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Innovation Acceleration through Joint Research in Process Mining

By Jerome Geyer-Klingeberg
7 min read

In my last blog I talked about my personal path to build an Academic Alliance program at Celonis. The focus was on the educational aspect of the program. In this blog, like to discuss the second key aspect, to which I also have a special personal connection: Research collaborations between industry and academia.

Academic DNA

The DNA of the Process Mining industry is inherently linked to academic research: The history of Process Mining can be traced back to the 1990s when Professor Wil van der Aalst and his research group first investigated the idea to use data from operational IT-systems to understand process flows within organisations. More than a decade later, the first vendors picked up the academic principles to build corporate software tools for process mining.

Since then, Process Mining persistently proves close ties between industry and science with many vendors originating from academia. Celonis itself was founded out of a student project at TU Munich. Then and now, process mining brings together industry experts and researchers with a joint interest to understand processes and improve company performance.

Joint Research Approach

Process Mining, like no other discipline, has a unique tradition of putting academic research into practical application. While in other research fields science is often years ahead of what is done in the industry, academic research and industry innovation are closely synchronized in several fields of Process Mining. Being a researcher myself, I experienced my first eye-opener for the close exchange and collaboration between academia and industry when I started the Celonis Academic Alliance programme.

We organized a knowledge exchange workshop between two of our academic partners and our development team. After presenting the current state-of-the-art in both of our fields, we came to realize that we were working on the same topics, and had been asking ourselves the same questions. This was when I first recognized the huge potential of collaborations between science and industry research to foster innovation.

Best Practices for Successful R&D Cooperation

Being a PhD student myself, I know the academic mindset quite well. But through my work at Celonis I also have insights into the industry approach to innovation. Considering both perspectives, I am convinced that the symbiosis of academic and industry research creates great power for innovation. But to realize this potential, it is important to consider certain rules and principles. This is a summary of best practices for the collaboration between industry and research, which I learned over the past two years.

Know about the assets and demand on both sides: Academic goals and industry goals for research might diverge. Academics aim at publishing papers, acquiring public funding and creating new content for their teaching. However, they also want to have a practical impact of their research, test their findings on practical data and with real users.

In contrast, industry research is driven by customer needs and the objective to create new features and products. Industry knows about the practical problems customers face and provides a technical infrastructure to test innovation on real data sets. However, the focus of industry research is often short-term. Research is not done for scientific progress but to be used in industry applications. Due to the short-term focus, there is often little time for long-run innovation projects, especially those bearing insecurity if they will really end up in a new product or feature.

How can you create the best output of an academic and industry collaboration? The two worlds might have different outputs related to their varying goals. This is often to publish a high-quality paper vs. having a new feature or product. But much of the way you have to go for good research is the same on both sides: seeing a problem, creating a solution and testing or implementing the solution.

However, at the end of this common path, procedures might diverge โ€“ like the two arms of a โ€œYโ€. This means that the final outcome might be different, i.e. write a scientific paper embedded in the current literature or convert the research output in a product, market and sell this product. But the longest part of the way can be walked together with many synergies. This is the lower part of the โ€œYโ€ (Thanks to Professor Jan vom Brocke for coming up with the โ€œYโ€ analogy in a recent workshop)!

  • Create platforms for exchange: Key to successful R&D cooperation is communication - to discuss with each other, to understand each other and to create new ideas together. Therefore, the close symbiosis between academia and industry research needs exchange platforms. We see that these opportunities for exchange are rapidly increasing. The best examples are the leading conferences in the field, such as the 1st International Conference on Process Mining. This year, one third of the 400 participants were coming from academia, while the other two thirds were comprised of vendors, consultants and industry users. A perfect mix for fruitful industry and academic collaboration!
  • Manage intellectual property (IP): As with any innovation, property rights are important. This could be a show-stopper for joint R&D projects. Usually, an industry partner wants to protect IP rights to avoid that competition gets access to their innovations. On the other hand, academic research strives for transparency and sharing of results and codes for replication and for providing other researchers the opportunity to follow up. Both sides, industry and academia, have to consider the otherโ€™s interest. Industry must allow academics to publish findings in papers and to share insights with the community. At the same time, academics must consider IP rights and align with the industry partner which information can be published.
  • Promote outcomes together: The outcomes of joint research projects represent the success of collaboration. Although the โ€œYโ€ approach might lead to a separation in the final steps of a project, industry and academia should still seek for opportunities to promote the joint results together. For example, by writing white papers or industry papers for conferences or promoting the research findings to customers and the ecosystem.

Celonis Research Program

As a catalyst and coordinator, the research program by the Celonis Academic Alliance aims to bring academia and industry research together. It builds a community of researchers and industry experts, but also provides a platform for exchange and collaboration within our Intelligent Business Cloud (IBC). The IBC - Academic Edition gives free access to all Celonis features for research and teaching.

What is particularly attractive for research is that the IBC comes with an Open Applications Framework and full Python integration in the Machine-Learning Workbench. Scientists can develop their methods on the powerful IBC infrastructure and easily run field experiments and send it out to Celonis end users for testing. The IBC: Academic Edition, together with the unique community of the Academic Alliance, build a powerful innovation platform with access to state-of-the-art technology. For me, this approach is a good start to harness the incredible power of industry-academic collaborations in Process Mining and spin on the academic DNA of our category. If you like to embark with us on this journey, contact Celonis Academic Alliance!

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