Cross-System Process Mining using RFID Technology
Christian Glaschke, Norbert Gronau and Benedict Bender
Chair of Business Information Systems, especially Systems and Processes, University of Potsdam,
August-Bebel-Straße 89, Potsdam, Germany
{cglaschke, ngronau, bbender}
Keywords: Process Mining, RFID, Production, Cross-System.
Abstract: In times of digitalization, the collection and modeling of business processes is still a challenge for companies.
The demand for trustworthy process models that reflect the actual execution steps therefore increases. The
respective kinds of processes significantly determine both, business process analysis and the conception of
future target processes and they are the starting point for any kind of change initiatives. Existing approaches
to model as-is processes, like process mining, are exclusively focused on reconstruction. Therefore,
transactional protocols and limited data from a single application system are used. Heterogeneous application
landscapes and business processes that are executed across multiple application systems, on the contrary, are
one of the main challenges in process mining research. Using RFID technology is hence one approach to close
the existing gap between different application systems. This paper focuses on methods for data collection
from real world objects via RFID technology and possible combinations with application data (process
mining) in order to realize a cross system mining approach.
Since more than 20 years, business process
management is the leading paradigm for organizing
and restructuring of corporations and public entities.
Although nearly all kinds of companies use business
process management in certain areas, there are still
some challenges that need further analysis. To name
only a few, we can draw the reader’s attention to the
following issues (Gronau, 2016):
Improving learning while performing a business
Improved usage of person-bound knowledge that
is generated in or used during the business
Establishment of PDCA cycles (plan-do-check-
act) in process management to be able to detect
deviations and to correct them without
interrupting the business process.
Typical business processes nowadays are
supported by enterprise systems like ERP, CRM
or SCM systems. Nevertheless, there are normally
deviations between the intended process covered
by the ERP and the process actually performed by
the company (Gronau, 2015)
Irrespective of the high degree of automation, in
most business processes, the human-machine
interface is more important than ever because
automated business processes inevitably have to
be interrupted to allow the human being to decide
or do something in order to propel the entire
process. Today, however, the description of
human interfaces is not intuitive at all.
Last but not least, an increased real world
awareness for nowadays available business
process objects (like information, persons or
customers’ material) is needed. Also approaches
to integrate these kinds of information into the
respective processes are more necessary than
Valid models of business processes are the basis
for every optimization approach. Process mining has
already shown some merits in some realms and is able
to measure the actual performance of a business
process - partially with the help of existing process
models. Nevertheless, existing process mining
approaches are limited in their scope to a single
information system. Overcoming this barrier would
not only bring the monitoring closer to the actual
business process, it could also mean a big step ahead
in the direction of process model discovery.
A main obstacle on the road to model
improvement is the recognition of two entities with
Glaschke C., Gronau N. and Bender B.
Cross-System Process Mining using RFID Technology.
DOI: 10.5220/0006223501790186
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design (BMSD 2016), pages 179-186
ISBN: 978-989-758-190-8
2016 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
different IDs in different information systems being
one and the same (role, object, instance) in the real
business process. For this purpose, i.e. to close this
gap, this paper suggests to use RFID (Radio-
frequency identification) technology.
The focus of the present paper lies on the recognition
of processes in heterogeneous application landscapes.
In the course of digitalization, a lot of data on a
company’s business processes have become
available. For instance, position vectors of real
objects by means of RFID technology (Zhang et al.,
2012), cyber-physical systems are able to realize
process components autonomously and application
systems have to be integrated over several levels in
order to meet the requirements. To develop a system
in this environment that allows for the reproduction
and understanding of the business process is therefore
the problem to be solved by the present work. This
problem has already been defined and treated in other
studies (Van der Aalst et al., 2012, Glaschke, 2015)
and it aims at overcoming the system barriers. To
achieve this aim, especially process mining is used,
as this approach allows for an identification of
process patterns through the analysis of a system’s
log files. The key idea of the present article is
therefore to combine process mining with the data
from RFID systems to thereby gain a comprehensive
view on business processes.
