The days when you could derive a competitive benefit by simply automating some process are long gone. It’s now a question of how effective the automation will be, rather than whether you should adopt it. In other words, the competitive advantage is realized through a holistic and strategic management of all bits and pieces of automation within an organization.
To achieve that, enterprises should implement an automation center of excellence (ACOE) as part of an overall strategy to create new business opportunities. It centralizes and manages automation capabilities, rather than simply streamlining a particular task for an organization. It also treats automation as an ongoing project requiring regular planning, testing, and evaluation.
Today, we are going to take a deeper dive into what an Automation Center of Excellence is, what its benefits are, and who the best candidates are to adopt this approach of strategically managing automation.
What Is An Automation Center of Excellence
Automation technology provides you with a variety of options for meeting your unique business needs, but an ACOE isn’t tied to any particular application. It can manage many types of tools, including job scheduling, robotic process automation (RPA) or automation tools built into existing applications.
An ACOE — the right combination of people, processes, and technology — must have strong, policy-driven governance to be effective. It also needs to be highly scalable to future proof it against changes in the size of the organization’s operations.
Furthermore, an ACOE must be integrated into all business processes and driven by business needs by providing a measurable return on investment (ROI) with an acceptable total cost of ownership (TCO). Business process management (BPM) is a similar concept that’s closely linked to ACOEs. BPM attempts to optimize business processes, generally for the purpose of making operations more agile and improving business performance. An ACOE has similar goals, although it focuses on the technological aspects of a successful automation strategy.
Finally, comprehensive reporting capabilities are an essential requirement for ACOEs.
Organizations have been using the center of excellence (COE) model to transform their operations for decades, but the trend towards ACOEs is relatively new.
Common uses of ACOEs include simplifying complex processes like loan origination, which require the processing of loans by multiple parties in sequential order. Human resources (HR) onboarding and offboarding also lends itself to automation, allowing enterprises to scale their operations quickly without adding full-time employees (FTEs).
Business process outsourcing (BPO) has historically been a popular way to gain the benefits of automation without increasing the workload of their IT staff. However, many organizations are now looking to perform automation in-house once again.
An ACOE lets you take control of your business processes in an efficient manner that will help you maintain evergreen IT processes. It also gives you greater agility since you can configure a robot without being restricted by the terms of a BPO contract.
Technological advances have also facilitated automation, particularly the increasing capabilities of business software applications. Organizations routinely use these applications to help them meet business objectives, including niche applications and in-house tools.
Advances in automation software have been especially great in recent years, as tools are now able to manage many individual tasks. These changes are driving the trend towards digital transformation, allowing organizations to integrate their automation solutions with other applications. This capability provides a number of benefits such as maximizing the ROI of existing software, enabling DevOps, increasing information security and data analytics.
Many organizations use an ACOE to meet these objectives, typically by implementing automation in stages. This practice gets everyone involved with technology, which can blur the lines between IT, operations, and business departments.
A solid automation strategy is thus essential for avoiding confusion over governance and security issues. An ACOE helps different roles work together in a structured manner, allowing people in each group to contribute their unique skills towards furthering business objectives.
Who Is A Good Candidate For This?
Large organizations commonly experience the challenge of complex operating environments with individual areas that use automation in isolation from each other. An ACOE can help tie these islands of automation together by identifying and prioritizing new opportunities for automation, without needing to reinvent the wheel each time.
You may think that only large enterprises need an ACOE, but it can also benefit smaller organizations. An unstructured approach to automation may work well when you need to automate a few workflows, but failing to implement best practices can restrict future growth as your need for automation increases. The limited budgets that small companies typically have also make it more important for them to maximize the ROI of their investment in automation software.
How Should Your ACOE Be Organized?
An ACOE’s structure may be classified into people and process, and systems and infrastructure. Both of these pillars require a solid foundation before you can begin an automation project for your organization that will make the most of your automation investment.
Putting the right people and processes together is the first step in achieving an effective ACOE. Your IT department doesn’t necessarily lead an automation project, but they should be involved from the beginning. The core group will need a variety of skill sets to perform diverse tasks such as gathering business requirements, documenting existing processes, researching automation solutions and developing workflows.
Your systems and infrastructure provide the technological foundation for your ACOE and help prepare your organization for the rapid implementation of automation. DevOps best practices are just as important in IT automation as they are for other systems, so it’s critical for you to test, monitor and evaluate when changing them. This approach helps minimize downtime, especially when running automated processes across an entire enterprise.
Implementing an ACOE will require you to change some mindsets in your organization, since not everyone will see the benefits of automation when you begin this project. Some employees will need to see positive results before you’ll be able to sell them on your new approach to automation.
It is crucial to the success of your ACOE that all involved teams adopt an Agile development and testing approach to thinking and implementation as this isn't a static, one-off project, but rather a holistic way to constantly evolve, improve, and perfect your automation.
Start this process by identifying people who already support automation initiatives, so they can help you promote support for automation throughout your organization. Appointing people with the right skills to lead your core team is also a key requirement for a successful ACOE implementation.