Dr. Leslie Willcocks & Dr. John Hindle

Effective RPA Centers of Excellence invariably do project governance well. But to achieve corporate coherence on multiple related technologies, RPA CoE activities need to be linked to wider IT, cognitive automation and digital transformation developments arising elsewhere in the organization, requiring decisions in five major areas:

• Automation Principles – Clarifying the business role of automation technologies

• Automation and IT/digital Architecture – Defining integration and standardization requirements

• Automation and IT/digital Infrastructure – Determining shared and enabling services

• Business Application Needs – Specifying the business need for purchased or internally developed automation applications

• Automation Investment and Prioritization – Choosing which initiatives to fund and how much to spend.

To achieve these ends, the RPA CoE mission and scope must be expanded and redefined to become a comprehensive Automation Center of Excellence, with authority to manage and coordinate all automation projects and the overall program. Business and service unit managers become primarily responsible for decisions on business and process applications, with expert support and some mandates from the CoE. Technology decisions are primarily made by a combination of CoE and IT, with the CoE responsible for design, development, delivery, operations and maintenance, and IT for integration challenges, and IT architecture/infrastructure and IT trajectory issues.

Ultimately, however, mature RPA users are looking to move beyond operational excellence to continuous innovation, and to accelerate their digital transformation programs. As organizations realize that both RPA and CA realms enable new business strategies, and that together they can complement and magnify value, we are seeing the rise of service automation Centers of Enablement to bring the full force of the service automation landscape under one centralized center. We think this center will report to a Chief Digital Strategy Officer or other C-suite executive. By early 2019 we saw several financial service companies moving in this direction.

One approach is to expand and uplift the existing Automation CoE mission, supported by additional skills and resources. Another practice would be to bring several different centers together – e.g R&D, innovation, digital, RPA, cognitive – and co-locate, integrate and scale their efforts. In practice the specific structure adopted is less important initially than introducing the extra capabilities needed for continuous innovation, expressed as future-focused roles:

  • Innovation leader. Business-focused, executive-level. Devising and engaging in organizational relationships and arrangements supporting innovation. Listening to emerging technologies and identifying where the business value might be, and aligning strategy, structure, process, technology and people required to migrate the organization to new sources of business value.

  • Technical architect. Technology-focused. Future proofing the 3-5 year technology trajectory through architecture planning and design for an efficient, effective, enabling technology platform.

  • Relationship builder. Business- and technology-focused. An integrating, operational role building understanding, trust and cooperation with business users, and identifying and helping delivery of valuable business innovations.

  • Supplier/partner developer. Service-focused. Understanding and benchmarking the external market for automation technologies and services. Engaging with external parties and in-house service staff to release combined innovation potential in order to gain mutual business value.

  • Innovation monitor. Value-focused. Developing and auditing metrics on efficiency, effectiveness, and enablement. Looking for continuous improvement and innovation. Reviewing progress, anticipating problems, driving out business value. In our previous blog we discussed our Total Value of Ownership (TVO) framework, specifically designed to help value and innovation monitoring.

This will be an accelerating trend, in our view, because increasingly, organizations will create competitive advantage by connecting a portfolio of technology innovations that we call SMAC/BRAID, including Social media, Mobile technologies, Analytics and Big Data, Cloud services, Blockchains, Robotics, Automation of knowledge work (RPA and CA), the Internet-of-Things, and Digital Fabrication (i.e., 3-D printing), to transform service delivery. Organizations usually experiment with new technologies in innovation labs, but getting vetted technologies out of digital labs and into production environments, via Centers of Enablement focused on rapid delivery, will become a competitive differentiator.