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What Is a Center of Excellence in RPA and How to Build It in Your Company?

/ ~ 13 minutes read

Do you plan to adopt robotic process automation (RPA) widely throughout your company? Building an RPA Center of Excellence may be the key. In this article, we’ll discuss what an RPA CoE is, its benefits, and take a look at the roles and steps involved in creating and running a CoE in your company.

What is a Center of Excellence

A Center of Excellence (CoE for short) is a group of professionals and resources established to ensure successful implementation, deployment, and usage of various specific competencies throughout the company. 

We say “various specific competencies” because the term isn’t unique for the robotic process automation industry; there are centers of excellence in healthcare, education, data analytics, and many other fields. As for robotic process automation CoE, its purpose is to support RPA initiatives and coordinate efficient RPA implementation and expansion.

A CoE organizational structure varies depending on the company and the technology it aims to adopt. Centers of excellence come in many forms: they can be a collection of purpose-built resources, a small team of two or three people, or a separate division within an organization.

Key CoE responsibilities

There are four basic functions that RPA centers of excellence typically provide:

  • Providing education and support. It can be organizing setup training for employees or organizing a helpdesk.
  • Creating tailor-made resources. These are tutorials, guides, walkthroughs, and other resources designed for your company’s specific needs. For example, suppose you plan to develop an attended bot to help accountants execute reconciliation checks. In that case, you can record a screencast on how to use it with your financial systems.
  • Building a community.  It means encouraging users to collaborate, share ideas, and provide feedback rather than leaving them alone to work in inefficient silos.
  • Promoting best practices. It’s benchmarking and fostering the best ideas in order not to reinvent the wheel, but reuse existing good solutions.

Why create a Center of Excellence?

If you’re committed to making RPA technology provide value in the long term and result in a positive return on investments, then creating a CoE should be an integral step of the automation journey. 

There’s a good metaphor for CoE suggested by Michael Cox from Tableau. He compares the enterprise wide deployment of a new solution with Nailed It, a Netflix cooking show. The show’s idea is that home bakers try to re-create edible masterpieces created by top-notch pastry chefs. The contestants are given step-by-step instructions as well as the ingredients for making the same cake. However, the result is usually far from the target and often hilarious.

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The metaphor with the failed cake shows that if you simply tell people what you want to happen and give them formal instructions, the initiative will likely end up like the lopsided cake on the right. The same goes for RPA implementation. There are three major reasons why create an RPA CoE.

1. Getting things done

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to buy RPA licenses and say that the RPA is practiced in your company from now on. To make it work, you’ll need to have someone who can become your RPA champion(s), promote the technology, and act as a playing coach.

2. Enabling scalability

According to Deloitte, only 3% of RPA adopters have scaled their automation initiatives to more than 50 robots in service. While a part of the issue is the progressive pricing of some vendors (the more bots you have, the more you pay), another reason is a learning curve.

At this point, you may contradict that building RPA bots is easy, and you’re right. With modern RPA platforms, such as ElectroNeek, you or your MSP partner can quickly develop the first set of bots. However, the more you automate, the more complex workflows are on the line, not to mention the maintenance of all existing automation tools. It’s inefficient to start learning all over again with every new employee and new workflow. Thus, creating a single hub of knowledge and expertise becomes critical for success.

3. Establishing that you are serious about RPA

Establishing a CoE is key, as it’s a clear sign that your company is serious about implementing RPA, and the initiative has an executives’ buy-in. This fact alone will largely help with employee training and RPA adoption.

Are there cases when you don’t need to build a CoE? 

There are really few of them. The most reasonable one is that you’re just testing the technology, so at this step, it might be a bit early to get formal and create an RPA CoE with full-time employees involved. This leads us to the next question.

When to build an RPA Center of Excellence?

Forming a CoE usually makes sense in four to six months after the launch of the RPA automation project. Why not do this from the start? Because you’ll need time to get to know the technology, experiment with the tools, create a minimum viable product, get a proof of concept, and achieve executive buy-in.

