Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Five Aspects of Center of Excellence

 COE is often made as competency center for enterprise-wide IT deployment.

A center of excellence refers to a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, evangelization, best practices, research, support or training for a focus area. A center of excellence may also be aimed at revitalizing stalled initiatives. (Wikipedia)

If a COE is well planned, it is quite beneficiary from both value perspective and cost point of view: In multinationals that can afford it, it is a solution to standardize your business in support functions across regions, and save time and budget! to innovate on the core functions that can differentiate a company in its market. In cases of M&As, it is also very useful, as it can assure quick integration of the acquired company. In terms of human resources, it is highly motivating to participate in such teams and can attract the best talents in your organization (sometimes also from your competitors!). COE is often made as competency center for enterprise-wide deployment - Like BI Competency center to make sure BI's consumption is aligned with its generation. It is all about attitudes, interaction, and engagement, and the names you use to make a difference. Each of these Centers of Excellence is aligned around a specific technology area (BI, Cloud, social, process, etc.) and is staffed with a manager (who helped manage priorities across both business and IT), an architect level technical resource or two (who facilitated new initiatives with design and proofs of concept), and a business analyst or two (who acted as liaisons to the business for both upcoming project needs and current project requirements). These are groups of senior subject matter experts focusing on either innovating new applications or helping delivery teams and clients in a challenging situation.

Delivery of projects is done with COE enablement in partnership with the business. It is part of the overall change of dialog between IT and business; with the goal of breaking down the walls of the IT ivory tower, and becoming more valued to the business, rather than something that they want to go around, outsource, or get rid of. However, sometimes the term CoE comes across as a know-it-all, turns to be the sign of a dysfunctional organization, as it becomes the other IT “SILO,” aloof and apart from the business. If you want to engage the business and not come off as some pompous arrogant organization, you might try names, dialog, and interactions that are more inclusive of the business, and more conducive to moving beyond the service delivery model into something more customer intimate, something like a community of practice, where ideas are shared and communicated as a collaborative effort, and a learning experience (practice). It is continuing education and learning, not the source of all truth in the universe. 

The part of the CoE purpose is governance: This is implemented more as guidance with flexibility within established guardrails rather than adherence to a rigid track. It can be done well, but as with most things, should be designed and implemented with a partnering, collaborative approach between the involved parties. It shouldn’t be used for enforcement over engagement and ostracize the business they are supposed to serve, through their arrogance and self-righteousness. CoEs are all created with the right intention, but limited success. As it takes the time to mature such practices. Most of them are at an enterprise level; some do attract good people but is still limited in effectiveness due to constraints they have to work with and resistance from the LOB. Some are attempts to follow a trend without enough preparation, knowledge or skill. Others adopt an authoritarian style that encourages people to game the system. It naturally gives people a sense of hierarchical structure. We know better than you do. This will ultimately defeat the goals you are trying to accomplish. A group/committee/community that consists of members from actual teams with some practice professionals' facilitation works much better. As they are closer to the action and can collaborate with the affected team better.

Like any other business practices, the CoE solution needs to come from both sides of the aisle, though. While IT needs to think more about business value and strategic vision, the business also needs to accept IT as a source for such value instead of a cost/service center. And an effective CoE shall encourage cross-functional collaboration, best practice sharing, but also enforce governance discipline.  


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