What Is an Automation Center of Excellence and Why Invest in It?
There are a lot of benefits that Intelligent Automation implementation can bring to the company, but its ultimate purpose is to allow employees to focus on more valuable work by freeing them from tedious, mundane tasks. But it is not enough to just automate business processes. For successful digital transformation, you need to develop scalable, in-house RPA and IA expertise. One of the ways to achieve this is by creating a Center of Excellence, or COE.
What is a Center of Excellence?
Center of Excellence is an in-house entity that provides leadership, expertise, and best practices for a specific area of focus. The focus areas of COEs vary, from technology and business concepts to specific skills. Having an internal COE is a critical launching point for large-scale development and support of robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation (IA) initiatives. In a lot of large enterprises, implementation of every automation solution is driven by a COE that also handles all continual maintenance, administration, and risk management. Another important function of an automation COE is to educate different departments and teams in the company on RPA and IA and how these technologies can be applied.
Center of Excellence Models
A Center of Excellence can be centralized, where the automation expertise is concentrated at one point in the organization, or federated, where the central COE provides a framework for different business units to build their own COEs. The latter can be helpful for more complex organizations with a lot of business units.
There are four traditional COE models:
- Automation Center of Expertise. This COE model focuses on training and enablement of automation development and implementation teams. Other goals include the development and advancement of RPA and IA best practices and building automation skills across teams.
- Automation Center of Excellence. This Center of Excellence focuses on strategic projects. This COE model focuses on methodology, best practices, and integration with re-engineering projects.
- Automation Factory. An Automation Factory delivers quick and efficient automation results. The key driver for this form is the high demand for automation expertise and a large number of projects. This COE model usually deals with process-level Intelligent Automation tools.
- Automation Community. Unlike the previous Center of Excellence models, the Automation Community is a community organized for sharing information, expertise, and best practices across lines of business. The focus of this model is on tactical and departmental projects.
When selecting the model of COE, take into account the size of your organization, your goal, and the tools used for automation.
How to build a Center of Excellence
Building an automation Center of Excellence is a challenging task that requires a lot of determination. The COE model will be specific to each company, but there are several best practices you should follow to avoid common pitfalls and make this process as efficient as possible.
Take time to assemble & train automation team
The team is one of the critical factors in the success of automation implementation, so building the team with a clear division of roles and responsibilities is of the utmost importance when establishing a COE. It is also important to plan training and upskilling the team members in advance based on their role in the project.
For example, in Automation Academy, we have different learning paths for different roles in the team: automation and ML engineers, data analysts, delivery managers, etc. The person in each role gains extensive knowledge and skills in their area of expertise, as well as an understanding of the basics of their teammates’ roles, so they can collaborate and divide responsibilities effectively.
It is also important to define the stakeholders that will be able to assist you in the process of scaling RPA and IA in the organization.
Collaborate with IT from the start
The IT team is directly involved in any automation project implemented in the organization, so it is important to coordinate your actions with them from the very beginning. The Center of Excellence should collaborate with the team on infrastructure change, security, compliance, and other IT functions. Some COEs create a special IT liaison position who works directly with the IT team to coordinate automation implementation.
Establish a governance framework
As automation is adopted in the organization, the COE will likely face challenges related to departmental collaboration and coordination of actions. To tackle these challenges, you will need to establish a governance framework that will determine interaction among different departments and their participation in the automation initiative.
The COE governance framework should also manage the process of developing, documenting, and implementing automation best practices, as well as analysis and reporting on the results and required changes.
Plan scaling and change management
Think in advance about how you will scale the automation initiative in the organization: what challenges will you meet, and how you will be able to overcome them? Talk to employees about automation beforehand to find out their opinions. Many of our customers’ stories show that some of the challenges they have faced in practice are very different from what they expected when they started their automation journey.
The same is true for change management. The COE will need to envision how employees' work and KPIs will change after transferring their tasks to robots and help drive operational planning and organizational redesign to adapt to these changes.
A good example of this was presented by our customers at Humana at the Ascend conference in New York recently. They shared their experience of building a Center of Excellence in the company and dealing with change management and scaling challenges in the process.
To learn more about the role that the Center of Excellence plays in scaling RPA and Intelligent Automation, and different COE models, check out our free course Automation Essentials.