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Process Discovery Tools: Overview and Evaluation Guidelines

Rachel Nizinski, Appian
March 16, 2023

Process discovery is a method for creating visual representations of business processes using data. It takes the guesswork out of business process improvement projects and makes it easier for business and IT leaders to spot inefficiencies. But to get there, you need to select the right set of process discovery tools. 

[ Want expert advice? Get the Process Mining Guide for tips on process discovery and process optimization success. ]

What Is Business Process Discovery?

What are process discovery tools?

Process discovery tools play a key role in process discovery and optimization. Choose the wrong tool, and you’ll likely find yourself with missing process insights and a technology that only provides a partial solution.

But the right process discovery tools can have a profound effect on the way your entire organization operates. They can give you clarity about how your current business processes run and provide unbiased information that helps you detect inefficiencies. These process insights can have a ripple effect on your organization, leading to more optimized processes, better customer and employee experiences, and increased innovation.
 

Key features of process discovery tools.

Process discovery tools should be easy-to-use and flexible, and they should provide clear process insights. When evaluating a process discovery tool, consider these capabilities:

  • Business process discovery: At a minimum, process discovery tools need to include the ability to automatically discover and visualize business processes from system data and event logs. This lays the foundation for process optimization, so the tool needs to be accurate and capable of handling complex processes. The discovered model should be presented in a visual and easy-to-understand format, such as with animated flow charts or diagrams.
  • Conformance checking: If your organization has to meet specific compliance requirements and regulations, it’s important that your process discovery tool has the ability to quickly identify non-conformances through comparison of your discovered and target process models. Ideally, the tool will allow you to manually or automatically generate a target model for comparison, and it should be customizable.
  • Root cause analysis: Having a visualized process map with identified areas for improvement is only the first step to gaining real process insights. Process discovery tools should also have the ability to perform root cause analysis on deviations and variants, so you can get more insight into why they’re happening and determine their impact. Some tools even use machine learning to suggest potential causes.
  • Performance monitoring: To know if your process improvements worked, process discovery tools also need to be capable of analyzing process performance metrics. Tools with customizable dashboards and reports can help you monitor the ongoing performance of your operations, track performance trends, and easily share insights with stakeholders to collaborate on continuous improvement projects.
  • Integration and customization: Your processes don’t exist in a vacuum, and your process discovery tools shouldn’t either. When evaluating process discovery tools, consider how they integrate with other software and systems (such as business intelligence and process automation platforms), how customizable they are to your organization’s needs, and if they’re able to help you act on the insights you uncover.
  • Security and enterprise-grade scale: Process discovery tools should comply with relevant regulatory requirements and industry standards, and they should keep your data private and secure so you can focus on uncovering process insights.
     

How do you select process discovery tools?

In addition to meeting essential technical capabilities, the right process discovery tool should support your business goals, be provided by a reliable partner, and set you up for success now and in the future.

Five steps for selecting a process discovery tool.

  1. Determine your business goals and needs. Before you can select a tool for your process optimization project, you need to define the project’s purpose and goals. Then, you can start evaluating tools against this criteria to ensure they can support your business needs and provide a good return on investment.
  2. Define your ideal technology partner. A reliable vendor can be even more important than the technology you’re evaluating. A trusted vendor will be more than just a technology provider—they will also be a partner that’s dedicated to your success. Familiarize yourself with solution providers to see how they align with your company culture and learn about how they approach documentation, customer service, and technical support.
  3. Identify your technology must-haves. Once you’ve identified a few good candidates for your process discovery tool, you should do a careful review of the technology and its capabilities to make sure it aligns with your project needs and business goals. 
  4. Involve key stakeholders and end users. Before you select a process discovery tool, it’s important that you gather feedback from stakeholders and end users. Business users can identify what they need from the tool on a daily basis and how easy it is to use, whereas IT stakeholders can provide feedback on how compatible a solution is with your existing IT infrastructure and how easy it will be to implement.
  5. Look to the future. Keep in mind that process discovery tools can and should be used for continuous improvement. This means that they’ll become part of how your organization operates, and they should be able to grow and evolve as your projects and business needs change. The tool should provide solutions for your challenges as they exist today and into the future.
     

Benefits of a platform approach for end-to-end process optimization. 

Process discovery tools provide powerful process insights that help you identify areas to improve. But when used alone, they don’t help you address all parts of a continuous improvement process. That’s where a platform for process automation comes in.

Process automation platforms enable you to build applications and workflows, automate processes with artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent document processing (IDP), and robotic process automation (RPA), and gain deeper visibility with process mining—all while working to help you drive continuous optimization. When process discovery solutions are built into a process automation platform, they provide you with the ability to connect people, data, and systems in end-to-end business processes. 

Get started on your process discovery journey. Read the Process Mining Guide for tips and best practices.