This is the final blog in our series “Implementing RPA.” Our first blog discussed what you should consider when “Choosing the Right RPA Tool”. After you choose a tool, the next step involves building “Your First Automation in RPA” by implementing a Proof of Concept (POC) and creating a roadmap. Once these steps are complete, you are ready to start forming a Center of Excellence to ensure that your RPA journey runs smoothly and successfully as multiple departments within the company adopt RPA.
Implementing Robotic Process Automation with a structured approach, such as a CoE, is essential in achieving a sustainable ROI. This article will explore why you need one, when you should start building it and which structures are recommended.
Why do I need a CoE?
The whole point of implementing Robotic Process Automation is to realize the ROI benefits throughout the company. Therefore, once you have proven success with a few automations, you need to establish a framework and a team which can lead and teach others to duplicate RPA successes. Begin by establishing an organized group which can establish and direct best practices for automation evaluation, implementation, and support/maintenance on a continuous basis – hence your Center of Excellence. This centralized organization sets the stage for scaling efficiently, enabling the ability to recognize greater successes throughout the company.
Our last blog “Your First Automation in RPA,” discussed creating an RPA roadmap after successfully completing a POC, laying the crucial groundwork for building a CoE.
We advise the companies we work with to begin laying down the foundations for a CoE as early as possible in their RPA journey. The primary reasons for this are not only to safeguard the initial ROI of your automations, but also to set the stage for sustained growth and to realize greater year-on-year cost savings.
A Center of Excellence establishes critical governance, organizational structure, scalable technology, and cooperation between the business functions and IT. Without these in place, the pipeline of automation candidates will slow to a crawl or stop, and production automations risk falling out of sync with changing business needs and technological advances.
So, whether you are still in the planning phase, or already have automations in production, now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a CoE.
There are 3 types of CoE – Centralized, Federated (Decentralized) or Hybrid. We find that organizations need to start with a Centralized model – one team which establishes standards and protocols for building automations. As RPA implementation grows however, the Centralized model usually morphs into a Federated or Hybrid model depending on which is best suited for your business.
A Centralized model, the most traditional CoE model in the IT world, operates based on one team developing and setting standards for RPA implementation. Maintaining a tight end to end control ensures standards are followed.
While this type of organization is necessary when companies first start with RPA, as implementations start to scale – a Centralized model may not be able to scale up with the demand. As more players start to become involved in the process, the Centralized team can become farther removed from the day-to-day operations. There may come a time when the general perception from the users is that the CoE is not close to the operation teams’ needs and ongoing pain points. At this point, the Centralized model begins to expand into a Federated or Hybrid model.
Federated or Decentralized
In this model, there are multiple CoEs within a company. As the RPA implementation grows, the Centralized team builds and enables other CoE teams to undertake the processes necessary to complete their own automations, using the established standards and protocols.
The Federated approach is appealing within the business function, since it limits competition with the priorities of other departments. The discovery of automation candidates is more focused and, therefore, more efficient.
The drawback to this method is that as the number of CoEs grow, some control is lost. The functions of the Centralized team changes to one of support instead of active development.
Often referred to as Co-federated, this model has become the most popular. According to our research, this model tends to correlate with the successful adoption of RPA across the enterprise.
The Centralized team builds and grows business function CoEs, much like in the Federated model – but members of the Centralized team may become part of the Federated teams to enable quicker and more robust adoption. It also better supports an organic pipeline into the CoE by means of Citizen Development. Citizen developers are business users outside the Center of Excellence that use attended BOT licenses to create their own automations. The best of these can then become candidates for enterprise-level CoE automations.
This model can take shape in a variety of organizational forms. For example, many enterprises using a hybrid model allow for low and medium complexity automations to take place outside the core CoE. Still, software selection, complex automations, and emerging technologies such as Machine Learning and Process Mining remain with the Central team.
No matter what type of CoE your company decides to adopt, the real work begins in establishing the staffing and governance models. It is important to get the right people in place who are versatile enough to understand the company’s business needs and be able to contribute to overall decisions regarding the governance of the CoE.
The CoE team structure is based on business and technical roles. Key roles on the business team are best suited to be fulfilled from within the organization. However, technical roles can be sourced internally or from an outsourced RPA Partner who works closely with internal teams. At the onset of the RPA implementation, members of the CoE team may hold multiple roles until the team grows and establishes a rhythm within the organization. At that point, the team size will begin to scale with each member having clear-cut responsibilities for their role within the CoE.