In order to solve this problem, this paper will
follow the Design Science Research Methodology
(DSRM). According to Peffers et al. (2007) the
DSRM involves six steps. Section one and two relate
to the first two steps of the DSRM approach, namely
the problem identification and definition of
objectives. Section three discusses related techniques
and technologies that could assist the cross-system
based process mining. Section four corresponds to the
design and development phase since it specifies the
solution for cross-system based process mining.
Furthermore, the second subsection demonstrates the
solution with a theoretical example which relates to
the demonstration phase. The evaluation of the
approach needs to be conducted in an experimental
setting for which the approach is described in the fifth
section of this paper. With regard to the
communication step the approach is presented in this
paper, while the evaluation results will be published
in further papers as well as necessary modifications
of the approach.
Finally, the results will be critically discussed and
an outlook will be given. The DSRM (Design Science
research methodology) seems appropriate since the
approach is motivated by theoretical as well as
practical issues and involves the design of an
appropriate solution for the given problem and it´s
For this paper, two research topics are of utmost
importance. First, we will focus on process mining to
identify the existing cross application approaches of
this method.
The second relevant research topic is the
technology of RFID. With respect to this issue, we
will particularly focus on works that link these two
approaches. Concerning the technology of RFID, we
will especially explore the question of how the data is
recorded in the application landscape and how it is
provided for further processing.
At the end of this section, a brief summary of the
existing research gap and the most important
corresponding findings will be given.
3.1 Process Mining
A well-known approach for process discovery is the
concept of process mining, which was developed by
Van der Aalst and his research group at the Technical
University of Eindhoven (The Netherlands). This
approach uses log files from application systems (for
instance ERP systems) to reconstruct process models.
To be successful in that effort, the application system
has to provide the information needed in a specific
manner (i.e. as shown in Table 1).
Table 1: Example of a log file.
PID Activity Worker Timestamp
452 registration 55 2011-12-24, 11:10:21
452 investigation 56 2011-12-24, 11:15:21
452 consulting 33 2011-12-24, 12:17:10
452 dismissal 55 2011-12-24, 12:47:11
453 registration 55 2011-12-24, 11:16:35
453 investigation 56 2011-12-24, 11:27:12
453 consulting 12 2011-12-24, 11:52:37
453 dismissal 55 2011-12-24, 11:59:54
454 registration 55 2011-12-24, 11:11:21
454 investigation 55 2011-12-24, 11:15:21
An important component needed for this listing of
Sixth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
process instances is the process identification number
(PID). This number is used to create a process
diagram based on more than just one process instance
(Van der Aalst, 2012). In the background, petri
networks are used here (i) to allow for the generation
of process diagrams, (ii) to describe the different
conditions of the process and (iii) to create a graph for
visualization purposes and analysis (Van der Aalst,
2011a; Accorsi, 2012).
In an article from Thiede and Fuerstenau (2016),
an extensive literature review on this topic is
presented. Therefore, the top 20 AIS Journals
between 2004 and 2015 are analysed. Additionally,
literature from production and organisational journals
have been screened for process mining and RFID
implementation publications. It could be concluded
that the usage of RFID to close the gap has not been
researched so far.
As can be deduced from Thiede and Fuerstenau
(2016), many research projects concentrate on the
field of “digital services” and among these especially
on the subtype of single systems. Thiede and
Fuerstenau (2016) define the concept of “service”
broadly as “the application of specialized knowledge
skills through deeds, processes, and performances for
the benefit of customers (Vargo and Lusch, 2004, p.
2). For instance, a customer buying an article in a web
shop (digital service) receives it by a dispatching
service (non-digital).”
Out of this studies the work on Cross-System
Process Mining is analyzed. There are different
approaches with wide scattered areas of application.
Now we describe the most important ones. The first
approach deals with data from smart environments.
The main result is an algorithm to mine frequent
patterns (Wen, 2015).
Another work deals with the theme of end to end
Process Management. The authors describe
implications for theory and practice based on the end
to end process management approach. Especially the
technological challenge is highlighted in the
investigation of end to end processes (Madder et al.,
Cross-organizational observations of processes,
however, have so far only been presented by very few
studies and also these work primarily focused the
aspect of workflow synchronization. An example of
this specific application of process mining is given by
Zeng et al., (2013).