However, it’s still a good idea to keep CoE in mind during this soft launch period, as it’s exactly when your potential champions and objectives are identified.

How to build an RPA Center of Excellence?

So, what do we actually need to do to lay the foundation of the RPA CoE? There are five main steps:

  1. Form the competency center team
  2. Design your automation strategy
  3. Build a governance structure
  4. Launch your RPA Program CoE
  5. Scale-up

Let’s have a look at each step in more detail.

Step 1: Form the team

Who should be involved in building a CoE? The roles and responsibilities depend on the organizational structure and the scale of your future center of excellence. For example, an established CoE at a large enterprise can have quite an extensive list of participants, including change managers and dedicated support professionals. 

However, when only getting started with RPA initiatives, it’s better to start small and expand over time.

The roles in an RPA CoE 

There are nine generally accepted roles possible in an RPA center of excellence: 

  • Business analyst — assesses current processes in the company and prioritizes the ones where automation will bring the most impact.
  • RPA solution architect — designs the framework of an infrastructure that will scale over time.
  • RPA developer — builds RPA bots.
  • RPA supervisor — manages the entire RPA ecosystem and the digital workforce.
  • RPA sponsor — a c-suite executive who supports the RPA initiative and approves corporate resources.
  • RPA champion — creates the hype around the RPA project, improves its visibility, and promotes it among employees.
  • RPA infrastructure engineer — helps with server deployment and monitoring.
  • Service and support engineer — works as the first line of assistance for users.
  • Change manager — creates a communication plan to get buy-in with RPA.

It happens all the time when one person wears many hats, so an RPA champion can also be a solution architect and an RPA developer at the same time. While all these roles bring their value, some are more important, at least in the initial stage.

The RPA journey always starts with a business process analyst and an RPA developer. Not to mention that it’s almost impossible to get started without earning support from someone at the executive level. Once your center of excellence becomes more mature, you can try to bring more people. So, let’s have a closer look at the core roles.

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Business analyst: Discover the process to automate

A business analyst is a subject matter expert in a company’s processes. It’s a high-stakes job that requires a set of skills at the nexus of business, process mapping, and technology. Some of the analyst’s activities include:

  • Creating process design documents.
  • Executing existing processes assessments and finding automation opportunities.
  • Analyzing if automation implementation for various workflows is hitting its goals.

RPA developer: Find RPA trailblazers

As modern RPA tools, including ElectroNeek, become more intuitive and easy to use, it may seem that any user in the company can become an RPA developer (so-called citizen developer). However, it’s not quite so, especially when looking for candidates to become RPA developers in your CoE.

In an RPA developer position, it’s helpful to have some knowledge of the following:

  • Scripting languages (e.g., HTML, JavaScript)
  • Programming languages (e.g., Java, Python)
  • Databases (e.g., SQL)

RPA sponsor: Find your executive

It’s essential to have a sponsor from your executive team. The ideal sponsor is an early adopter supporting the RPA initiative, who knows how the whole RPA journey started and can provide you with corporate resources, such as extra budget or approval to reach out to your colleagues.

How to find an RPA sponsor if you’re just starting? Here are two ideas:

  • Run cost-benefit analysis for those in management (and the team) who are skeptical to overcome the resistance to changes;
  • And, build a simple bot for a typical process in your company, such as reporting, to demonstrate the benefits hands-on. In other words, show, not tell.

Step 2: Design your automation strategy

At this step, you’ll formalize the vision and draw a roadmap of the RPA project.

  • What is the business case? What are the goals?
  • What kind of processes are you going to automate with RPA bots?
  • What workflows will be automated first? 
  • What is the desired ROI for RPA?
  • What tools and integrations will you need in addition to a chosen RPA platform?

Step 3: Build a governance structure

This is an important step that is often overlooked. Building an effective governance structure involves documenting processes, operations, and responsibilities. It also includes creating guidelines and templates for process assessment, automation development and deployment.

