Automation Center of Excellence and Its Role in Building Scalable IA
December 24, 2019 · 7 min read
There are many benefits that Intelligent Automation (IA) 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. However, it is not enough to just automate business operations in the company and call it a day. 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.
A 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 particular 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.
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 many business units.
There are four traditional COE models:
Automation Center of Expertise. This COE model focuses on the 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 COE model focuses on methodology, best practices, and integration with re-engineering projects.
Automation Factory. An Automation Factory delivers quick and efficient automation results and usually deals with process-level automation.
Automation Community. Unlike the other center of excellence models, this model is organized as a community 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, consider the size of your organization, your ultimate goal, and the automation tools that will be used.
Role of an Automation Center of Excellence
The purpose of a COE in implementing Intelligent Automation includes three significant actions: Strategize – Manage – Operate.
Let’s review each of them in detail.
One of the critical activities of an automation COE should be presenting the enterprise-wide vision and strategy for Intelligent Automation and digital transformation. 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.
Another critical role for 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.
Identifying use cases within the company is also one of the integral parts of successful automation, 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.
Another role 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 in automation implementation.
Why an RPA COE is not enough for scalable automation
Many automation initiatives start with RPA use cases considered to be “quick win” opportunities. However, focusing the COE around these processes can lead to several challenges in the long run. Here are some of them:
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.
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.
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.
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. It is also essential 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 crucial 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 that 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 valid 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.
An excellent example of this was presented by our customers at Humana during 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 throughout the process.