Discover how to future proof your Intelligent Automation Centre of Excellence | 30 Experts Guide to Happy Ever After – Part 1 of 5

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Discover how to future proof your Intelligent Automation Centre of Excellence | 30 Experts Guide to Happy Ever After – Part 1 of 5

Business transformation requires organizations to establish Centres of Excellence (CoE) to deliver and support critical business capabilities. A Centre of Excellence (CoE) is a team of skilled knowledge workers whose mission is to provide the organization they work for with best practices around a particular area of interest.

It should include representatives from management, a line of business (LOB) and information technology (IT). An IA | RPA Centre of Excellence is a central governing body that helps coordinate automation projects across an organization. A CoE combines people, processes and technology to drive an organisation forward tactically and strategically.

Automation Centres of Excellence need to solve for the ‘clickity-click’ (manual processing) and the thinkity-think (cognitive tasks). Therefore, CoEs should contain RPA, IA, data analytics (AI | ML) process mapping, process redesign, program management; lean for digital or design thinking skills; coding skills (e.g. API, VBA, .NET etc.); as well as people and change management skills to support organisational transformation at scale. 

A business may have multi objectives and may set up more than one CoE. Nonetheless, a CoE should have two basic business principles that do not change.

  1. A CoE must be aligned to a company’s strategic vision (which, of course, assumes there is one) otherwise the business and the Centre of Excellence will end up pulling in opposite directions. 
  2. There must be a clear-cut definition of success ( e.g. 30% improvement in operational efficiency; $20m of new incomes from automation and digitisation by 2022; 20% headcount reduction within 24 months, etc.).

This articles deep dives into; what a CoE does, how CoEs can be setup, examines who works in a COE and what best practices need to be in place for a CoE to succeed.

“Implementing RPA brings significant benefits. RPA continues to meet and exceed expectations across various key areas. This includes improvement in Quality, Speed, Compliance, Productivity, and cost.”

Nandan Mullakara, Helping businesses be 10X more productive using RPA and AI.

What does a Centre of Excellence do?

Whilst the priorities of a CoE are expected to change over time, the fundamental principles of a CoE should be clear and consistent, as these are critical to the CoE’s continuous success and evolution.

1. Provide thought leadership.

2. Direction (i.e. deliver an enterprise automation roadmap that is aligned to business strategy).

“While roadmaps can and do evolve, strategic milestones should be clearly defined – the best RPA companies have a roadmap that shares a compelling vision and tells an ambitious story. Find the company that thinks big and then gets the big things done.”

John Grancarich, Vice President Of Product Strategy

3. Assess and decide upon the right methods, tools, and approaches to automation.

Given that Industry leading platforms like Blue Prism, UiPath, AA, and Nice are minimally updating their automation platforms to meet the evolving needs of their customers on a semi-annual basis, CoE’s have to be driven by a culture of continuous learning. A brand’s digital capabilities have to be enabled with training, support, mentorship, and objective evaluation on a sprint-by-sprint basis. If brand’s are honest with themselves, each sprint creates an opportunity to uncover common themes and pain points from their business units. They should work towards generating project-based solutions. Digital capability hygiene includes but is not limited to:

• Certified RPA professionals with hands on keyboard

• Polymorphic design principles with reusability in mind

• Co-development with advanced certified RPA professionals with at least 4+ years of experience

• Automation rework

• Communication of best practices

• Last but not least, citizen developers in the front and back offices – “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere” – Anton Ego

Amahl Williams, Forbes Council Member and Digital Transformation Guru

Additionally, there are a variety of tools that have been designed and developed to assist at all stages of an RPA delivery from discovery with an opportunity evaluator and delivery estimator through to delivery with wireframing, reusable libraries, and standards checking utilities to ensure design and configuration best practices. These tool sets have been developed to drive up project quality at all stages along with time savings over manual intervention.

4. Operationalize an automation project to deliver on that business case.

“The first step of the RPA and IA journey, is to create a strong business case. The business case should include specific process-candidates for automation followed by all the required metrics (volumes, cases per day, average manual handling time, peaks, forecast volumes, exception rates, etc.). It should be created along with a Partner (consulting company or a smaller boutique), for companies without any internal knowledge, since it is the first and most important step on your journey.”

Konstantinos Vogiatzakis, Global RPA Lead at Babylon Health

5. Align with HR to reshape roles and support the organisation develop the workforce of the future. A CoE can help support HR understand the effects of an IA | RPA program on human roles.

“The implementation of RPA and IA will create new and exciting career paths. Try to recruit internally as much as possible. This will strengthen the CoE but also demonstrate that automation does not remove jobs – it changes them.”

