Getting Started: The Process Automation Center of Excellence (CoE) Handbook
What is a process automation CoE?
Process automation continues to gain momentum across all industries. According to the 2022 State of Process Automation report, 82% of IT leaders believe that process automation is a greater priority for their organization than last year. And, a massive 92% of IT leaders describe automation as vital to their digital transformation. Many organizations choose to adopt a Center of Excellence (CoE) model to manage their process automation efforts. In fact, 76% of organizations either already have a CoE in place, or are actively working on it.
A process automation Center of Excellence (CoE) is a team that spans IT, development, and business stakeholders. Their job, at a high level, is to accelerate the adoption of process automation and process orchestration across the whole enterprise.
What is process orchestration?
Process automation and orchestration are closely related. Process orchestration coordinates the various moving parts (or endpoints) of a business process, and sometimes even ties multiple processes together. Process orchestration helps you work with the people, systems, and devices you already have – while achieving even the most ambitious goals around end-to-end process automation.
For some organizations, the term CoE may not be well-received. The terminology itself carries some legacy baggage from centralized Business Process Management (BPM) software. Some relied on a centralized approach for their CoE, relying on one team to implement process automation for the entire organization. That approach often led to bottlenecks for both developers and line of business leaders, giving the CoE a bad reputation with few demonstrable results.
For those reasons, it may make sense to “rebrand” the CoE as an automation or orchestration team, or at least be mindful of a CoE’s perception. Regardless of the name you use, a CoE model can accelerate process automation, if done correctly for your organization. The guide below will describe how to customize your CoE to enable and empower teams, rather than cause more bottlenecks.
Why is a process automation CoE important?
One of the most important roles of a CoE is to establish a process mindset across your company. Industry leaders like Amazon think in processes. They use them to solve business problems, such as creating a better customer experience (CX) or improving internal efficiency. They understand that processes can be a major differentiator. A process automation CoE can evangelize process automation. In other words, they help the organization adopt a common language for business processes — including how to describe and execute them.
The CoE can also drive governance and consistency across business processes throughout the organization. That could mean anything from establishing a common infrastructure, software and services, to managing projects from end-to-end. This team often provides “accelerators,” or reusable components, to improve time-to-value for automation projects. As companies scale, this level of consistency and governance becomes more critical. However, with too many restrictions, a CoE can become a bottleneck for progress, as described above.
Of course, there’s a lot of area in between those two extremes. The amount of centralization that’s right for you depends on your company’s size, industry regulations, and culture. According to Forrester, one-quarter of automation CoEs will reorganize to support federated development. That often means the CoE manages a centralized governance and/or infrastructure model, where individual project teams own the development and implementation. In other CoEs, different business domains leverage a common cloud service, such as Camunda, to scale more efficiently.
To centralize or decentralize your CoE?
Generally there are two CoE models: centralized and decentralized. At a basic level, think of it this way:
Implementing automation projects on behalf of business units throughout the organization
Providing enablement, frameworks, training, and guidance so teams can execute process automation independently
A CoE should be leveraged to make the digital transformation journey easier. That might mean establishing or accelerating the adoption of process orchestration across the organization — particularly within organizations with diverse process endpoints and high process complexity. Some teams adopt process orchestration to gradually enable digital transformation. For example, the CoE team may rely on process orchestration to bridge the gap between developing modern, microservices-based applications and working with legacy systems the company has today.
Finally, the CoE should enable collaboration across the organization. In some companies, that might mean fostering a process orchestration community, where practitioners can share best-practices and ask questions of one another. The CoE should help team members avoid reinventing projects from scratch, and empower them to drive continuous improvement.
Getting started with a CoE
Once you establish the need for a CoE, how do you get started? The first step for many companies is to get buy-in from management, so the CoE has both the authority and funding to meet its goals. The CoE must be set up for success, and built as a service that meets the needs of your internal customers.
When you create a vision for your CoE, be sure to incorporate feedback from your community of developers. These people will be responsible for carrying out process automation projects day in and day out, so you want them to be aligned with your CoE’s purpose. Your vision should outline the reasons why you’re establishing a CoE, and set some initial goals on what the CoE is meant to accomplish.
In some companies, a CoE may need an executive sponsor to gain authority and establish a strong foundation for internal evangelism. That may be a technical executive, such as a CIO or CTO. The CoE typically maintains the executive sponsorship by continuously reporting on the ROI or achieved business value to the internal customers.
