How do you create and grow a Center of Excellence?

Wondering how to get your CoE started and how to run one effectively? Check out this extended Q&A and our live CamundaCon panel for the answers.
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Wondering how to get your CoE started and how to run one effectively? Check out this extended Q&A with members of our CamundaCon 2022 panel on Scaling Process Automation with Centers of Excellence.

A Center of Excellence (CoE) can be an effective way to enable process automation and orchestration at scale. But how do you go about setting one up? What are the biggest benefits?

At CamundaCon 2022, we were excited to talk about the future of process orchestration with so many members of the Camunda community. We set up an expert panel to answer those and other key questions about how to successfully set up a CoE. We actually received so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all live, and in this post, we wanted to keep delivering value on this topic and dive deeper into some of those questions with the help of several of our panelists.

The original panel was an exciting conversation with thought leaders from a range of industries around centers of excellence that you will want to watch. It’s available for free, along with all our CamundaCon 2022 recordings, at the link below! Our original panel discussion included James Holt of National Westminster Bank plc, Félix Carrier, Sr. Process Automation Designer at National Bank of Canada, and Deepak Tiwari, Managing Director at Ernst & Young, along with Camunda’s Mary Thengvall, Director of Developer Relations, Leon Strauch, Senior Customer Success Manager, and Patricia Kaniki, Client Leader.

Read on for our extended Q&A from our CoE experts.

Getting your Center of Excellence started

What are some best practices to get management buy-in for funding a Center of Excellence?

Deepak Tiwari, Managing Director, Ernst & Young:

Getting management buy-in for funding a CoE is no different than what’s needed to launch or accelerate a major initiative across your organization. Here is an approach:

  1. Think ‘big’ (and make the stakeholders think big). Show the ‘big picture’ – strategic benefits, visualize your target operating model, paint a clear picture of the future state and an implementation roadmap to get there.
  2. Start small. Ask for small funding in the beginning. A 90 day go-live plan is a good idea. Pick a high value but low effort use case for a pilot ‘lighthouse’ project. Get a meaningful win that will help consolidate business sponsorship and build momentum.
  3. Finish strong. Maintain executive sponsorship and commitment throughout the duration of the program by focusing on benefits realization.
  4. Scale fast. Now is the time to shine. Industrialize your Camunda Platform delivery processes and operating model so that the entire organization can scale quickly and do more on Camunda Platform. Make sure to enable others. The CoE can’t do it all.
  5. Continuous improvement. Continue to build the CoE incrementally on the back of several successful programs and the ROI generated across the organization. Make sure the ROI can be calculated in dollars or other tangible units.

What are the recommended structure/individual roles for a Center of Excellence?

Leon Strauch, Senior Customer Success Manager, Camunda:

There is no one size fits all. When it comes to structuring your CoE, the individual roles will vary depending on your organization’s goals, your company culture, CoE size, funding, and ultimately your automation strategy. Whether you choose a centralized vs. decentralized approach (e.g. regarding infrastructure, governance, project delivery, etc…) greatly affects the staffing of your CoE.

Keep in mind that a CoE doesn’t have to be large. Some major enterprises, such as NBC, have two-person CoEs functioning in a decentralized model, which works well for them. Others have sizable teams that maintain automation platforms as a managed service internally.

Aren’t developers normally frightened by Centers of Excellence? How can you make sure one is really helping them?

Félix Carrier, Sr. Process Automation Designer, National Bank of Canada:

As an organization, we are still in fairly early-days in terms of our Camunda journey. This means that most of the CoE’s work is to help developers to get projects off the ground.

Therefore, the CoE spends a lot of time providing training, sharing best practices and making sure that teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In other words, the CoE exists to accelerate projects, not slow them down. We make sure to communicate this as much as possible.

What type of people do you need to bring into the Center of Excellence?

Patricia Kaniki, Client Leader, Camunda:

At very minimum a CoE should incorporate the below three roles:

  1. Business analysts. The experts at identifying automation projects and creating process definition around them.
  2. IT Operations. To architect the automation platform environment, and for its ongoing  support.
  3. Developer. Responsible for planning, building and testing automation processes.