Anna Lagerhed, RPA Lead at SSAB

6. Align disparate technical and operational groups around a transformation initiative; and help those disparate grounds openly collaborate, and sort through any roadblocks or challenges along the way.

7. Liaise with IT to provide a single, low maintenance, scalable, technology platform. While different business units may make use of technology, having a central group to coordinate purchasing decisions makes a lot of sense from the perspective of the organization. The COE becomes the natural focal point to negotiate better rates and share resources. CoEs should support IT choose the right automation tool(s) and help take care of the maintenance and support aspects of these tools. For an IA | RPA to succeed it must be treated as an enterprise platform. IT must deliver a suitable environment that has a stable, high available, scalable support structure.

“Engage IT in any RPA | IA | DA | IA program. Make sure IT genuinely support the program otherwise it won’t scale and will fail.”

Pavani Koudri, RPA & AI Architect

8. Develop a service portfolio.

“In order to build a digital capability across teams and encourage consistency and reuse of automations across a federated operating model, you have to standardize and harmonize development efforts for business units wanting to automate. Transformation leaders must provide standardized training and establish best practices within development teams across the organization to reduce development effort and maximize license reusability.

Here’s a framework for a Fortune 100 company at 8% automation with 393 robots in production-

Key Considerations:

  • Stakeholder lead from each line of business to participate in engagement – one of the litmus tests for RPA adoption is the absence or presence of a data scientist as an SME
  • Access to all automations and documentation
  • Program Management Support

Minimum viable CoE team size:

  • Delivery Lead – this resource ideally has their certification in solution design for your platform(s) of record
  • Consultant – this should be a third party leveraging a factory model if you’re serious about scale
  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager – should have visibility into digitization initiatives as well

Diagram 1: Automation framework for a Fortune 100 company

Smart companies shouldn’t wait for the digital workforce to be perfected. It is necessary to learn now. Only by implementing and learning through the “simpler” automations will CoE’s be ready to handle the more advanced later. Most companies are seeing a 50-80% cost savings over human onshore processing and a 25-40% savings over offshore fulfilment. The Future of Work is clear, you either have robots in production or you don’t.”

Amahl Williams, Forbes Council Member and Digital Transformation Guru

9. Provide program demand management and governance. Automation candidates must be sourced, assessed, and their benefits tracked over time. Nandan has a great piece and diagram for this.

10. Hire and train new automaton and digital transformation resources including citizen developers.

“The amount of knowledge you can get for free is growing everyday. If you’re not sure how businesses are Digital Transforming to streamline their operations, make sure you read articles or case studies or watch YouTube videos explaining it. Do your due diligence of the expert you’re watching. And please, please, please, always give back. Share the information you find along with the great, good, bad, and awful experiences you have had as it’s likely something someone else will want to know that as well.”

Thomas Allen, Digital Marketing Yoda

11. Support change and incident management.

12. Establishes clear robotic process automation, digital, data analytics and intelligent automation standards, procedures, and policies, and escalation paths.

“Regardless of the type of Operating Model you decide upon, the governance, processes, and policies you surround your Centre of Excellence with are so important. These standards are what will enable you to gain trust from departments like IT, Change Management and your PMO function as they show your CoE to be more than just shadow IT. The CoE’s that scale are those built on solid foundations, which is what your standards & processes lay down”

Wayne Butterfield, Automation Expert

13. Work with risk and compliance to ensure bots are appropriately managed, they follow compliance regulations, information security requirements, segregation of duties guidelines and regulatory standards.

“If your RPA platform doesn’t possess exceptional security, compliance and audit logging you have to question if that product will be suitable for your organisation.”

Gourav Datta, Intelligent Automation Delivery Lead

14. Stand-up, support, train, coach and quarterback business automation hubs, digital champions and citizen developers to develop skills and competencies to meet current and future organisational needs.

“During my tenure at Aviva I created a training plan called’ RPA Champions’ these were business users SME’s, with some training had a greater understanding of Automation, and what the CoE needed they felt empowered to be able to provide a wider knowledge base of business problems from the ground up. I took this same approach to Thomas Cook, and called them ‘RPA Pilots’ this directly increased the team to a federated team they were part of the CoE and felt empowered to act on their findings. They were part of the RPA CoE but not part of the cost of the Automation team, which kept my running costs low. This provided SME’s in each business area with the right skills to find high ROI for small quick solutions. The approach was before its time, I had issues with leadership and lack of foresight and vision, yet today, this is an awesome way of providing low cost analytics to finding issues.

Graham Lee, RPA Ninja and General All Round Good Guy

15. Support stand up and execute automation pilots (i.e. provide starter kits to adopt the technology within business units). An IA | RPA program should be executed, whenever possible, by teams that are close to the business and specialized in a certain domain.

