Prof. Dr. Wil van der Aalst

Professor of Computer Science at RWTH Aachen

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»Half of the Fortune 500 companies already use process mining, often with spectacular savings and improvements in terms of time and quality.«

Prof. Dr. Wil van der Aalst works as a professor for computer science and is an expert in Process and Data Science (PADS) at RWTH Aachen University. Furthermore he is Chief Scientist at Celonis. About the know-how transfer from science to economy.

Prof. Dr. Wil van der Aalst, © RWTH Aachen

You are a leading expert in process mining. What is that exactly?
Process mining unlocks the value of event data hidden in information systems. This way, it is possible to see what is really going on in a process or organization. This is often very different from what people think and shows the potential.  Process mining reveals, diagnoses, and predicts performance and compliance problems. Moreover, it can automatically trigger corrective actions.

How can companies from NRW benefit from process mining?
Half of the Fortune 500 companies already use process mining, often with spectacular savings and improvements in terms of time and quality. Process mining can be applied to any process, for example, in production, finance, logistics, insurance, transportation, education, and healthcare. Organizations in NRW should better use the expert knowledge that is available at RWTH Aachen University and Fraunhofer FIT. We are there to help.

How can knowledge from research be transferred to economy?
According to Gartner, there are currently around 40 software companies based on our process mining research conducted over the last 22 years. I used the approach to create open-source software and encouraged as many people as possible to “steal our ideas” and create startups. We created open-source software that demonstrated the applicability of our ideas, but I also realized that a university is not a software company. Our research benefits from the incredible success of Celonis. This way, our research results are applied in thousands of organizations handling processes with billions of events.

Which opportunities do you see in the use of process mining, for example in the sector medicine?
Although we published a book on process mining in healthcare in 2015, the application is still in its initial phase. We are now using process mining to analyze the treatment of Covid patients, and there are a few companies specializing in this. However, the biggest hurdle is of an organizational nature. The German healthcare system is very inefficient and expensive (over 11% of GDP), but there are many stakeholders that would like to keep it like this. Hence, the government should replace bureaucratic rules with process mining to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system.

What do you think is the current AI trend?
What is considered AI shifts over time. The moment something actually works as intended, people stop calling it AI. Process mining kind of skipped this phase and worked well without first being hyped in the media. I see process mining as an enabler for machine-learning algorithms in companies. After creating process models closely aligned with event data, it is fairly straightforward to apply neural networks. The difficult step is to discover the underlying process model. 

Prof. Dr. Wil van der Aalst has held the Chair of “Informatik 9 for Process and Data Science” (PADS) at RWTH Aachen University since 2018. He is often called the “godfather of process mining” and is Chief Scientist at the German start-up Celonis. He also works part-time at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) and is a member of the Board of Governors of Tilburg University. Wil van der Aalst is a worldwide expert in Process Mining, Business Process Management, Workflow Management, Simulation, Concurrency, and Process Modelling. In 2020 Prof. van der Aalst was appointed as 2020 Fellow by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for his “contributions to process mining, process management and data science”. He is also an IEEE fellow and IFIP fellow. Prof. van der Aalst has published more than 250 journal papers, 22 books (as author or editor), 550 refereed conference/workshop publications, and 80 book chapters. He is regarded as one of the most cited computer scientists of the world.