The Role of a COE in Enabling Scalable Intelligent Automation

3 min read
Role of an Automation Center of Excellence

As more companies make use of RPA and Intelligent Automation, the question about the role of an automation center of excellence (COE) becomes more critical. It might seem surprising, but while the adoption of automation in business is happening at breakneck speed, the rate of COE adoption has stayed low, with as few as 37% of all companies stating they have one at all. This creates challenges for implementing automation at scale, because the center of excellence can play a crucial role in this process.

Role of an Automation Center of Excellence

The purpose of a COE in implementing Intelligent Automation includes three significant actions:

  • setting up the automation strategy and vision (Strategize)

  • driving the governance and adoption of the best practices (Manage)

  • implementing RPA and ML use cases (Operate)

Let’s review each of them in detail.

Three significant actions for Intelligent Automation


One of the critical activities of an automation COE should be presenting the enterprise-wide vision and strategy for Intelligent Automation and digital transformation. Many organizations state that although they aim to achieve scale with their automation programs, a lack of vision creates obstacles because there is no clear idea of the ultimate goal and how to achieve it.

A second step is communicating the vision and strategy enterprise-wide. Automation is a pillar of digital transformation across the organization, and it needs to start with a strong vision. Our research shows that a lack of vision and strategy is the main reason why organizations fail to scale their automation programs.


An Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence must provide effective governance of the overall automation effort in the company, including defining the strategy owner and aligning sponsorship and financial investment. It includes determining and tracking metrics to assess progress against the established automation strategy and presenting the results to internal and external shareholders.

A COE should also provide in-house advice on best practices for automation implementation and set up communication and community practices for effective knowledge-sharing and collaboration.


Another critical role of a center of excellence is automation delivery, which requires assembling a team with the necessary set of skills and managing external and in-house talent. The development of the latter is also one of the COE’s responsibilities: It needs to define the internal skill gaps in the organization and to upskill by hiring relevant talent and provide regular automation training.

An integral part of automation scaling is the continuous generation of new ideas and identifying use cases within the company, and the automation center of excellence plays a crucial role in this process. Once the company’s digital transformation is mature enough that there is no shortage of new automation opportunities, the role of COE shifts from generating ideas to prioritizing them.

The last role (but not least) of an automation COE is change management: to maximize value from digital transformation organizations need to proactively plan how they will manage the changes that result from automation. Many companies cite a lack of effective change management as another significant reason for failing automation implementation.

Why an RPA COE is not enough for scalable automation

Many automation initiatives start with RPA use cases that are considered to be “quick-win” opportunities. However, focusing the COE around these processes can lead to several challenges in the long run.

  1. It dramatically reduces the scope of the company’s processes that can be automated. Use cases involving unstructured documents or complex decision-making rules cannot be implemented with robotic process automation, which makes it hard to yield long-term value from automation.
  2. An RPA COE cannot sufficiently focus on change management. When the COE focuses on task-level automation, it will struggle to implement more intelligent process-level transformation, due to the difficulties of getting buy-in from the stakeholders and the company.
  3. RPA COEs are mainly focused on cost reduction. Even though cost reduction is an essential benefit, an automation center of excellence should pay attention to other benefits, such as improved services, revenue growth, and capability building.

To sum up, the role of an automation COE significantly changes when there is a need to scale the existing automation program through the whole organization, and focusing on RPA rather than more Intelligent Automation solutions can stifle the scaling process. An organization should concentrate on building an intelligent COE (think of it as COE 2.0) that will be able to deliver tangible and long-lasting results.

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