Zeng et al., (2013) define in their work several
approaches for the synchronization of different log
1. Coordinated with synchronized activities.
2. Coordinated with messages exchanged.
3. Coordinated with shared resources.
4. Coordinated with abstract procedures.
These four coordination patterns can generally be
used to link the different log files from various
companies. Nevertheless, this solution proposal is
based on the assumption that the respective processes
remain closed systems only linked to each other at
some specific points. As examples hereof, we can cite
the cases of goods delivery (activity) or document
exchange (messages). Based on these patterns, rules
can be defined that determine when exactly a
synchronization takes place in two log files or
3.2 RFID
Today and due to digitalization, data on numerous
business objects is available. So, for instance, the
position vectors of an object can nowadays be
calculated in real-time due to RFID technologies
(Yingfeng et al., 2012). These data can then be used
to analyze the goods flow like demonstrated, for
example, in Jakkhupan (2012). For this purpose, the
objects involved in the process are first tracked and
then the respective data is saved.
Figure 1: RFID infrastructure (Krishna, 2007).
In a typical RFID infrastructure as shown in
Figure 1, the readers send unprocessed data to an
application system. In other architectures,
middleware has to be used for this purpose (Abad et
al., 2012). Furthermore, cross system communication
is made possible by writing collected information on
the RFID tag to be read out and further processed at
other points in the process (Finkenzeller, 2015).
A combination of both technologies, i.e. of RFID
and process mining, has already been used by Zhou
(2010) for the reconstruction of health care processes.
For this approach, the techniques of process mining
were applied to both, log files and the RFID
Cross-System Process Mining using RFID Technology
infrastructure. In doing so, it could be evidenced that
the log files of RFID infrastructures are also suitable
for being used in the context of process mining
applications and techniques (Gonzalez, 2006).
Fernandez et al., (2015) use a similar approach
working with indoor location systems to collect data
on different business objects in order to draw
conclusions concerning the corresponding processes.
For this second step, the authors also work with
process mining techniques.
3.3 Evaluation
Particularly from a reading of the work of Zeng et al.,
(2013), the question arises of how the present paper
will distinguish from previous research.
Synchronization of workflow models has already
been described extensively in literature. Hence, this
article primarily differs, on the one hand, with respect
to the investigated area, as here company internal
processes are investigated. On the other hand, in our
approach, the different workflow models from the
single application systems shall be integrated and not
just synchronized. Thus, we aim at establishing an
end-to-end business process that is interconnected
across the different system boundaries. To achieve
this goal, it is for example suitable to work with the
shared resources approach (Chapter 3.2), with the
respective data being tracked – in our case – by RFID
systems. In choosing this solution, it is not necessary
that both systems use the same denomination or ID
for one and the same object (Chapter 4).
In order to achieve the target to extract reliable and
encompassing models of process execution, it is
nowadays necessary to link information from
multiple information systems. This is due to the fact
that business processes involve different functional
areas within a company which are usually using
highly specialized software applications in order to
fulfill their tasks. As a result hereof, companies’
application landscapes involve many different
application systems, each executing a little part of the
overarching process (Fuerstenau and Glaschke,
4.1 Requirements and Objectives of the
Established techniques like process mining are con-
ceptualized to evaluate information from single
information systems. Typically, for this purpose, log
files from one information system are analyzed. In
this procedure, firstly log entries are grouped
according to their affiliation (e.g. by assorting all log
entries that belong to a certain PID), secondly
dependencies and chronological consecutions are
analyzed and thirdly and finally all the
aforementioned bits of information are aggregated in
a workflow model.
In order to face now the challenge to model
complex cross-system processes, the concept of
process mining shall be complemented by a linking
technology in order to be able to model complete
business processes that are not limited to a single
information system. This linking technique shall
allow for a combination of the different sub-process
models that could be extracted from the different
information systems participating in the overarching
One essential precondition of this approach is that
each information system that forms a part of the
overall process is connected with the RFID
infrastructure. This is necessary for the PID from the
information system to be passed to the RFID
Another necessary prerequisite for this solution is
that the PIDs from the different information systems
are unique, i.e. that they are working with different
number ranges. Only in this way, each process
instance can be identified unequivocally.
