"How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise..." - Louis Cypher, in 'Angel Heart'
Giving the devil his due (quite literally), world-renowned actor Robert de Niro chided a young Mickey Rourke, whose character had just completed a movie-long journey of finding himself. The end result was most unfortunate, as Johnny Favorite ultimately got his comeuppance.
That empty feeling in his gut as the curtains fell, was not unlike the ennui that many business process analysts have endured for decades, possibly since the Renaissance. Reason being? They'd worked so hard, exploring, examining, studying all those processes. And in the end?
Well... let's just say that not all movies end well. For these analysts, their greatest discoveries still hinged on whether or not they could convince someone in operations to do the unthinkable: change something! (Gasp!) In operations, if it ain't broke, don't even think about fixing it.
This last yard often proved to be a gap too far, a chasm too wide. Many fantastic insights about process optimization just went for naught. You can imagine the frustration. After so much toil and thought, they'd chalk another one up to the inertia of desired operational stability.
But just because something isn't broken, doesn't mean it can't be improved. That's the nature of Execution Management, a new domain in the enterprise software world that's lighting up opportunities around the globe. And it's a natural extension of something called Process Mining.
If the term "Process Mining" sounds cool, that's because the functionality it represents is massively game-changing. In many ways, Process Mining represents the culmination of a decades-long cycle in corporate software, starting with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).
The ERP vendors made tremendous headway years ago, paving the way for highly digitized operations. From supply chain and procurement, to tracking and fulfillment, from finance to reporting to forecasting, a cadre or purpose-built solutions took us out of the Paper Age.
Like the Stone Age of its time, the Paper Age lasted hundreds of years. It required careful record-keeping that was mostly done by hand. There were many innovations, such as printers, ink and toner cartridges, and then one day? The pinnacle of paper appeared: the sticky note!
Nary a human in the modern business world doesn't appreciate the incredible power, the granular accuracy, the criticality of the sticky note! There are color-coding schemes that map to the most complex supply chains. And there are even varying shapes and sizes.
But just as with any manual process, there comes a time when the complexity of business scenarios forces an inflection point. That time is now. Process mining is the weapon of choice for organizations looking to improve their operations, and close those pesky execution gaps.
Just as footprints in the sand show where people walked, there are data footprints scattered across every enterprise which reveal the actual processes by which work gets done. Celonis figured this out a few years ago, and has been pioneering this space ever since.
These data footprints can be harnessed to create remarkably accurate depictions of otherwise unwieldy processes. Think order-to-cash, for example, or procure-to-pay. For both of these mission-critical business functions, there are countless examples of processes that go awry.
That's why process mining offers such potential. By allowing analysts to see, in pixel-perfect context, exactly how business processes hash out across highly heterogeneous application environments, this discipline has opened the door to tangible, rapid, digital transformation.
Celonis CEO Alex Rinke noted in his company's virtual world tour, that the heterogeneity of enterprise systems causes tremendous rigidity in business operations. Because processes often span multiple systems, usually via point-to-point integrations, change is hard and risky.
The reality in production is that application landscapes across the corporate world contain countless workarounds, add-ons, and other modifications that were implemented by clever operations folks over the years. Most ERP systems do not provide visibility into this world.
That's where process mining can save the day: Like LIDAR for information systems, this technology can reveal the contours of even the most arcane business processes, thus enabling analysts to see what's really happening beneath all those seemingly clean user interfaces.
In its recent release, announced via the world tour, Celonis brought enterprise computing full circle. With the Celonis Studio, companies can now leverage Execution Management at scale. Celonis outlined the five core disciplines of Execution Management:
Analytics — in this phase, companies use process mining to discover what's happening, to identify where capacity is trapped; this can exist anywhere in the long chain of operations.
Strategy - once you know where capacity is trapped, you need to define what you want to improve; Celonis will provide benchmarks from leading organizations to help with this.
Management - across the organization, every business user, from executive to operational, to the individual contributor, needs to know: Am I hitting these objectives
Action - whenever optimizations are found, Celonis enables write-back to the production systems that get things done; this provides the granular stuff of tangible, digital transformation.
Automation - as optimizations are implemented, Celonis uses machine learning in the background to automate the component parts of each solution, thus enabling success at-scale.
The fact that countless analysts can now not only discover ways to improve operations, but actually put those improvements into action, is truly remarkable, and will help improve the single most important characteristic of any enterprise: morale!
Though difficult to quantify, morale is the energy that drives positive culture. When it's high, organizations can accomplish great things even with limited time and resources. When it's low, all the money and brainpower in the world won't achieve very much.
As always, the devil is in the details. But as Execution Management matures, as benchmarks are identified and published across industries, as automation pushes us ever closer to the dream of hitting on all cylinders, the trajectory is clear: We're on track for a brighter future!
Eric has more than 20 years of experience as a career journalist with a keen focus on enterprise technologies. He designs and moderates a variety of New Media programs, including The Briefing Room, Information Management’s DM Radio and Espresso Series, as well as GARP’s Leadership and Research Webcasts. His mission is to help people leverage the power of software, methodologies and politics in order to get things done.
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