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Process Intelligence vs. Business Intelligence: What's the difference and which problems do they solve?

Business Intelligence and Process Intelligence can be easily confused. Both offer data-driven approaches to answering questions about your business’ performance. Both promise data-based insights, increased efficiency, better customer experience and empowered employees. 

Some purists will claim one is much better than the other, but in reality, both have their purpose.

So, here's a breakdown of Business Intelligence vs. Process Intelligence, their similarities, differences, and which problems they can solve for your company.

What is Business Intelligence?

Business Intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term that refers to various tools, methods, and processes for collecting, evaluating, and presenting data about a business. Companies use Business Intelligence to understand and measure performance against their goals. BI combines data from different sources and presents it in user-friendly visualizations like dashboards, graphs, charts, and entire reports. Users can analyze this information to gain insights into patterns and discontinuities and answer questions about their company, competitors, customers, or market developments.

Historically, BI was mostly in the domain of data analysts – they analyzed the data and created reports for the wider organization. In contrast, modern BI solutions have a strong focus on self-service, so employees can ask and answer questions even without a technical background, and share data-driven insights with their colleagues and stakeholders. However, even with comprehensive self-service capability, many organizations will still require help from other departments to maximize results. For example, the IT department will still be needed to move data from the source systems into the BI tool of choice and to "deepen" the data analysis.

How does Business Intelligence work?

In very general terms, BI tools use raw data collected from business systems, for example databases, reports, and spreadsheets, but also email or social media. This data is processed and then visualized for further analysis and querying.

BI is designed to answer specific questions and provide snapshot analysis for decision making or planning by using a wide range of methods and tools, such as data preparation,data visualization, reporting, benchmarking, or querying. All these tools help users to understand business performance, follow trends, and make better decisions.

What problems does BI solve?

It’s important to understand that BI typically focuses on what is happening. It covers what is called descriptive analytics – telling you what’s currently happening inside your business, and everything in the lead-up to now. For example, BI can help you answer questions like:

  • What are our best performing products by country?

  • How has that changed over the last three months?  

  • How are we performing in comparison to the same time last year?

  • Are our customers paying us on time?

  • Is there anything going wrong that we need to change?

But helpful as this is, BI doesn’t tell you why or how these things happen, nor what actions you should take. So, you might very clearly see that you’ve got a problem, but to fix it, you need more info — like exactly where the problem is coming from, the parties involved, and the KPIs and other processes it’s affecting. That’s where Process Intelligence comes in.

What is Process Intelligence?

Your business runs on processes. They are at the very core of how things happen inside your company. Your supply chain, Purchase-to-Pay, Order-to-Cash, or customer journey – these are all processes that drive operations. But most companies only have a very rudimentary understanding of how their processes really work, how they impact each other, and how many ways there are to complete a process.

Even the people working within a process usually only have a limited understanding beyond their part in it. And in a worst-case scenario, the different departments inside a company speak completely different languages when it comes to understanding goals and dependencies.

Process Intelligence aims to provide that much-needed shared understanding, as well as clarity on how processes run and where optimization opportunities are hiding. It’s a set of tools and methods to create end-to-end transparency about the processes and workflows that run in an organization, like the steps and parties involved, dependencies between processes, plus up and downstream effects. Crucially, it also comes with the technologies to optimize processes, unlock hidden value, and enhance company performance.

How does Process Intelligence work?

Like BI, Process Intelligence analyzes and visualizes data from various sources. The difference is that Process Intelligence looks at information about how processes run, interact, and depend on each other continuously.  

Users can on one hand see how their processes truly run to understand variations and spot problems as well as root causes of bottlenecks and rework. On the other, they can rely on various Process Intelligence tools and features that allow them to go beyond analysis and actually  solve problems within a process.

Process Intelligence thus includes several technologies and methods for both analysis and execution, such as process mining, process modeling, task mining, the digital twin of an organization, simulation, monitoring, automation, and generative AI.

What problems does Process Intelligence solve?

Where BI asks what is happening, Process Intelligence asks how and why it’s happening, and what can be done to make things better. You can think of it as the connective tissue between people, processes, and technology, providing everyone in your organization with a common language for how your business is running, visibility into where value is hiding, and the ability to capture it.

A fully running Process Intelligence solution can not only tell you where you can lower costs, how you can speed up delivery, or what you need to do to speed up collections. It can also tell you what will have the biggest impact and take the lowest effort, so you can prioritize accordingly. You can also use it to set up automatic workflows, for example to unblock orders, or set up alerts to your teams when KPIs fall out of range.

With the recent addition of generative AI to the Process Intelligence tech stack, your employees can now directly ask questions in a language they understand to solve process problems. And they can share these insights across departments to create a common understanding of dependencies and priorities.

Process Intelligence vs. Business Intelligence – what’s the difference?

To summarize – Process Intelligence primarily focuses on the analysis and optimization of business processes such as Purchase-to-Pay, supply chain management, or customer journey to increase business performance. It offers businesses advanced capabilities like root cause analysis, workflow automation, real-time monitoring, alerts, and process optimization. In simple terms, it tells you how and why things happen and most importantly, what steps you should take to unlock value opportunities hiding inside your processes.

Business Intelligence on the other hand is concerned with providing an at-a-glance view of an organization's performance, market trends, and customer behavior. It tells you what’s happening inside your organization and how you got there, using descriptive analytics, performance benchmarking, and reporting.

Both make use of Machine Learning and AI to ask questions and drill deeper into the respective data. 

So, as you can see, BI and Process Intelligence both have their purpose. Depending on what you want to do, you can use one or the other or a combination of both.

If you want to learn more about Process Intelligence check out how the Celonis Process Intelligence Graph provides a common language for enterprise process performance.

Check out these Process Intelligence tools and how they work to get a breakdown of the capabilities a tool should have and how it unlocks value across your business.

And if you’re interested in understanding more about the future of Process Intelligence, look no further than our Expert predictions: 8 Trends for process mining in 2024 (and beyond).

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Katharina Laumann
Content Marketing Manager

Katharina Laumann is a Content Marketing Manager for Celonis and has been writing about process mining since 2018.

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