How process mining uses data to deliver sustainability gains

Janina Bauer, Global Head of Sustainability at Celonis
Sustainability needs to be embedded into business objectives and into every decision, says Janina Bauer, Global Head of Sustainability at Celonis

There has been much talk about technology solving the biggest sustainability challenges we face, yet much of that chatter is speculative and, frankly, positions technology as a silver bullet – giving companies an excuse to avoid making tough decisions.

However, technology is already helping businesses be more efficient – like process mining. 

Celonis is the global leader in process mining, which enables leaders to run their business processes based on data and intelligence – digging deep into existing data to unearth gains and efficiencies.

Founded in 2011, Celonis now has more than 3,000 employees, more than 5,000 enterprise customers, and is valued at US$13 billion after a billion-dollar Series D raise in 2021.

“Technology is crucial to measuring the sustainability of an organisation’s operations, which is the first step towards greener operations,” Janina Bauer, Global Head of Sustainability at Celonis, tells Sustainability magazine.

“Harnessing technologies such as process mining enables businesses to make more informed decisions by analysing operational processes using event logs. Process mining works like an ‘X-Ray’ on existing data allowing business leaders to understand the full journey of the goods they sell, highlighting value opportunities and allowing them to make more informed decisions around sustainability.” 

Bauer says having this holistic overview of internal processes offers IT leaders the ability to measure and drive sustainability, collaborate with suppliers and measure performance against best practice models. Data from process mining can find value opportunities across many different systems. For instance, when it comes to transporting goods, process data can help business leaders to compress lead times and avoid bottlenecks, which cuts emissions and can also provide useful cost savings. 

Barriers to making progress on sustainability

Like all good ideas, it’s brilliantly simple – pulling together existing data to provide useful solutions, but Bauer says business leaders still need to change their thinking about sustainability to leverage process mining.

“The main barrier holding businesses back from real progress on sustainability is the inaccurate perception of sustainability as a cost, along with siloed, unconnected systems which prevent business leaders truly understanding their carbon footprint,” she says. 

The average business process runs across 10 different systems, and many companies have more than 300 IT applications and systems. For most organisations, the data required to take a real-time view of the whole organisation’s carbon footprint, including Scope 3, is already there. 

The problem is that the data is buried in several different siloed systems, from transactional data in ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to siloed tools and Excel spreadsheets. Process mining can help business leaders extract this data from multiple different sources, and begin the journey towards making progress on sustainability. 

That progress is essential, not just to battle climate change, but also for the health of the business, and more and more leaders are starting to understand that there is no longer any separation between an organisation’s business strategy and their sustainability strategy. 

“High-performing organisations are the ones that are both sustainable and profitable,” says Bauer. “For a company to be future-proofed, leaders need to be on top of both aspects, especially as consumers and customers are increasingly environmentally conscious in the way they purchase and engage with businesses. 

“Sustainability needs to be embedded into business objectives and into every decision. Everybody has a part to play in an organisation’s sustainability journey, whether or not they have the word ‘sustainability’ in their job title.”

Bauer is in that position, of course, and has long held a passion for exploring the big ideas around sustainability and technology. Sustainability has been a core part of her career since the very start and Bauer even completed a Master’s degree in Business Administration with a focus on sustainability, long before sustainability was mainstream for businesses. 

“I also worked at the United Nations, analysing the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals,” she says. “In 2020, the opportunity to join Celonis arose and I took over the company’s sustainability programme, working with customers and partners to operationalise sustainability in their business processes using the Celonis Platform.”

Sustainability needs to run through the entire business 

Of course, it’s important for Celonis to practice what it preaches, and taking action on sustainability means delivering real change internally as well as real value externally. 

“I oversee our ESG reporting at Celonis. We are investing heavily in achieving net-zero for our organisation, and have committed to near and long-term science-based targets in line with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTI) Net-Zero Standard,” says Bauer. 

“We have also joined multiple coalitions to further our ambitions, including Business Ambition for 1.5C, the We Mean Business Coalition and Race to Zero. We monitor our emissions in line with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and our sustainability reports include our full Scope 1-3 emissions, including emissions from procurement. 

“We believe that we stand at a moment of opportunity in terms of sustainability, and that process intelligence offers answers to some of the biggest problems around sustainability. One of our key value propositions is to deliver green value for our customers.”

Bauer admits that on its own, process mining cannot fully tackle climate change, but says the technology shouldn’t be underestimated as a way for organisations to find hidden value opportunities and make advancements in sustainability.

Bauer believes many leaders have the right intention when it comes to sustainability, but need to back up their pledges with tangible outcomes, harnessing technologies that can turn words into actions. 

“There’s increasing recognition among businesses that sustainability isn’t something that you just acknowledge, or something that can be solved simply by having a sustainability department. Sustainability needs to run through the entire business and remain central to every process, every practice,” says Bauer. 

“It’s correctly seen as a growth driver by many forward-thinking global business leaders. There are, unfortunately, still some leaders who wrongly perceive sustainability as too complex or expensive, or see it as a secondary priority. But in reality, the green line and bottom line go hand-in-hand.”

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