With a low cost to entry, significant cost savings potential, and high return on investment, robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the most commonly used tools within the Intelligent Automation technology arsenal. In its simplest form, RPA technology automates repetitive, manual, heavy-volume tasks, allowing companies to refocus their employees to more value-added activities. Companies around the world have calculated the fiscal benefits of RPA (it’s in the Billions), and many are already seeing successful returns. But implementing RPA successfully takes planning, governance and control as the success of the technology can quickly become overwhelming.
Organizations often find themselves inundated with requests to automate processes around the enterprise after seeing the successes of one or two RPA-enabled processes. As requests amass, teams can quickly find themselves unable to deliver automations quickly enough nor provide the necessary oversight and governance to continue their successful streaks. Concerns for security, development standards, shadow IT, and inability to monitor and manage the digital workforce are likely to overshadow the successes gained earlier on.
Implementing an Automation Center of Excellence (CoE) better enables RPA leaders to manage bot development, management, and monitoring in a more controlled manner, thereby reducing corporate risk and costs associated to RPA program failures and rework.
Why consider a CoE operating model?
Implementing a CoE can provide an organization with numerous benefits both tangible and intangible:
Providing cost reduction through the elimination of duplicate efforts and focus on reusability, increased quality through standardization, and better application of costly resources to more rewarding processes first.
Creating a streamlined operation that removes blockers and resolves issues immediately to deliver solutions iteratively and faster for the end users.
Creating and enforcing standards and to enable better mitigation of risk and issues as they arise, as well as build quality into the final solution.
Increasing buy-in and adoption of automation solutions through the participation and ownership of business partners into the final product.
A typical Automation Center of Excellence charter provides an operating model focused around seven fundamental themes of automation initiatives:
- Strategy – defining the framework to select the processes for automation, as well as determining the automation solution most applicable to the process;
- Scalability/Performance – managing the demand for automation;
- Quality – creating and enforcing the standards by which bots (or other automation solutions) are developed;
- Maintenance – monitoring and supporting automated solutions to maintain effective operations;
- Change management – enabling the adoption of automated solutions through training, redeployment, or separation of resources as needed; and
- Governance – implementing an organized, resourced structure that owns decision-making capabilities, funding, and standards/controls that enable successful automation projects.
A high-functioning Automation Center of Excellence can be seen in two different lights—a legislative half that focuses on the governance and oversight of the operating model and an executive half that focuses on the development and deployment of the automation solutions. These distinctions are important to note, specifically when considering the differing varieties of implementing a CoE.
Strategy – Defining the framework for selecting processes, as well as determining the technology most suitable.
Quality – Creating and enforcing standards and controls by which automation is developed.
Governance – Providing accountable resources and rules that own decision-making capabilities and funding authorizations.
Scalability/Performance – Managing the demand for automation solutions, as well as capacity to deliver them.
Support/Maintenance – Monitoring and supporting automated solutions post-deployment.
Change Management – Enabling the adoption of automated solutions through training, redeployment, or reduction as needed.
CoE implementation variations
There are three basic variations of an Automation Center of Excellence—centralized, decentralized, and federated—each with its own pros and cons and each suited to specific types of organizations.
- Gathers all functions into a single team of cross-functional resources (IT and business) that control all aspects of automation.
- Best employed within companies just starting their RPA/automation roadmap, because both demand and development are still manageable.
- Allows for easier adherence and compliance to standards, as well as support for the few automations put into use.
- Knowledge and best practices are easily shared to enable a consistent development approach and reusability of code.
- Depending on team size, however, capacity is limited to a specific throughput, and increased demand will soon grow a hefty backlog.
- Looks to create centers of excellence across multiple business units to make them self-sustaining without the capacity limits of a centralized approach.
- Gives the benefits of economies of scale and increased capacity, but loses the ability to effectively comply to standards and controls.
- Shared best practices across teams, but not an effective means to enable standardization.
- Deployment more costly than a centralized function, as all aspects of the CoE are replicated across the organization.
- Some operations can be maintained centrally while others can be “federated” out and replicated around the organization.
- Best of both centralized and decentralized approaches, in that it places the legislative components into a central team and replicates the executive components across multiple development teams.
- Allows for easier compliance to standards and controls (centralized) while allowing each business unit to develop and deploy according to their own demand and capacity constraints (decentralized).
- Slightly costlier than a centralized approach, this model is significantly cheaper to implement and manage than a decentralized model.
- Business units will own their individual development pipeline, enabling greater buy in and cooperation for success.
In summary, an Automation Center of Excellence is a critical factor in the success of any automation program and should be one of the immediate focal points at the start of any automation. The benefits a CoE can provide, whether just starting out or already well along the path of automation, are many. As the automation program matures and grows, so likely will the need for the CoE to evolve into something more suitable and effective.