The executive sponsor can help communicate the value of the CoE to various lines of business leaders, answering questions such as:
- What can we achieve with process automation?
- How does it help the company gain competitive advantage?
- Why will the CoE approach help accelerate project automation and orchestration?
- How will we measure ROI?
Structuring your CoE
When it comes to structuring your CoE team, personas will vary depending on your organization’s goals. Many CoEs have the following personas, although some individuals may span multiple personas. For example, an enterprise architect may also be an expert at modeling and deploying processes.
A head of automation or technology leader sets the vision and goals for the CoE, and has the skills to market the vision throughout the organization.
Enterprise or IT architects create a high level technical and business overview for automation experts and developers to follow, and also evaluate and manage automation pipelines.
These teams will deploy automation projects, as well as build internal services, asset libraries, integration artifacts, and accelerators. Deployment teams may also include enterprise architects.
A CISO and/or security architect would focus on maintaining IT security, which will become even more important in a cloud-native world
A sysadmin, IT administrator, or operations manager manages the infrastructure and/or tools used for process automation and orchestration.
Whether you choose a centralized vs. decentralized approach greatly affects which personas belong within the CoE. What kind of infrastructure will you choose, how will you govern automation projects, and in which method will you ultimately deliver them? Keep in mind that a CoE doesn’t have to be large. Some major enterprises have two-person CoEs functioning in a decentralized model, which works well for them.
Real-world CoEs in action: National Bank of Canada
National Bank of Canada is the sixth-largest bank in Canada, with approximately 25,000 employees. With a CoE of only two people, the team narrowed down three distinct goals:
Build in-house expertise around process automation
Working with Camunda Consulting, the company was able to build their own expertise, through a mix of training and contextualizing that knowledge within concrete projects.
Build a community of BPMN/Camunda experts
Bringing together IT, ops, and business stakeholders, the team set up a one-hour weekly meeting to discuss process automation and Camunda. Over time, they’ve actively managed the community by providing guest speaker presentations, demos, challenges for discussion, and more.
Create governance foundations
The team centered its governance around three pillars: standardization, KPIs, and reusability. The CoE reduces wasted work, and provides support for kickstarting projects, including code examples, infrastructure, and more.
As a result of the CoE, demand to automate mission-critical processes in Camunda is growing. The team has 27 completed projects, with four to five in active development. The community has grown to 400 meetings with more than 100 participants. And time to start new projects has accelerated from weeks to just days.
The job of a CoE
The job of the CoE team varies greatly depending on the level or centralization or decentralization that makes most sense for your organization. Depending on your culture and desired structure, your CoE may take on the following roles and responsibilities.
Delivery: Planning and/or execution
Enablement and knowledge-sharing
01. Delivery: Planning and/or execution
- Setting expectations and gathering requirements for automation initiatives
- Running and reporting on pilot/lighthouse projects
- Prioritizing the order of operations for automation projects (managing the automation pipeline)
- Evaluating, selecting and providing technologies in the hyperautomation tech stack
- Setting up the infrastructure and/or IT environment for success
- Building and implementing process models or empowering others to do so
02. Enablement and knowledge-sharing
- Defining the automation skills you need in the organization
- Establishing and/or outsourcing a training curriculum (for many, Camunda Academy is a great resource)
- Running internal sessions to contextualize training (e.g. reviewing models, code, testing strategy, etc.)
- Empowering developers via self-service (e.g. creating documentation, and/or sharing templates, process models, and best-practices where necessary)
- Providing a forum for questions and best-practices (e.g. internal wiki or Slack group)
- Providing developers with tools for scaling process orchestration (e.g. leveraging resources such as Camunda Connectors)
- Spreading the word about process orchestration and automation throughout the organization (e.g. via blogs, events, newsletters, speaking engagements, etc.)
- Establishing authority and trust with business stakeholders
- Building a community of practice (CoP) for automation (or facilitating a grassroots community if it’s already established)
- Establishing standardization around architecture decisions
- Meeting compliance regulations
- Creating templates and/or rules (depending on the level of centralization)
- Providing heavy or light guardrails for developers
What are Camunda Connectors?
Out-of-the-box Connectors are designed to help you overcome one of the biggest hurdles to process orchestration: figuring out how the process should interface with different types of endpoints such as APIs, RPA bots, CRM and ERP platforms, user-facing applications, and so on. Most processes—even fairly simple ones—involve at least a few of these endpoints, and the level of complexity can grow very quickly. For example, if a process invokes an RPA bot, you need to know exactly what data the bot will need to execute its task.
