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What is Process Discovery?

‘Process discovery’ is a systematic set of tools used to identify, map, and analyze business processes. With traditional methods posing several challenges, AI-based solutions have emerged. These AI tools, known as ‘process discovery’ or ‘task mining’, capture user data and autonomously identify and map processes, offering a data-driven approach. This is crucial for any process improvement or automation effort, helping businesses gain a thorough understanding of their current processes.

Process Discovery definition

Universally, the term ‘process discovery’ refers to a set of tools that provide a systematic way to identify, map, define, and analyze business processes and the activities and tasks they are comprised of. Discovery is the essential first step in any process improvement or automation effort because for these initiatives to be successful, businesses must first have a thorough understanding of their processes as they exist today.

Manual Business Process Discovery

Traditionally, widely employed process discovery methodologies have included:

  • Anecdotal interviews with end users
  • Observing employees perform work
  • Conducting focus groups
  • Whiteboarding
  • Manual data collection and analysis

Traditional process discovery approaches present businesses with several challenges. First, they are time consuming and require significant hands-on effort, which can lead to a lengthy time to value for improvement and automation initiatives. Additionally, traditional techniques are largely subjective, relying heavily on human judgement, which can lead to inaccurate or incomplete processes being documented, implemented, or automated.

Automated Business Process Discovery

In recent years however, technological solutions have emerged to make process discovery more autonomous, and data driven. ‘Process Discovery’ has been coined as a name for a AI-based technology that captures user data then automatically identifies and maps processes and their variants. This technology is also known as task mining. For the remainder of this article, the term ‘Process Discovery’ will refer to this type of AI-powered solution.

What's the difference between Process Mining and Process Discovery?

Process Mining and Process Discovery are both ML/AI-powered solutions that surface and visualize process data. Process Mining tools have been around longer than Process Discovery and is fairly widely adopted across enterprises in a variety of industries. Process Mining uses system data such as event logs to create a high-level end-to-end view of how a process operates. Process Mining solutions provide quantitative process insight, such as process run times, and generally also provide tools such as root cause analysis to allow businesses to drilldown into bottlenecks and identify areas for optimization. However, a gap exists with Process Mining in that it does not capture human behavior, or the detailed actions and steps users take when performing a process.

Process Discovery tools on the other hand capture real-time user behavior on desktops to provide a more granular view of how users interact with each step of the process, in addition to quantitative data such as process frequency and duration. This executable process needed to build documentation and find areas of optimization at the procedural level. Output from Process Discovery can drill all the way down to users click and keystrokes, which provides an ideal blueprint for automation, particularly in the case of RPA where bots are programmed to perform the same clicks and keystrokes as humans to carry out high-volume repetitive tasks.

While the two solutions are different, Process Mining and Process Discovery can also be used together so that businesses can create top-down and end-to-end visibility into their processes.

Learn more about the differences between Process Mining and Process Discovery.

Why is Process Discovery important?

Businesses are turning to process improvement and automation to help with a variety of challenges including:

  • Driving down costs in the wake of inflation
  • Improving the employee experience to combat the Great Resignation
  • Filling the gaps left by employee turnover
  • Optimizing and re-designing processes adapted for new remote and hybrid work environments

Process Discovery is the foundation for any process improvement or automation initiative. Process Discovery can help businesses easily identify current state processes to lay the groundwork for improvement and automation projects.

Process Discover can deliver many benefits to organizations, including Increasing process visibility, accelerating and improving documentation efforts, expediting automation and process improvement time to value, and improving collaboration between line of business and IT teams.

Read more about the benefits of Process Discovery.

How does Process Discovery work?

Process Discovery bots are installed on business users’ desktops and unobtrusively record activities in specified applications as the users go about their everyday work. After 2-3 weeks, Process Discovery leverages AI to automatically identify recurring processes and generates interactive maps. Business analysts can visualize how work is being performed, and easily explore processes and their variants. Process improvement teams can define the optimal process path to standardize for documentation or for automation. Finally, process improvement teams can export their discovered processes in a variety of formats including Process Definition Documents, and BPMN and automation files.

Examples of Process Discovery

Accelerating process documentation efforts

Process Discovery not only speeds up process identification, but also streamlines documentation. Process Discovery allows users to tag and notate recorded screenshots to create Process Design Documents that can be used as “how to” documentation to for standard operating procedures. These documents can be linked to in process management tools where they can become part of a repository that facilitates enterprise-wide governance and collaboration. For example, a call center might deploy Process Discovery bots on the machines of employees with exceptional call handling time to capture and understand how those employees are executing processes. The discovered processes could be recorded, documented, and implemented as standard operating procedures so that other users consistently execute those same processes that are yielding the desired call handle time metrics.

Check out 6 key steps for effective process discovery.

Identifying what to automate, and automate at scale

Process Discovery provides a data-driven approach to identifying automation opportunities by providing automation recommendation scores rooted in metrics such as process duration, frequency, and employee utilization. Businesses can leverage this intelligence to build an automation pipeline that is prioritized to maximize impact and ROI. When a process is ready for automation, users can generate automation files of the documented process to serve as a blueprint for development, jumpstarting the automation build and giving both business and IT teams a clear definition and scope of the process that is to be automated.

Check out our webinar on how Process Discovery can identify automation opportunities within shared services.

What should organizations consider when looking at Process Discovery tools?

Process Discovery is a must-have value tool for businesses teams who are responsible for:

  • Process Improvement
  • Operational Excellence
  • Digital Transformation
  • Automation
  • Compliance and Governance

Process Discovery can deliver benefits to organizations in a variety of industries and functions including Financial Services, Banking, Healthcare, Telecom, Retail, and Call Centers.

It is important that companies consider that Process Discovery is just one of many tools needed to drive successful process improvement and automation initiatives at scale. Process Management, Automation, and Analytics tools are also needed to create end-to-end solutions.

At Nintex, we are process and automation experts who specialize in enabling companies to drive transformation and deliver better customer and employee experiences. We empower business users to create end-to-end solutions with an ecosystem of powerful but easy-to-use tools including Nintex Process Discovery, Process Manager, Automation Cloud, RPA, DocGen, and eSign. Learn more about Nintex Process Platform here

To learn how you can start discovering your processes with Nintex, visit our Nintex Process Discovery page.