16. Complete process assessments, then re-imagine and re-design processes for automation and digitisations.

“ROI. That’s why most of the business exists, either directly or indirectly. For high ROI with RPA, the typical route is to find large and highly standardized processes with lots of manual work – the quick wins. Small complex processes eat ROI for breakfast. How to scale then? E.g. check if intelligent automation capabilities would lift the automation rate of current automation, use automated process discovery to find new quick wins, and introduce citizen developer or micro-app programs to automate the long-tail of small tasks and activities.”

Henri Wiik, Automated Business Analysis Company Owner

17. Act as an incubation pod for emerging tech and digital best practices. A CoE should create an automation and digital horizon scan with a clean plan for future investments outlined and costed.

18. Ensure excellent process documentation, and version control of documentation is maintained. Automation knowledge should be codified and flow into and out of the COE.

“Don’t build bots but automate carefully selected and sufficiently discovered business processes. Digital transformation is not in the business of bot building. It is in the business of bringing your business to a desired future. Make sure to build bots which conform to a well documented and well managed business process. The bots enable a process to reach a future with automated and intelligent functions.”

Roger Berkely, Automation Company Founder

19. Develop and publish guidelines for IA | RPA for everyone in the organisation to follow.

20. Support central functions complete their security, risks and controls audits.

“Within the confines of an organisation, several risks will surface every now and then including People, Vision, Governance, Technology. Common RPA risks – “IT teams unaware of RPA deployment”, “failing to deliver projected business value”, “lack of vision”, “defunct process discovery approach resulting in pipeline bottleneck”, “inadequate process documentation”, “lack of business continuity in the event of a production disaster”, “inexistent service model”, “data/infrastructure security concerns”. Pre-empting these risks and establishing procedures to mitigate them is very crucial in any RPA deployment. Risks and mitigations should be an ongoing focus and priority of every organisation.

Tolani Jaiye-Tikolo, Hyper Automation and Intelligent Automation Consultant.

21. Finalise bot testing and deployment into the live environment.

22. Vendor selection and management in cooperation with procurement and IT.

“Don’t just ask your vendor for a reference site as none are going to pick one which was a failure but look around to get a range of opinions from folks who are using the software in live environments.”

Paul Arnold, Head of Product and Development at Cortex Intelligent Automation

23. Act as the organisations Design Authority for solution design, code or script standards.

24. Publish a library of reusable objects.

25. Support the redesign of business processes for digitisation and automation.

“It is important to select the right processes especially at the beginning and show a quick return on investment. People have found it best to start with simple processes that are visible but not very critical to the working of the group. It is better to select processes with a few exceptions paths as possible to start with. Selecting the wrong initial processes could slow down or even stop the Automation initiative. In fact, choosing the wrong pilot process has been one of the major reasons for failed Automation initiatives.”

Nandan Mullakara, Helping businesses be 10X more productive using RPA and AI.

26. Helping the business understand the importance of process data and the data flowing through processes (e.g. use for predictive and prescriptive reporting, next best action, derive new incomes, etc.).

“A lot of companies struggle with achieving the “promised” benefits or value from process automation. This can have many causes. One of them is that organizations get stuck with automating individual tasks versus actually looking at entire processes. While this may be perfectly fine at the very early stages, say a proof of concept, organization must quickly realize that humans perform work as a series of tasks/activities and not just individual tasks. That series (of activities or tasks) are called business processes. Processes exist to achieve particular results or outcomes that are valued by internal and external customers. And it is those business processes that we seek to automate. That is where the value is for an organization!

In order to “see” process, an organization needs to adopt a “process view of work” which starts by knowing and understanding what a process is. Also, it is important to understand that processes are hierarchically organized and decomposable into multiple levels of granularity. From an RPA perspective, when talking about process automation, it is the level 3 or 4 you want to be looking at. Process Frameworks are a good reference to obtain a better understanding of the work (=key processes) that are performed in an organization. I always like to use APQC’s process framework to give me a good idea of the work being performed. And, if you have a Process Excellence team within your company, you are in great company. They can help you to drive true process automation starting from a level-3 and help document the processes and kick-start your automation life cycle. “

Martin Jahn, Process Engineering Expert

27. Help business continuity planning, testing and recovery.

“Even before COVID-19 hit the headlines, the role of Automation in BCP was important, now it is a necessity. We know we can’t rely on people alone to keep the lights on. The CoE needs to ensure that it is set up in a way that assists the business in times of crisis as part of it’s BAU, both in terms of it’s own resilience and also it’s ability to support the wider business with their own plans. It’s not exactly riveting to plan for the worst, but as we’ve just seen, it’s a CoE imperative.”

Wayne Butterfield, Automation Expert

28. Promote the benefits of an automation program to the business (e.g. a monthly newsletter could be developed to promote RPA by announcing successful automation delivered to the business).