  • What are the responsibilities of each CoE member? Who’s doing what?
  • How are the candidates for automation selected?
  • How can someone request a bot? What happens after the request?
  • How are new bots deployed? 
  • What if there are issues with a created bot?

Having all these documents and templates at hand will save you headaches while operating and help you establish clear workflows that inspire confidence in the team. 

Also, if you plan to scale automation initiatives, it might be a good idea to think about formalizing an effective governance model for your company. There are three ways to deploy the CoE:

  • Centralized CoE model: A single CoE team executes all duties and makes all decisions. All policies, standards, approvals, and discussions will be funneled through this team only.
  • Federated CoE model: There are multiple CoEs in a company, as each business department has their own RPA CoE. It’s useful when there are unique requirements in each department, but it also leads to higher costs and less RPA ROI. 
  • Hybrid CoE model: Business departments have their own approach to development testing and implementing RPA solutions under the governance of the central CoE.

Step 4: Launch your RPA Program CoE

Now, when the strategy is in place, and the team is set up, you’re ready to roll out your RPA CoE. 

In the initial stage, the best practices of change management recommend focusing on generating quick wins rather than big wins. Implementing a new practice is already a huge step, as changes are never easy. It may take months or even years to reach real digital transformation. Without any visible results shortly after the launch, it can drag on the whole adoption and arouse unnecessary skepticism and resistance. That’s why it’s better to aim at low-hanging fruit to gain momentum first.

Step 5: Scale-up

As you become more sustainable, you’re ready to scale up past the initial phase.

Measuring and refining

There’s one important thing to do before you go and conquer the world: it’s to measure the results. To refine and grow with automation, you need to define how well you’ve done so far. Here are a couple of success metrics ideas.

  • The number of automated processes. What is the pool of automation requests, and how many of them did you handle? Could this number be larger?
  • % of the usage of existing automations. In other words, are the automations you’ve created really in use? Let’s say you automated invoicing. Are there any cases an accountant still makes invoices manually? What percentage of the whole invoicing process does it take? Why? Can it be improved somehow?
  • Maturity of automation workflows. Is the governance structure you’ve worked out on the third step efficient? Were there any pitfalls or unexpected obstacles that you now know of?

Building a community

When you establish and streamline internal CoE processes, you’ll need some buzz around it to further expand your CoE’s influence. One of the best ways to do so is focusing more on building a community.

For that purpose, it's a good practice to hold recurring bi-weekly or monthly meetups. These sessions are a great way to raise RPA visibility and introduce the technology to new employees. You can use them to:

  • Introduce new RPA bots.
  • Discuss the current results.
  • Encourage the actual automation beneficiaries (like that accountant with the bot automated invoicing from our previous example) to share their experience of using RPA.
  • Share the plans for the next automations and more.

A couple of tips on conducting such events:

  • Choose a moderator who’ll be responsible for the agenda and sending reminders about the event.
  • Make sure the session is structured and follows its timing.
  • Speak the language of business rather than the language of tech, as your goal is to excite and attract more RPA users with different backgrounds.

Build your CoE with ElectroNeek

As with most things in business, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to creating a center of excellence in your company. Setting up a CoE has many benefits, but the overall success depends on whether the company has the right combination of tools and processes to achieve its center of excellence’s objectives.

ElectroNeek’s approach to automation includes some benefits that are equally good in any situation. They are:

  • Fixed costs of RPA software, so you can easily plan and create a transparent budget for your RPA initiative;
  • Unlimited number of RPA bots, so you can automate as many processes as you want without the need to buy bot licenses;
  • The capability of on-premise orchestration, so you can always stay within your local network.

Here at ElectroNeek, we know for sure how RPA expansion brings in productivity, cost, and efficiency improvements. We’re more than happy to help you kickstart an efficient center of excellence and support you along your RPA journey.

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