BMW calls for vendor openness in quest to mine its own processes

'Software companies try to extend their reach and their usage, but this can't be by locking in users,' says process mining lead

BMW's process mining leader has called for greater openness among enterprise application and software vendors to avoid data lock-in.

Process mining aims to extract data from application logs and other data sources to build models of how people execute processes, as opposed to how they were designed — there can be a big difference in complex, ever-changing organizations.

It is designed to help improve current processes, lay the groundwork for process change, and help with the rollout of new enterprise applications. Global pharma biz GSK, for example, used software from Celonis to discover it had around 28,000 different variations for the process of running a sales order in preparation for an SAP unification project.

Automotive manufacturer BMW has used Celonis since 2017. Other customers include German industrial giant Siemens, health and consumer products firm Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo.

Dr Patrick Lechner, BMW's head of process mining and robotic process automation, said that if application and platform vendors were more open, it could help in process mining.

"One topic [for improvement] is the software stack has to be very open. At BMW, we have got a lot of different software products in place and it's very important that we can really connect them… both to get the data out and also to analyze the data further," he told The Register.

"It's very important that [to use] open platforms, they don't have this strong lock-in so can't connect to any other system. This is really crucial for our success because we always want to use the best tool for the right purpose," he added.

Yet the question remains whether big software platforms are open enough. Dr Lechner said: "different software companies try to extend their reach and their usage, but this can't be by locking in users… and I think this is very crucial for us. It has to happen by adding features that benefit users."

BMW was founded in 1916 as a manufacturer of aircraft engines. As well as the global motor car and motorcycle brands, BMW owns iconic British marques Mini and Rolls-Royce. It is one of the top ten manufacturers in the sector worldwide and posted revenue of €155.5 billion ($166 billion) in 2023.

The company is in the midst of migrating from legacy SAP ERP systems based on the ECC platform to S/4HANA in the cloud. In January last year, BMW announced it had signed up for the RISE with SAP program, in which SAP joins forces with cloud providers, consultants, and systems integrators to present one-hand-to-shake in an effort to lift, shift, and transform applications and processes. BMW has already employed the new platform at the MINI Plant in Oxford, England, for parts logistics, finance and control.

BMW Group's ECC system is said to contain more than 30 TB in data, all set to transition to the new platform.

But the migration from ECC to S/4HANA and the cloud is not simply a software upgrade. It requires a rethink of business processes as users are expected to abandon customizations they coded on the older platform in preference for a "clean core" ERP in S/4HANA, with configured add-ons in the cloud, although there is scope for new coding in the ABAP Cloud.

As part of the RISE with SAP package, the ERP vendor has pushed customers to use its Signavio process mining tech, which it acquired in 2021. SAP said Signavio helps organizations "understand [their] existing processes and build a business case for migration… to uncover potential benefits and improvements."

Lechner said BMW was still assessing whether it would use Signavio for the SAP transformation project, but he told us Celonis is likely to become part of it.

"This is a very important topic — SAP transformation — and we are in talks with colleagues to [find] the right tool. There are tools built within SAP but, there is also transformation across different systems and not only within SAP… but also involving systems outside of SAP. So it's not black and white. In the case of the SAP transformation, we're currently evaluating how to use which tool to the best effect, but we will also use Celonis for certain aspects of those projects," he said.

While BWM's SAP transformation might be one of the biggest technology topics internally, Lechner said there were broader business ambitions for process mining. For example, the automotive giant is trying to understand how it interacts with customers, as, like others in the sector, it deals with them more directly, rather than through dealers.

"That's a big topic: we are currently looking into the customer journey. The retail model of BMW is currently changing... We're in the early stages, but we've seen some good ideas and some first good results," he said. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like