“When employees are doing more meaningful work instead of being stuck processing boring, repetitive tasks, they are happier and more productive. Firms that drive employee NPS that prevents turnover can see a real reduction in hiring, training, managing, rework, checking work, coaching and developing new staff were staff retention is a real issue.”

Harrison Goode, Intelligent Automation Recruitment Expert

29. Business case development including cost benefit analysis; and benefits tracking for value realisation.

“It is helpful to identify the relevant metrics and track them on a dashboard. Agree with the business teams on the success criteria by identifying the post-automation performance metric and how it would be measured. It is useful to measure and track the cumulative Savings and ROI of the automation. Successful initiatives have the right level of reporting and leaders that understand the ROI & TCO of the automation projects.”

Nandan Mullakara, Helping businesses be 10X more productive using RPA and AI

30. Introduce new ways of working that best serve an organisation working with digital tooling (e.g. design thinking, Agile Scrum).

“eolution. To make that a one liner it needs a capital E. Someone had to invent capital letters, to signify the start of a new sentence. If they hadn’t the only time we knew something new had started is when there was a finalised ending. Using agile practices usually means that there are no finalised endings at the start. It’s not a waterfall. We need to make progressive change and for that to happen, we need to introduce new ways of working to best serve our organisation. Spell it out if you need to, new concepts take time to learn but with learning comes progression.”

Jessica Levett, Scrum Master and Consultant Architect

31. Work with ITs change management program to keep alert of changes to applications.

32. Support ongoing education around intelligent automation for the CoE, the business and automation hubs.

“RPA is a powerful tool, but to achieve end-to-end automation, you will need to combine it with intelligent automation tools. Start with RPA but plan for an Intelligent Automation strategy and toolbox.”

Anna Lagerhed, RPA Lead at SSAB

33. Work with business owners and SMEs to encourage their continued involvement and engagement

34. Act as a single voice for all thing’s automation related. The need to communicate clearly and consistently about IA | RPA across the organisation should not be under-estimated. Stakeholders need to understand the benefits of IA | RPA as well as the risks, and their own roles in delivering successful outcomes. If those messages are confused or inconsistent, then trust and confidence in the program can quickly be eroded.

“The role of the CoE leader should be focused on inspiring the business vs managing the Automation function. Any change is hard, but it’s even harder when the people are not on your side. Educating the wider organisation is key to ensuring both a push / pull approach to ideation of Automation opportunities, and also ensuring your objectives, and results are positively shared, vs whispers in the corridors.” 

Wayne Butterfield, Automation Expert

Automation is not an overnight success story. Whilst significant returns can be achieved within 12 months, automation and digital transformation is a long-term play.  It is crucial to have the big picture in mind, but take small steps to begin (i.e. start small, think big, scale fast).

Although overlooked and underestimated, CoEs are a critical part of building a robust IA | RPA program. An IA | RPA CoE has a wide range of benefits that can vastly improve business capabilities but creating an automation CoE that matches your goals entirely is no easy task. A well-formed IA | RPA Centre of Excellence can help organizations manage the full cycle of IA | RPA, right from developing business use cases to supporting a vast bot ecosystem.  

COEs are designed to drive innovation and improvement. They also create a structure that encourages the different members of the organisation to measure, experiment, and push it forward. By promoting more transparency and more shared results, CoEs can be a powerful way for an organization to align around business goals, rather than individual departmental metrics. 

An IA | RPA CoE that does not allow you to better your service towards customers or clients is not fulfilling its potential; nor is one that ignores its employees experience in the process of transforming. 

With the right automation CoE tools, team and methods, a business can open itself up to new opportunities to interact with customers, close more deals and make more money using automation and digital technology. If that isn’t something worth aiming for then nothing is.

“Vendors please note that customers could not care less about what you call it; they simply want automation to work.”

Kieran Gilmurray, Global Automation Lead

If you like this article then you may find these articles of use too.

  1. How to build a business case for Intelligent Automation and Robotic Process Automation
  2. If your RPA program is not making money then it has failed.
  3. i’ve-now-met-150-rpa-developers-20-signs-truly exceptional developer (Author)
  4. 30 ways to build a pipeline of processes suitable for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation (IA)
  5. 8 questions to ask to ensure you select the ‘right’ processes to automate using RPA | IA.
  6. 14 rules for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation (AI) success
  7. The A-Z of Robotic Process Automation, Intelligent Automation and Digital Transformation
  8. The biggest lie told to RPA customers – 50 robots equals success
  9. 40 essential selection criteria to choose an RPA platform

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Note: The views expressed above are our views and not those of my employer or the employers of the contributing experts.

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