Einstein Questionnaire

Jan Mendling

How do you explain your research project to non-specialists?

I deal with the analysis, improvement and support of business processes. Typically, the first thing I say is: "Processes are everywhere." Reading this text is a process, as is selecting people for an Einstein professorship and much more. And with these two examples, you can already see a significant difference. I can read the text on my own, but the selection process involves a large number of participants. We speak of business processes when a process is carried out based on a division of labour and directed towards an organizational goal. We have one foot in economics and the other in computer science. In computer science, we are interested in the possibilities of analyzing, improving and supporting business processes with the help of information systems. The challenge is to include both technical and organizational aspects in the analysis.


If your research were a sculpture or a painting, what would it look like?

My research would focus less on the artwork itself and more on the process of its creation and use. After all, a work of art doesn't suddenly appear: it is not always created by the hand of one person, but also through the collaboration of many. The wrapping of the Reichstag by the artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a good example of this. Ninety climbers alone worked together to install 100,000 m2 of fabric and 15 km of rope. How do you get such a complex process well organized, how can information systems help? However, works of art are rarely considered in our research. There are many opportunities for process support, especially when it comes to recurring services and predefined products.


Talking about science communication: Which research topics do you think deserve more (media) attention?

Digitization is discussed too superficially in the media and is often misunderstood by decision-makers. It's not about more, it's about better. Better is only possible by removing barriers and simplifying and integrating processes. Let's take the example of public administration. It is organized according to the principle of residual sovereignty. For me as a citizen, this is about the same as if I, as a car buyer, bought the chassis from Volkswagen, ordered the electronics from Bosch, the tires from Continential, etc., and had to assemble everything myself. In the same way, as a citizen, I often have to run from office to office, from resort to resort, to get the necessary stamps. It is not enough to provide more budget. You have to define responsibilities for processes and organize the flow of information consistently. Instead of trying to map complicated processes in information systems, you must first simplify them. In business, this requires management; in government, it requires legislation.


Imagine getting into a time machine and traveling 100 years into the future. How will your discipline have evolved?

Thanks for the question: I probably won't live to see how wrong I was. I think we will work much less with text and much more with images and spoken language to organize and coordinate business processes. That's a big challenge for computer science. We need to be able to handle this kind of data as well as we can handle structured data today. But it is also a great opportunity to support many processes in an even leaner and more convenient way.


What advice would you like to give to students and young academics?

A lot of it is hard work, there are no secret tricks or sneaky ways. You should work in science because you enjoy it and it's about the cause.


May 2021