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How to Improve Automation with Process Mining and RPA

Rachel Nizinski, Appian
May 7, 2024

For organizations looking to automate processes for better performance, a combination of RPA and process mining can help. 

Let’s take a step back to understand why.

Automation that’s implemented without data-backed decisions often yields poor results. And data without action leads nowhere. To get the most out of any technology investment, you have to be sure you're using the right combination of tools and techniques. 

But before we explore how you can maximize the benefits of both process mining and RPA, let’s first define what these two technologies do best.

Process mining and RPA explained.

Process mining uses data generated by the systems that support your business processes—think customer onboarding, purchasing, payroll, point of sale, and other vital processes—to check that workflows are running smoothly and pinpoint any areas where inefficiencies occur. These could be delays, duplicate steps, skipped steps, bottlenecks, etc.

Process mining works by using event logs to create a visual depiction of your process, often referred to as a spaghetti diagram or proces model. This way, it’s easy to see exactly where bottlenecks and compliance issues are as you monitor and improve.

Process mining has many benefits, including:

  • Visibility into how your processes actually work (as opposed to how you think they work).
  • Data-driven insight for continuous process monitoring.
  • Easy conformance checking to reduce risk of non-compliant activities.
  • A roadmap for process improvement through RPA and other automation capabilities.

RPA automates high-volume, repetitive, and manual tasks that people perform as part of their everyday work. It's primarily used for back-office functions with unattended bots running on enterprise servers with little to no human intervention. These bots are digital workers that operate on a predefined schedule or trigger.

You can use RPA to carry out tasks such as copying data from one system to another or triggering an alert or notification. 

RPA is best suited to automation use cases where the task is:

  • Carried out according to largely unchanging rules. If a condition or set of conditions is always going to result in the same action, RPA is a good choice for automation.
  • Associated with an action that takes place frequently. This includes high-volume, repetitive tasks, such as sending order confirmations by text or email.
  • Largely static with few to no exceptions or process variations. RPA works best in situations where a specific action is executed in the same way every time. An example of this is running a weekly sales pipeline report that pulls data from the same sources and fields in the same positions every week.
  • Part of a stable, well-defined workflow, process, and system. If the environment around the task is mature and consistent, largely predictable, and not likely to change, RPA will perform well.
  • Interacting with structured data and readable digital inputs. RPA needs data and inputs to be clearly defined so as to be easily searchable.

Now that we’ve established what RPA and process mining can do separately, let’s talk about how well they can work together to optimize processes for your organization.

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How to use RPA and process mining together:

1. Identify where business processes can be improved.

One of the biggest challenges with process optimization is a lack of visibility into where in the process workflows changes should be made.

Rather than applying RPA into your processes without a strategy, you can use process mining and RPA together to figure out where automation will have the most impact.

Process mining gives you a clear visualization into the as-is state of your processes, so you can quickly identify where inefficiencies lie. Maybe you have too many manual processes, or perhaps some important steps are being skipped (which could open you up to risk). Process mining analysis can uncover bottlenecks—areas where workflows are slowing or stopping—which can throttle your workers' productivity.

Once you understand how your processes are running today and start to identify disruptions, the next step is to determine whether you can improve each disruption with automation. Some of these tasks may be solved with RPA. Others may need different automation technologies.

Process model in Appian Process HQ

A complete business process automation strategy that includes technologies such as artificial intelligence and intelligent document processing—in addition to RPA—is the best approach for any process improvement plan. Process mining analysis can highlight areas ripe for automation, with insight into where RPA can deliver significant business outcomes. This is where you should  focus your automation effort using RPA.

2. Take action on process insights.

Since process mining solves a major automation challenge by pinpointing exactly where automation will have an immediate impact, you can now apply RPA to the tasks that it’s best suited to: frequent, generally unchanging tasks that have few variations, and that are part of a stable workflow with structured data. 

By analyzing multiple processes, in all areas of your organization, you can reap significant benefits in terms of increasing employee efficiency and productivity. You can free your workers from manual, high-volume, repeatable tasks, which will ultimately:

  • Increase accuracy by relying on technology that isn’t prone to human error.
  • Strengthen compliance by storing data, improving audit trails, and limiting unnecessary human contact with sensitive information.
  • Save time and money by accelerating the pace of transactions, without having to modify existing legacy systems.
  • Empower employees to focus on higher-level innovations more suited to their talents.
  • Increase productivity by delegating tedious work to bots that are active 24/7/365.

3. Develop a practice of continuous improvement.

Process mining automation can provide ready analysis and AI-generated insights about how your processes are performing, allowing even non-technical users to monitor processes over time.

By using RPA with automated process mining analysis, you can fine-tune where you deploy bots in your workflows—even as processes evolve over time.

Appian Process Modeler

Want to learn more about process improvement? Get the eBook:
The Ultimate Guide to Continuous Process Improvement.

RPA and process mining: better together.

Using the right type of automation to automate the right task is vital to the success of your digital transformation initiative. But it’s just as important to know where those opportunities exist. To use an analogy: if you were to bring your car to a garage because it was giving you trouble, you wouldn't expect your mechanic to dive right in and start pulling out and replacing parts. With some luck, that approach could solve the problem—but a much more effective approach would be to do some diagnostic testing, or at least drive the car around the block to better understand the source of the problem.

"Despite ongoing investment in RPA, CFOs are realizing they need a broader toolkit to realize their full automation objectives. To realize higher value from their RPA investments, CFOs are turning to a suite of complementary efficiency technologies, such as process mining, which will remain a future driver of growth for RPA in the coming years."

– Nisha Bhandare, VP analyst in the Gartner Finance practice

The same goes for your business processes. The benefits of RPA and process mining are clear: they let you focus your automation efforts exactly where they will have the most impact. What's more, process mining allows you to measure the impact of your RPA implementations. Once your RPA is up and running, you can rerun your process data through the process mining tool to determine if your efforts have delivered the desired results and continuously improve them.

Take your business processes to the next level. By process mining and RPA together, you can discover your problem areas, evaluate where RPA or other automation capabilities can deliver the best results, and prove the success of your actions by using process mining in your continuous improvement efforts.

What’s next on your automation roadmap? For more insights, check out the Gartner Gartner® Emerging Tech Impact Radar: Hyperautomation.

1"Gartner Survey Shows CFOs Turning to Process Mining to Drive Better Returns from RPA," Justin Lavelle (April 2022)

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