Besides, also the given RFID tag must identify the
objects unequivocally by ignoring the sharing or
merging of RFID tag numbers.
Thus, our aim is to facilitate the integration of
various log files and the therein contained process
instances as illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Fundamental procedure for log file integration.
The combination of information system log files
Process Mining
Sixth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
with RFID data should reveal the overarching process
model which is composed of single system specific
process models that are combined in the appropriate
order. One of the major challenges in this context is
to identify corresponding sub-processes in the
different information systems. In order to face this
challenge, a distinct linkage between the different
sub-process models is needed.
Just like in case of process mining, configurations
have to be made within the information systems for
the created log files to provide an uninterrupted
description of the process instances. To achieve this,
each generated instance has to pass the current
process ID to the RFID infrastructure at known
interconnection points. This PID is then saved on the
respective RFID tag. To make this possible, scanning
processes must be performed at specific process
steps. Ideally, these scans will take place at the
beginning and end of a process.
In order to realize the linkage between the
different information systems, two kinds of physical
components are needed. The first component are
containers that physically accompany the different
sub-process steps through the entire process. This
kind of containers is set up in the first process, which
is executed in the ERP system. At this point, an empty
container is equipped with an RFID-tag that has a
unique ID.
The second component is the aforementioned
infrastructure of RFID gates, which is used to scan the
containers accompanying the different process steps.
Figure 3 illustrates how the individual scanning
processes are registered as entries on the RFID tag.
To allow for this kind of documentation, the involved
application systems have to be customized
accordingly. This customization procedure is already
standard in case of process mining applications (Van
der Aalst, 2011b). This technique, however,
additionally requires that when scanning the RFID
tags, the data is passed and stored. This also requires
the appropriate configuration of the participating
application systems.
Yet, this solution proposal is just one variant.
Another method would consist in passing the
unequivocal RFID tag ID to the information systems
to be saved there. In this case, the tag ID would have
to be written to the logs of the application systems.
Another possible approach would be to log the
identity within the RFID architecture. As here the
respective functionality needed to log the scan
processes is given, this variant will be favored in the
context of our validation.
Figure 3: Data structure on the RFID tag after scanning.
4.2 Approach for an Integration
Although the here presented solution proposals seem
to be convincing, there is a significant gap between
the processing through information technology and
reality. Whereas in an information system tasks can
already be performed without the necessity of a
concrete processing object with RFID tag to exist, in
reality and as shown in figure 4, there will always be
overlapping time entries in the log files.
As strategy for our integration procedure, we
therefore have to take the following steps: The
process steps will have to be passed to the result log
following their chronological order and in doing so,
Figure 4: Basic procedure for log file integration (for one process instance).
Process ID - A212
Process ID - B315
Process ID - C233
ID: 1223
System Date
C233 MES
2015-10-24, 11:10:21
2015-10-26, 13:15:35
2015-10-28, 08:17:45
2015-10-26, 09:08:43
Process ID - A212
Process flow
Step - 4
Step - 3
Step - 24
Step - 30
Cross-System Process Mining using RFID Technology
the PIDs from the application systems will have to be
replaced by the PID on the RFID tag. For this
purpose, the algorithm goes through the entries on the
RFID tag, systematically replacing the PIDs in the log
files, to afterwards copy the lines into one new
contiguous result log file.
The process mining procedure which further
processes the result log file then uses the
corresponding algorithms in order to reconstruct the
workflow with the aid of the time entries. Associated
examples and algorithms for this procedure are
presented by de Medeiros et al. (2003). For the
validation of this approach, an appropriate data model
is needed which is illustrated in Figure 5. Each RFID
reader is assigned to one place and one application
system. The RFID readers generate log entries,
which, in turn, are assigned to just one business
object. In our case, it is the read data and the written
data that is logged. Then, the software passes the
reading and writing processes to the assigned
application system.
Figure 5: Data Model of RFID Management Software.
Furthermore, we developed a process to be used
for validation that can also serve as reference for the
obtained result models. This process was designed to
reflect the typical production process of a
manufacturing company and it comprises the
following phases:
To begin with, one order with several items results
in different manufacturing jobs in the ERP system.