The key role of the team is the CoE Lead. This position champions bringing RPA to the business. The CoE Lead also serves to bridge the Business and Technical teams. A leadership position in IT is often a good fit for this role.
Business Team Roles
The members of the Business Team ensure that the pipeline of automation candidates streaming into the CoE meet the organization’s criteria for optimization, ROI, governance, and alignment with business priorities.
It is very important to identify business sponsors early on in the CoE process. Business sponsors who champion RPA implementation spotlight and lend credibility to the work of the group. This is critical in sustaining investment in the process and therefore achieving success.
- Sponsor(s) – Business Sponsor(s) establish RPA as an enterprise-wide strategic priority and secures resources for the CoE team. Sponsorship should reflect multiple departments within the organization who can drive RPA adoption.
- RPA Champions – Drives RPA adoption and pipeline of work to the CoE.
- RPA Change Manager – Communicates plans to all who are affected by automation implementation in order to facilitate smooth transition.
- Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)/Tester(s)- People who actually do the day-to-day work and understand the process. Their input is required to correctly document the steps of each process. It is important to note that successful automations require SMEs who are intimate with the process, not the managers of the SMEs.
- Support – first line support to answer questions and raise production issues.
- Project Manager – Manages the communications between the business team and technical team and keeps the work of the CoE rolling.
- Solution Architect – Responsible for designing the automation environment, including components such as cloud and security in addition to code element reusability.
- Business Analyst – Interfaces with the subject matter experts to document and translate the process requirements to the CoE team.
- RPA Developers – Codes the process automations. The number of developers needed for each automation depends on the complexity of the process and how many automations will be developed in parallel.
- QA / Tester – Critical to the success of the automated process, the testers ensure that the automation runs and delivers expected results without disturbing other production processes.
- Operations – 2 key areas which are often overlooked are productionizing the automations and supporting them. The RPA team needs to work in tandem with the organization’s IT team to make sure that production protocol is observed and process support/maintenance is attended to. Automations are living applications which need to be monitored and maintained to adjust to system changes.
As with any group, there needs to be effective guidelines as to how the group should operate – including goals, structure, policies, processes – akin to a type of bylaw. Governance is a key component to the CoE and should be thought through in depth so that the CoE can easily scale when the time comes.
In most organizations governance models are well established between IT and the business. The term governance as it relates to RPA is in relation to the changes /exceptions in the governance model that must be dealt with as part of the COE. For example, an IT security policy may state that multi-factor authentication is required. However, an RPA process using Webbots or robots cannot perform multi-factor authentication. Therefore, authentication policies within RPA need to be defined differently.
Here are the basic tenants which should be addressed as part of the Governance model:
- Strategy, Leadership, and organizational fit
- Security, Policy, and Procedure Compliance
- System Access
One of the key areas of a successful CoE is to keep a steady pipeline of ideas or candidates for automation. Leveraging workforce practical knowledge and experience is a great way to build an initial pipeline
Ideation should always look for ways to improve the business. This should go beyond just automating existing departmental processes. The CoE team needs to encourage a deeper dive, involving not only leadership, but the people actually doing the day-to-day work, to gather input about how overall business processes might be improved upon using RPA.
The last step in keeping your RPA journey successful is proving the value provided back to the business by automating processes through RPA. Details regarding the efforts, timing, and costs that have been invested and saved by automating processes, should be tracked and reported. This component becomes a key cornerstone in documenting and proving the value chain related to automating processes within the business.
RPA is most successful when an organization realizes its automation potential and feeds that potential by creating a pipeline of work. The group driving that potential needs a strong foundational structure which is the CoE. Once an organization takes the time and effort to build a strong functioning CoE, the successes begin to fall into place. The business starts recognizing the ROI and a cumulative effect begins to happen – automations save money and keep renewing that cycle of ROI as they continue to run.
A successful CoE implementation can grow extensively with the ROI that the business is recognizing. The key is to structure and start a CoE early in your RPA journey to properly scale up. RPA provides lots of opportunities for early wins, however building a strong functional CoE ensures a foundation for continual growth and success.
SphereGen is a UiPath Partner and Microsoft Partner with expertise in implementing successful applications in Healthcare, Manufacturing, and Distribution. We offer custom software services in Application Modernization/Support, Robotic Process Automation and Extended Reality. Learn more about our work at https://www.spheregen.com