake of process mining transformed Business Process Management (BPM) research completely. It is no longer acceptable to waste time and money on creating BPMN models that say little about the actual processes.”
So process mining brought process discovery into the twenty-first century. But that doesn’t mean business process modeling notation is no longer relevant — quite the contrary.
Process mining technologies modernized the process mapping methods that came before it, including BPMN. But what does that look like in practice?
Take Celonis Process Sphere™ as an example. Unveiled in 2022, Process Sphere gives businesses the ability to generate a vivid, three-dimensional view of their end-to-end processes — an MRI of their operations. Instead of showing a single perspective on a process, such as a sales order or purchase order, Process Sphere lets you visualize and analyze the relationships between objects and events across complex, interconnected processes.
Compared to Celonis Process Explorer, which visualizes process steps with a “directly-follows graph,” Process Sphere visualizes a process through a BPMN graph with both exclusive gateway and parallel gateway semantics. The Process Sphere interface looks like a “subway map” of your business, showing multiple process lines and their interaction points.
This subway map unlocks “improved process-driven decision-making” for companies like MOL Group. “Celonis Process Sphere has proven valuable to our organization as it shows an entire process at a glance, while also presenting the handshakes that go between different processes,” said András Katkó, Head of Group IT Back Office at MOL Group.
The other key factor that makes Process Sphere possible — seeing as you asked — is the object-centric data model, which lets you bring multiple interconnected processes together in a single data model for that end-to-end picture.
Before we move on to see how process mining and BPMN combine to unlock business performance through better processes, this section explores the differences across historic versions of BPMN — for the more technical readers and practitioners out there.
In the specification documentation, the changes from BPMN 1.2 to BPMN 2.0 are summarized as follows:
“There have been notational and technical changes to the BPMN International Standard.
The major notational changes include:
The addition of a Choreography diagram
The addition of a Conversation diagram
Non-interrupting Events for a Process
Event Sub-Processes for a Process
The major technical changes include:
A formal metamodel as shown through the class diagram figures
Interchange formats for abstract syntax model interchange in both XMI and XSD
Interchange formats for diagram interchange in both XMI and XSD
XSLT transformations between the XMI and XSD formats
Other technical changes include:
Reference Tasks are removed. These provided reusability within a single diagram, as compared to GlobalTasks, which are reusable across multiple diagrams. GlobalTasks can be used instead of Reference Tasks, to simplify the language and implementations.”
This information can be found on page 479 of the 502-page document — in case you want to dig into some serious detail.
Now let’s look at how this evolution of process discovery capabilities has led to real-world business improvements and major time savings.
A. O. Smith, a provider of energy-efficient water heating and treatment products, turned to Celonis for help optimizing their Order-to-Cash and Purchase-to-Pay processes. The BPMN team used Celonis to measure and analyze their end-to-end supply chain — something that would traditionally require huge amounts of manual process mapping.
With Celonis, A. O . Smith saved thousands of hours of work, and gained the ability to continuously and objectively identify optimization opportunities across all business units. “Celonis was very helpful in moving our organization forward towards data-centric, data-driven process improvement,” says Matthew Rodgers, Senior Director of Business Solutions.
Getting set up with Celonis took less than a day, and within three months A. O. Smith’s Procurement team saved more than 2,000 hours of manual effort.
By establishing a common language for process modeling, BPMN 2.0 makes it easier for business analysts, business professionals and process experts alike to understand how work flows through an organization. Process Sphere’s BPMN-style ‘subway map’ interface, provides a rich but simple expression of your processes, and is a fast track to improved business performance.
To see where all this could take your business, join us for a short Process Sphere demo and live Q&A.