I love playing soccer and I’ve learned many lessons from this team sport, like the importance of hard work, dedication, discipline and playing as a team. When working on my book, The Automation Advantage, it occurred to me that team play is also relevant for companies thinking about scaling up intelligent automation across an organization. Intelligent automation needs a team with representatives from the business and IT side that are aligned on the strategy, governance and communications of the changes to processes and procedures.

I’ve found that when you have this teamwork, an Automation Center of Excellence (CoE) sits at the heart of success.

First, a quick definition. A CoE is a center of knowledge for a specific capability, with a group of individuals who set the standards, provide assistance and champion its progress. It is typically built around critical processes, technologies and/or applications. But the key to a CoE’s success? Simple. It’s the team dedicated to helping a company get the most out of their automation. This team of experts helps businesses focus and align resources and skills to sustain best-in-class performance and create value.

From supply chain and manufacturing to now cloud and AI, CoEs can help a company reach a mature level of adoption. More and more of the companies I work with are seeking to build a CoE to scale automation initiatives aligned to their business objectives. Here’s what I’ve found is a formula for success.

At the center of automation excellence

The most successful CoEs are designed to keep on adapting and innovating. This increases the value they deliver to the business over time. To drive this kind of continuous improvement, it’s crucial to understand the CoE’s level of maturity, along with the core capabilities it will need.

A well-designed CoE should constantly evolve its capabilities for:

  • Business and IT alignment. Having a central group focused on business-IT alignment ensures that solutions stay closest to customers’ and employees’ needs and are delivered through IT as effectively as possible. A CoE can track customer expectations, align them to priorities and work with IT to deliver on customer feedback.
  • Innovation. A CoE offers an efficient way to manage investments in leading-edge technologies, providing visibility into how automation aligns to the company’s broader innovation ecosystem.
  • Knowledge creation and retention. Centralized structures and processes for knowledge management help to build and maintain an automation knowledge hub—gathering automation “know-how” from all automation initiatives and supporting effective transfer of that knowledge enterprise-wide.

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The right model matters

A growing number of companies now use CoEs in their automation journeys. But organizing and operating one successfully requires a lot of work. That brings us to another important consideration: the CoE operating model.

Setting up a CoE without planning its operating model is like asking an architect to design a building without giving them any specs. You’ll get something, sure. But it probably won’t be even close to what you want. That’s why it’s so vital to think about what the business really needs from a CoE, before deciding on the best model to meet those needs.

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Setting up a CoE without planning its operating model is like asking an architect to design a building without giving them any specs. You’ll get something, sure. But it probably won’t be even close to what you want.

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Let’s look at three of the most common CoE operating models:

  1. Centralized. In this model, all the CoE’s functions are carried out by a single team, bringing together people from the business and IT. We believe it’s the best fit for companies just starting out on their automation journeys—making it easier to move from an individualized to an industrialized capability for automation at scale.
  2. Decentralized. This model is more about creating multiple communities of practice, with teams typically adopting much more tailored approaches to working with different parts of the business. There can be drawbacks, however, including the potential for redundancy or higher costs.
  3. Hybrid. Standards are centralized within a single small group and scalable automation capabilities are distributed among business units. This model works best for large, global organizations with highly decentralized decision-making. The benefits? Faster industrialization, more effective knowledge reuse, greater ease in scaling decision-making and a stronger sense of ownership among business units.

I’ve seen how the CoE operating model sets the stage for automation success. But there’s no one size fits all. The “right” model will be different for every organization, depending on its structure, objectives and strategic direction.

Take the time to plan upfront and commit to putting an effective operating model and a championship team in place, and your company can benefit from a CoE that supports innovative, useful, sustainable automation for years to come. I’d love to hear your views, so please get in touch.

Rajendra Prasad (RP) is a senior managing director and global automation lead at Accenture and heads a team that helps organizations across the globe successfully implement and scale their intelligent automation transformations. He is co-author of “The Automation Advantage” from McGraw Hill. Learn more at accenture.com/automationadvantage.

Rajendra Prasad (RP)

Lead – Global Automation and Intelligent Assets, Accenture Technology

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