If possible, find an executive who is passionate about process improvement within your organization. Having your CoE backed by a trusted, respected leader can go a long way when it comes to enabling best practices.

What are the key success factors setting up a CoE for Process Automation?

Leon Strauch, Senior Customer Success Manager, Camunda:

You should definitely ensure that your automation CoE doesn’t become an “ivory tower” that isn’t bringing tangible value to the organization. A related risk is the idea that CoEs are the “governance police.” That dynamic may happen if the frameworks are too strict and don’t address the real challenges developers experience on the ground. As a result, they may hesitate to cooperate with a CoE, especially if they’re used to working in small, decentralized, agile teams. To avoid this, it is crucial that your CoE is familiar with the day-to-day challenges with automation teams on the ground and provides valuable solutions to them.

Another key thing to consider: Without authority or executive buy-in, many CoEs fail. Continuous alignment and goal-setting should apply to both business and technical stakeholders. To measure and demonstrate your impact, you should define quantifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your impact on the business.

Evolving your Center of Excellence

How do you make sure your Center of Excellence doesn’t become added bureaucracy for automation project teams?

Félix Carrier, Sr. Process Automation Designer, National Bank of Canada

We make clear that the CoE’s role is to help, not to get in the way.

In our organization, the CoE is separate from Governance. This has some pros and cons, but one big advantage is that the CoE can focus on helping internal teams.

The CoE will obviously engage in governance-related discussions with the appropriate stakeholders; but when it comes to supporting project teams, the CoE’s role is to share best practices, provide training and help teams to get projects off the ground as fast as possible.

How involved should a Center of Excellence be in the Modeling stage of processes and overall guidance for business users?

Deepak Tiwari, Managing Director, Ernst & Young:

A CoE should be involved in all stages of the project lifecycle (Opportunity assessment & strategy, Requirements gathering, Platform selection, Business Process Design / Modeling and Process Implementation). CoEs usually have visibility across other projects across the organization. They may have seen some pitfalls that the project team may not have been exposed to (better to learn from others’ mistakes than your own).

Established CoEs with a Process Design / Modeling pillar can be quite valuable in supporting the Modeling phase and working closely with business users.

How do you as a Center of Excellence change (some) developer’s culture of “I only want to translate words into code, and the rest (ie: really solve the business problem) is not my problem”?

Patricia Kaniki, Client Leader, Camunda:

Promoting collaboration within the CoE cross-functional team that we described above is key. Ensuring the selected automatization platform provides end-to-end visibility, and real-time collaboration will help increase the sense of the ownership among the team.

How closely should a Center of Excellence be working with Product Management? Are they the same?

Deepak Tiwari, Managing Director, Ernst & Young:

Let’s level-set on Product Management first. We are assuming that here Product Management is referring to the process of planning, developing, launching, and managing a product or service. It includes the entire lifecycle of a product, from ideation to development to go to market.

Now the response – CoE and Product Management are different things. CoE’s focus is governance and enablement across an organization with the goal of leveraging and optimizing resources and technology for their organization; accelerating delivery and reducing cost through reuse; and tracking value. Product Management has a more granular focus with a goal of getting a relevant product in the market that can generate revenue or some other tangible value in the market. In rare instances a CoE may deliver some of the very first products (through lighthouse projects) but once they  have proven to be the successful incubator they need to shift focus back to Governance and enablement and let someone laser focused on delivering products do the heavy lifting around all aspects of Product Management.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who made this post possible, including the CamundaCon attendees who left us these great questions and all our original panelists who joined us at CamundaCon for this excellent discussion. We want to extend our special thanks to Deepak Tiwary of Ernst & Young, Félix Carrier of National Bank of Canada, and Leon Strauch and Patricia Kaniki from Camunda for taking the time to answer these additional questions.

If you didn’t catch the original panel or just want to rewatch it, be sure to check out the recording here.

For more great conversation around the future of process orchestration, mark your calendar today for CamundaCon 2023!

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