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Celonis aims to make process mining more intuitive, open and intelligent

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez June 9, 2023
Summary:
Traditionally a practice that requires technical skills and dedicated resources, Celonis is hoping its recent investments can open process mining to a broader audience.

Top view of colorful gears. Corporate work and modern business process concept © 9dream studio - Shutterstock
(© 9dream studio - Shutterstock)

Celonis has had a lot of success with enterprise buyers in recent years, many of whom have publicly declared that the vendor’s process mining technology has helped them operate more efficiently - and deliver on savings. Some examples include Deutsche Bank, which said Celonis helped it cut costs by EUR 60 million by improving the efficiency of 40 processes, and BP which said that Celonis was playing a key role in it identifying $2.5 billion in cost savings. 

But despite the company’s Execution Management System (EMS) seemingly hitting the right note with customers in what is still a fairly early-stage market, Celonis is making some significant changes to its platform that it hopes will make process mining more intuitive, open and intelligent - making the practice more widely available to users across organizations. 

The vendor late last year revealed how it would be broadening process mining to include process interdepencies with Celonis Process Sphere, allowing companies to understand how one process impacts another. Celonis said that this was akin to taking process mining from looking like an X-Ray to looking like an MRI. 

But this forms part of a broader strategic story, where Celonis aims to put process mining execution management into the hands of more individuals. The aim being, of course, that process mining will no longer just be the domain of expert analysts or centers of excellence, spurring further growth. 

This strategy has required Celonis to fundamentally rethink its data model and open up its platform via API to allow broader access to the intelligence that process analysis can deliver. 

Ahead of Celonis’ World Tour event in London, we spoke with Divya Krishnan, VP of Product Marketing at Celonis, to get a better understanding of the company’s planned strategic investments over the next couple of years. She said: 

The vision is to be able to deliver a platform that's more intuitive, more open and more intelligent, backed by an expanded data foundation, which is in service of our mission as a company to deliver fast and substantial value - by enabling companies to improve the performance of their core business processes.

An intuitive platform

Celonis recognizes that for its platform to gain widespread adoption and deliver quicker speed to value, it needs to focus on ease of use. Krishnan acknowledges that this hasn’t always been true for the practice of process mining. She said: 

Process mining has tremendous potential, but I think if we're honest, there’s definitely been a technical barrier to enabling anyone in the organization to be able to take advantage of these insights. 

Even for a more technical audience, sometimes starting from this completely blank canvas, against the full breadth and complexity of an organization's processes, that can be challenging. So there's steps that we're taking to make the platform itself easier to use, but also to provide more guidance and more tailored user specific journeys on top of the core platform. 

Celonis’ landmark example of this has been the launch of its Business Miner tool, which it describes as a ‘process investigation technology and collaboration workspace’. Business Miner seeks to allow business users to easily and independently investigate - and communicate with other business users - process problems and opportunities. It is currently available with process-specific explorations for processes that include: accounts payable, accounts receivable, procurement and order management. 

Krishnan said that Celonis’ ambition is to create a guided experience for anyone in the organization, regardless of technical background or knowledge of process mining - allowing them to be able to quickly assess process performance and identify key improvement opportunities. Commenting on Business Miner as the first block in this approach, and its impact on users, Krishnan said: 

Business Miner is intended for business users - process department leads, or a global process owner of procure to pay, or a head of finance. Those people don't necessarily understand process mining, they don't have any technical knowledge of PQL - but they are exactly the audience that cares about the performance of the process and want to understand: do I have an excess of inventory that is impacting our working capital? Is it down to these specific skews at these specific plants? 

It’s the ability to get to those insights without needing an analyst to configure tables or do an analysis, it is for you in a completely custom fashion. 

With this renewed focus on user experience, Celonis itself has had to change the way it develops its platform. The vendor now has a dedicated team that is focused on specific user journeys and the future product roadmap (which is forthcoming) is built around these personas. 

An open platform

The second piece of the Celonis strategy is creating a more open platform, where it wants the insights gained from within the platform environment to be made more easily accessible for use by external parties. We saw evidence of this late last year, when partner company, Emporix, announced that it would be releasing a new Commerce Execution platform that is underpinned by the Celonis platform. 

Emporix is essentially using Celonis as the engine for a new product to help drive intelligence for complex commerce interactions for enterprise buyers. Celonis said that companies will be able to monitor and adjust their end customers’ interactions on the commerce platform in real-time, using process intelligence signals.

But Krishnan hopes that this is just the beginning of what will be a more comprehensive ecosystem of players built on the Celonis platform. As we’ve seen with other SaaS companies, the multiplier effect of establishing successful companies built on a platform can be substantial. Equally, getting end users to develop their own tools via API can create a level of ‘stickiness’ with a vendor that is worthwhile. 

Commenting on Celonis’ plans, Krishnan said: 

We’ve released our Intelligence API, which enables customers or partners to be able to take that intelligence and bring it to other systems and tools. For example, customers are using this to bring Celonis KPI analysis into Power BI, or there’s Emporix, who's a partner that’s been working in the digital B2B and B2C e-commerce space, leveraging that intelligence to be able to enhance their software and bring that process intelligence into how they are able to dynamically orchestrate actions across their customers.

An intelligent platform

The final pillar of the strategy is a focus on intelligence. Given the nature of what Celonis does, it already has a long history using intelligence throughout its platform - specifically its Machine Learning Workbench, which allows customers to build custom models and drive more intelligent decision making. However, Krishnan believes that Celonis has a unique opportunity to unlock further AI opportunities. She said: 

I think what's been very exciting for us in the last six months has been really thinking about how process mining can play a role in enabling what I think of as a new class of operational AI solutions. 

We're uniquely positioned to provide AI solutions with a source of data that's contextualized with process knowledge that wouldn't be available from any other sources. 

Understanding of how processes run, the most common opportunities, how they typically get resolved, understanding that these are orders are likely to be late - that is not knowledge or data that's available elsewhere outside of Celonis. 

To this end, Celonis will be showcasing at its upcoming London event an early preview of its AI investments, particularly how large language models (LLMs) can help with conversational journeys for non-technical users to obtain business insights, via natural language requests. Krishnan said: 

We will show how large language models can be used for PQL generation, with PQL being the language that builds everything that you see in Celonis. So that anyone you know, regardless of whether they're an analyst who already knows PQL, or somebody who just doesn't really know very much about process mining at all, is able to get the questions they want answered just by typing in ‘I would like to understand my accounts payable performance’. 

My take

Celonis understands that the more people it can get working with its process mining technology, and the more companies it can get using the data held within its platform for their own development activities, the quicker it can accelerate growth. The customer stories really help Celonis’ case here, particularly within the context of an uncertain macroeconomic environment where investment decisions are being focused on vendors that can deliver savings quickly (again, a good reason to prioritize ease of use and speed to value). 

It’s worth highlighting that these strategic levers are being fuelled by Celonis’ recent investments in what it is calling an ‘expanded data foundation’ - where it is shifting focus to object centric process mining. On this point, Krishnan said: 

An object centric data model ultimately enables you to have a single data representation of how the business runs. It really powers that digital twin, which ultimately should lead to a better quality of prediction and better quality of execution. 

But the key thing that I would keep in mind when thinking about this data model is that the one reason that it's simpler is because it leverages the language of the business: invoices, sales orders, purchase orders, etc. It’s a more intuitive model and a representation of how the business operates. 

Ease of use and understanding is key to all of this and we look forward to hearing from the customers that are seeing the results of these investments. 

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