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Why you need a digital transformation center of excellence

Anthony Macciola Chief Innovation Officer, ABBYY

Centers of excellence (CoEs) are indispensable for preparing businesses to work side by side with software robots. The need for solutions to streamline repetitive and time-consuming tasks has propelled the growth of automation in enterprises across the globe and created a need for internal teams dedicated to overseeing a project’s success.

Automation has been widely leveraged as a solution for increasing efficiencies, reducing cumbersome manual tasks, and ultimately freeing up employees to focus on high-value responsibilities.

While the benefits of automation are significant, many projects initially fail. According to an Ernst & Young report, as many as 30% to 50% of initial Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects are not successful. Technology typically moves faster than the organizational structure.

CoEs have emerged as an integral group responsible for managing automation across the entire project lifecycle and assuming a leadership role when it comes to AI strategy and innovation.

Here's why CoEs are vital for deploying automation programs that yield the greatest value and accelerate digital transformation initiatives in the enterprise.

The role of CoEs in digital transformation

Successfully deploying enterprise digital transformation initiatives requires more than just technical expertise. Multiple stakeholders and business functions are required to properly implement and, especially, scale a project.

CoEs are cross-functional internal groups responsible for helping oversee project deployment and performance. They provide strategies, implementation guidance, leadership, and support.

Key functional responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and recommending areas where automation and key AI technology can provide the most value
  • Enhancing a business process before automation
  • Researching, selecting, and managing vendors
  • Providing subject-matter expertise to business stakeholders

In addition to management and support, one of the CoE's key responsibilities is to facilitate buy-in for automation projects from all relevant stakeholders. As champions of the value of automation, it's their responsibility to address hesitation stemming from fear of change or concern related to robots replacing human workers.

According to Forrester, two-thirds of automation leaders cite the fear of job loss as the concern that causes the most negative attitudes about automation projects. CoEs must do more than simply give advice when involving other business functions; they must also advocate for the value that automation can provide to augment human intelligence and enhance the workplace.

Strategies for building your own CoE

When creating a CoE, it's important to build a team comprised of multifaceted skill sets and diverse technical proficiencies. It's not necessary that every single member of a CoE know how to code or come from a highly technical background. The growth of automation has brought new stakeholders into the fold.

The concept of the citizen developer is paramount for a CoE. One of its core principles is to empower all people—from the business analyst who can provide guidance to cross-functional business groups.

This also includes the end users who can take more ownership and play a significant role in the process selection, design, and optimization of the automation initiative within their respective business unit. CoEs are a way of bringing together the best minds across diverse skill sets and functions, from both a technical and business standpoint.

There are three essential elements that make up a successful CoE: people, leadership, and technology. A well-developed CoE needs to engage interdisciplinary, motivated team members; have a clear vision and actionable strategies; and employ best-in-class technologies that enable efficient, scalable, and high-value automation initiatives.

The following guidelines are helpful to consider when building a CoE team:

  • Identify and assemble team members with the right expertise who can manage the project lifecycle end to end, align automation deployments with overarching business objectives, and advocate for the value of digital transformation.
  • Provide clear guidance with regard to processes.
  • Use advanced tools—including RPA, intelligent document processing, and  process mining/intelligence—in every facet of the project, from selecting the automation vendor and complementary digital intelligence technologies to understanding the processes and the content that fuel decisions.

  • Set clear governance of automation deployment processes.

Additionally, when selecting CoE members with technical expertise, choose people who are familiar with process automation, customer journey mapping, and key technologies such as OCR, machine learning, and natural-language processing (NLP). These technologies are essential for effectively deploying automation for high-value, customer-focused use cases and for scaling initiatives across the enterprise.

Understand your processes

Before deploying a digital automation project, CoE leaders must have accurate and in-depth knowledge of business processes. Developing a proper understanding of processes is where many enterprises have failed over the last few years, according to Forrester analysts.

They add that successful automation requires governance, which includes process documentation for proper decision making. One major challenge for organizations deploying automation is to prevent bad processes from getting automated.

Automating a bad process doesn't fix the process. Oftentimes, it can end up causing unnecessary backlogs or unexpected complications. An organization must first understand how its processes are actually performing, identify which workflows are not functioning as intended, and then fix processes by leveraging accurate and real-time data.

One important technology to address this problem is process Intelligence, which helps identify the processes that will yield the greatest return on automation investments. Leveraging the data that already exists in an organization's line-of-business systems and platforms, process intelligence provides valuable insight into where bottlenecks and deviations are occurring.

Obtaining an end-to-end view of operational workflows, based on actual data, allows digital transformation leaders to identify where process improvements are most needed. Optimizing processes before deploying automation helps ensure the greatest return on investment.

What’s next for digital transformation in the enterprise

Enterprise software is moving toward an easier model—one that is both easier to implement and easier to use. By advocating for the citizen developer, and by engaging diverse business functions, the CoE is an important underlying organizational model for supporting an accessible, easily deployable self-service model within the enterprise.

Well-managed CoEs help make technology readily available to a wide range of business groups—from HR and finance to customer service and the supply chain. Creating an effective CoE accelerates successful, scalable digital transformation initiatives that drive meaningful and measurable business results.

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