Camunda orchestrates complex business processes across different types of process endpoints in your organization, and Connectors make it easier. They communicate with any system or technology, reducing the time it takes to model, implement, and automate business processes. They’re modular and designed for reuse, so teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they need to work with a particular endpoint. And they’re user-friendly; if you can add a task to a BPMN process diagram, you can use Connectors. CoEs can design, provision and manage their own catalog of custom Connectors (e.g. for specific legacy systems), using the Camunda integration framework.
Sharing CoE resources across the organization
In practical terms, a CoE could share resources in a number of ways. It could be as simple as leveraging code version control systems like Git, or creating and sharing an internal folder where you store BPMN process models, DMN tables, and forms. Or, if there’s a community of practitioners in place, your CoE can facilitate conversations and/or manage this community. This can be done synchronously through monthly or quarterly community meetings, or asynchronously through online forums, newsletters, intranets, videos, and more.
Real-world CoEs in Action: Desjardins
For Canadian financial services organization Desjardins, the process automation CoE sits within the IT department. With a specialized CoE, Desjardins leverages domain experts to help accelerate process automation. Separate disciplines within the CoE focus on specialized aspects of automation. By selecting Camunda as a centralized automation platform, the team avoids process automation silos, and standardizes on BPMN 2.0 as a process modeling language.
Instead of a bureaucratic approach, the CoE team opts to give development teams the autonomy to build what they want. The CoE is both a knowledge resource and a hub for shared technology. Rather than implementation, the Desjardins CoE focuses on enabling developers with process modeling design patterns, approaches as well as accelerators. The team has expert knowledge on Camunda and related toolsets, and how they are used together in transformation journeys.
Risks for scaling a CoE
The CoE should be a value driver in the organization, and not an impediment to teams’ progress. In other words, teams shouldn’t be forced to work with a CoE, but rather choose to do so because the CoE makes their lives easier (e.g. by providing reusable tools such as standard accelerators, or off-the-shelf components like libraries).
One of the biggest barriers to overcome is the notion that an automation CoE is an “ivory tower” and doesn’t generate value to the organization. As a result, it’s important to set out quantifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) as a CoE, and measure them frequently to demonstrate success.
Some may perceive that the CoE is detached from automation teams’ day-to-day reality.
A related risk is the idea that CoEs are the “governance police.” That dynamic may happen if the guidelines are too strict and don’t take into account the real challenges developers experience on the ground. As a result, developers may hesitate to cooperate with a CoE, especially if they’re used to working with small, agile, iterative implementations.
Other risks may come from laying the groundwork improperly. Without authority or executive buy-in, many CoEs fail. Alignment and goal-setting should apply to both business and technical stakeholders. What’s more, a CoE should be scaled to the resources you have. Instead of taking on overly ambitious goals, adapt your CoE’s vision and approach by starting small.
Measuring success of a CoE
To help the organization understand the value of the CoE, it’s important to find quantifiable ways to measure its success. A few examples of KPIs might include:
- Achieved business value for the organization in terms of successful projects
- Process performance and optimization (e.g. lifecycle duration, or number of processes per month, etc.)
- Platform performance per Service Level Agreement (SLA)
- Project performance (e.g. time to value)
- Project timelines
- Reusability (e.g. how many reusable components does the organization have and how often are they reused?)
- Community growth (e.g. number of community meetings, blog posts, newsletters, increase in participants over time)
- Measuring the ROI of software/technology
Some solutions, like Camunda Optimize, provide real-time process monitoring and analytics, which can make it much simpler to measure the performance of your processes. You can use this to continually improve your processes, or communicate how process automation and orchestration are helping the company track toward a certain business goal.
Scale your process automation CoE to your needs
A modern process automation CoE can be an accelerator, instead of an inhibitor of growth. Regardless of what you choose to name your CoE, you can adapt your approach depending on your organization’s size or culture. At a decentralized level, a CoE can aggregate and cultivate knowledge, and provide the necessary tools to avoid wasted work. More centralized CoEs may undertake complex governance tasks, or even fully manage process modeling and execution. Some teams choose a hybrid approach, with centralized governance, but decentralized project delivery.
We’ve seen large enterprises with successful two-person CoE teams, and smaller companies with larger CoE teams. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re still unsure of where to start, Camunda can help you assess which style of CoE is best for your organization, and get off the ground running with training and enablement to excel with process automation and orchestration.