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Siemens uses process mining software to improve manufacturing visibility

Prior to implementing process mining tools, manufacturer Siemens had little visibility into production bottlenecks and other operational issues. Now, it can see the sources of the problems more clearly.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is particularly true for manufacturers when it comes to process mining, an analytics application that offers a view into business processes.

"What we do is provide X-ray pictures," said Lars Reinkemeyer, head of global process mining services at Siemens AG. "We used to not have tools to get transparency [into] these big volumes of data. Now, we wonder why we'd never looked into process efficiency before."

The German manufacturing conglomerate, which produces systems and components for the industrial automation, healthcare, energy, building and transportation markets, used to have little visibility into the efficiency of its internal processes. So, two years ago, it started collecting and analyzing ERP data to try to identify bottlenecks in production, delivery and payment processes.

It all starts with Siemens' 70 SAP ERP systems. They tie into processes that track things such as supplier information, the movement of parts throughout the company's manufacturing operations, and billing and payment. Eventually, the ERP data is fed into an SAP HANA database and Reinkemeyer and his team analyze it using a process intelligence tool from Celonis, a software vendor based in Munich.

Process mining software replaces manual tracking

Before implementing the HANA-based system in 2014, Siemens managed its business processes manually. Individual supervisors were responsible for keeping particular processes on track, but when things didn't go according to schedule -- say, when a shipment of parts came in late or when a machine broke down, stalling production -- there was little visibility into how that affected overall operations.

"Prior to this, people were looking into single processes and trying to understand how [they] impacted how other things were going," Reinkemeyer said. "What we're doing now gives us transparency."

Reinkemeyer said he thinks this new transparency is a big improvement on how things were run in the past, but not everyone at Siemens agreed -- at least not initially. He said there was pushback from some managers who had been in their roles for a long time and thought they knew how to handle processes efficiently.

Change management critical for success

Much like with medical X-rays, some people might want all of the information that's available about processes, while others might prefer to avoid hearing bad news, according to Reinkemeyer.

"The point is about change management and the willingness to look into this new big data approach," he said. "There are certain business managers who are saying, 'We've done it for years. It's all running fine.' But we have an increasing number of people who are recognizing that this is a new approach."

Reinkemeyer said he has had luck driving analytics adoption among business managers by identifying the individuals who have been receptive to the new approach and tapping them to help evangelize the technology. Also, since the process mining software was installed, some lines of business that are using it have seen operational improvements. So far, the automated process monitoring has helped Siemens identify slowdowns in parts procurement, late deliveries of products and billing inefficiencies that were costing the company millions of dollars.

Word has spread, and adoption is ticking up. And with such improvements becoming more apparent internally, Reinkemeyer expects everyone to eventually see the benefits of adopting the new tools. "It's really about finding the right people in the business departments who are willing to improve their processes," he said. 

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