Can We Skip to the Good Part? Back vs. Front Office Process Discovery

Written by:
Suzanne Sorbera

Early adoption of enterprise technology is often limited to more easily addressable use cases before scaling across the enterprise as value is delivered. Intelligent automation is following this established path. It starts with a business unit tackling an established and well-documented area of interest. If successful after a few cycles, interest across the enterprise grows and a centralized Center of Excellence (CoE) is organized to manage adoption and utilization. When demand outstrips capacity, a federated structure may evolve as the organization fully embraces the technology, pushing resources into the business units while maintaining a core governance team.

Back Office Discovery – Lower Risk & Lower Return

For intelligent automation, including process discovery technology, the journey typically starts in the back-office functions of an enterprise. The back office consists of the administrative parts of the organization that support day-to-day operations but don’t directly generate revenue for the business. The employees typically don’t directly interact with customers and focus on making sure operations run efficiently. Back-office departments include IT, HR, Finance and Compliance.

Back-office activities tend to be more structured and involve a limited number of core systems. They also tend to have less potential adverse impact on the business if something goes wrong since value tends to focus on cost savings rather than revenue growth. There are certainly exceptions around the potential costs of a data breach or regulatory fine for example, but generally back-office processes are a less risky area for companies to explore and validate the benefit of intelligent automation and process discovery.

Front Office Discovery – Higher Risk & Higher Return

Greater risk delivers greater rewards, and experience de-risks a program as governance expands and employees upskill. Companies turn to front-office activities as their intelligent automation programs mature. The front office is primarily responsible for interacting with prospects and customers. From processing orders to handling service calls, this area of the organization is responsible for growing revenue. Front-office departments include marketing, sales and the contact center.

To quantify the potential impact of tackling front-office operations with intelligent automation, IDC reports that organizations leak 20-30% of their revenue through inefficient processes. Companies simply don’t understand how they operate, especially at a granular user activity level required to make a significant improvement. They can recognize and generally describe their order-to-cash process, but they have trouble detailing how exactly a credit block gets triggered and corrected. Below a level 3 process, it is essentially all noise from an organization’s perspective.

Market Leaders Look to the Front Office

As process discovery technologies have experienced greater interest and adoption in the market in recent years, companies have started to transition to front-office services looking for greater program value. While procurement (67%) and accounting (60%) are the top two areas for companies to utilize process mining in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Process Mining Survey, sales (49%) is number 3 and customer service (36%) is number 7.

Companies making the shift from back-office to front-office process discovery need to adjust their practices to the particular use cases. As with any complex change program, it is about more than just the technology. The people and process dimensions of transformation need to be leveraged to deliver a successful outcome.

Five Considerations for Front Office Discovery Success

Many factors need to be considered when planning and delivering front-office process discovery. Here are five of the top considerations to help deliver a positive outcome and uncover the expected value for the organization.

  1. Less Structure – Data from front-office systems tends to be less structured and less standardized. You are not always dealing with 1’s and 0’s. Additionally the data tends to have a more gaps, and you need to be careful with which algorithm is used as certain ones perform better when data is not as clean.
  2. Greater Range – The number of applications involved in a front-office process tends to be larger. While you are often dealing with fewer legacy and mainframe applications, you are often dealing with more systems. In process mining, when case ID is often needed to track the activity across systems, multiple applications can create challenges.
  3. Stability and Capability – Process stability refers to how consistent the activity is completed across cycles, while capability indicates whether the process actually meets the needs of the customer. Back-office processes are generally more stable and consistent because the activities are more standardized, but these dimensions take on greater influence with front-office discovery.
  4. Customer Experience – When you are exploring front-office processes, customer experience obviously needs to be top-of-mind. It is a non-issue in the back office. Accordingly, it helps to align front-office process discovery efforts with customer journey maps to ensure customer expectations are not ignored in the quest for improvement.
  5. Human – Agent Teaming – Because front-office work is customer-facing, there needs to be greater awareness of human in the loop activities when discovering processes. Customer expectations vary, and just because a task can be automated, it does not mean it should be automated.

Operational Diagnostics Provide an Assist

The challenges for front-office process discovery can be overcome with experience and structured planning. For organizations looking to take the next step in their intelligent automation journey, the front-office is a potential goldmine for process discovery to uncover hidden gems that drive tremendous value from the organization. A robust operational diagnostics exercise can help jump start the program. By taking a systematic approach to identifying all the processes performed in a business unit and triaging them for discovery, organizations can create ​detailed assessments on discovery candidates to build a robust delivery pipeline, prioritized according to organizational-defined drivers, such as strategic benefit, ROI, and risk reduction.

As with many emerging technology programs, if you are interested in process discovery, start small, go fast and think big.

Have questions or need more information on Process Discovery? Contact our team


Written by:
Suzanne Sorbera