Next, the corresponding components are
commissioned and the production container is
packed. Afterwards, the order is scanned for the first
time and is passed on to the transport system (TS),
which moves the container to the first free
workstation. Subsequently, several production steps
are carried out in MES (Manufacturing Executin
System). At different process steps, the container is
scanned for identification purposes. In order to
measure the product properties, the data is handed
over to a quality management system and the
measurement results are documented. After this step,
the container is transported to the warehouse or
distribution center.
Even though the approach seems to solve a range
of problems with regard to the cross-system process
mining, it has to be remarked that this type of
aggregation cannot be used for all types of processes.
The applicability is limited to processes where the
physical parts, that are subsumed in the container, are
scanned at all of the involved information systems or
the data is passed, at least once, to each of the
participating information systems of the process. This
is due to the fact that the combination technique relies
on a briding mechnism based on part handover.
In order to validate the concept for cross system
process modeling, several steps are necessary, which
need to be executed subsequently.
As a first step, an appropriate model composition
procedure needs to be realized in order to integrate
the different log files into one overarching log file. At
this point, and similar to the proceeding in process
model generation, the distinction of relevant and
irrelevant information determines the quality of the
composed overarching process model. This
composition process is supported by the information
from the RFID management software and, in
particular, by the unique IDs that are allocated by the
software component.
As a second step with regard to validation, the
experiment itself needs to be set up. Therefore, a
production setting is needed which allows for the
representation of the formerly defined process. This
stage involves physical components, such as some
kind of production machines, as well as the related
software infrastructure, which is composed of the
different systems mentioned in the process. Finally,
the RFID management software as well as the RFID
infrastructure including the containers have to be set
For the validation of our approach, a university
Industry 4.0 Laboratory is used. This laboratory is
equipped with several application systems like,
among others, an ERP and a MES system from the
company Asseco Solutions AG. Additionally,
different infrastructure components like robots,
transportation systems and a RFID infrastructure are
available. The manufacturing process can thus be
simulated through configuration of the components or
it can be actually performed (figure 6).
The RFID infrastructure consists of stationary and
portable RFID readers with which RFID tag
information can be read and written. For the simple
configuration of the RFID infrastructure, we have a
RFID reader
Log entry
Sixth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
Figure 7: Example process with RFID support.
management software that is used as middleware in
the laboratory plant.
Figure 6: Physical validation environment.
Besides, delivery planning takes place while the
production is in progress. Based on the thereby
elaborated scheduling list, the TS decides where to
transport the products (warehouse vs. distribution
center). These steps are also logged and get assigned
the PID from the ERP (Enterprise Ressource
Planning) system.
For validation the process should be executed
several times with different variations. Especially the
different mining algorithms from the process mining
software (Claes and Poels, 2012) will here have to be
tested and the respective results will have to be
compared. The validation will be successful when the
elaborated models actually reflect the process shown
in Figure 7.
In this paper, it could be demonstrated that a simple
and accessible method can close the gap between the
different systems and processes. For this purpose, the
concept of shared resources (Zeng et al., 2013) was
applied, which is already used in cross-organizational
approaches. Furthermore, it could be shown that the
RFID technology does already provide a solution
concept. Thus, we have succeeded in presenting a
cross system integration procedure.
If the results are achieved within the laboratory
environment, the question arises of whether the
approach will also function in practice and in more
complex environments with massive parallel
operations. All in all, the question remains of what
factors are responsible for the quality of results. Here,
on the one hand, the quality of the log files from the
application systems will definitely have to be taken
into consideration and, on the other hand, the number
of iterations needed to identify parallel and
independent process steps will be of importance. The
validation results will be published in further works.
In this paper, a simple setting was chosen to
demonstrate the benefits of the technology
combination of process mining and RFID. Future
work must continue to follow this trend. It is possible
to track more than one and different business objects.
The application system provides further information,
which can be used for the enrichment of process
model analysis. An example - in this case products
were anonymous, but they can be categorized in
future according to the product category. So it is
possible to structure the mined process model.
To follow the idea of end to end processes we
have to consider the supplier processes and other
support processes like maintenance. Therefore
laboratory environments with real applications
systems and physical components can help, to
establish the techniques in practice by showing
practical solutions and related benefits.
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Sixth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design