As we now enter the phase where several organizations are finding themselves in three to five years of their automation journey, many are seeking inputs to help drive momentum into their automation program.
RPA CoE Operating Models
They have gone past the stage of finding the “low-hanging fruits” to maturing into a sizable automation shop where the value of automation is well established. They typically have upwards of 200 automations (or many more) in production and a well-organized CoE and even developed their own best practices. Many have already started implementing cognitive technologies and have some early use cases using advanced OCR, human-in-the-loop, or other technologies.
One question that I often find coming from the heads of automation CoEs in such organizations is about the ways of accelerating the value they are bringing to their organization. While there certainly are accomplishments to be found, there are a few issues that seem common across several organizations:
- What seemed to work in driving the automation pipeline is now returning fewer opportunities.
- Some parts of the organization report that the cost model is not attractive based on their chargeback model. This is affecting demand.
- Areas of the organization are not happy with the time the CoE takes to deliver automations, factoring in the queue, and the actual effort to build the automations.
When looking at these issues together, they do seem to suggest that these add up to some strong headwinds for these organizations’ short-term and long-term goals for their robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation programs. This is the time to look at what has worked in the current operating model as organic growth.
How Can a Federated RPA CoE Model Drive Growth?
However, this also opens opportunities to explore other levers to drive growth through inorganic interventions in the next phase of their maturity and growth. This is also the time to re-look at the role of the CoE itself, its organization, and, in fact, its very purpose of existence. Most organizations set up CoEs to concentrate and centralize the efforts for automation as these organizations embarked on their automation journeys. For all the right reasons, they gave them the autonomy to develop and grow this practice. Their focus was to identify the right technology, put in the processes, and develop skills to deliver automations that helped reduce operating costs, reduce risk, improve customer experience, and other benefits. However, the role had primarily been of an executioner where the CoEs built teams to deliver these automations in a centralized fashion.
With the proliferation of automation across the organization, intelligent automation is no longer an esoteric subject that it used to be a few years back. Also, expectations have now increased after the initial shine, and awe of the technology has faded. Comparisons with other technologies and services are inevitable. In hindsight, all these have been adding to that perfect storm. It is also a natural progression as technologies develop, costs reduce, and expectations scale. This is where the CoEs need to re-calibrate their objectives and the very purpose of their existence. They have built a center of excellence that has tremendous insights and developed their own playbook of what works and what doesn’t within their organization. It is now time for the CoEs to morph into the role of an executioner and also an enabler. Their role should now be to enable their organization to reap greater benefits from automation but not build all of them. This is where the federation of automation capabilities comes in as that inorganic lever of growth and maturity.
Moving from Centralized to Federated CoE Model
How can this work? Well, there is no one way to do this. Each organization can implement this as it sees works best within its constraints and opportunities. However, broadly, this entails enabling new teams sitting within the rest of the organization to be self-sufficient in identifying processes for automation, building automations, and in some cases, even managing the ongoing execution of these automations. Since the CoE has known all these phases of an RPA lifecycle well, they can help build a framework for rolling this model across the organization. While each implementation can be unique, broadly, the following phases of the RPA lifecycle are most often federated:
- Process Management: process identification, evaluation, and assessment to find the processes that are automated based on various factors for the assessment
- Delivery Management: the actual development of the automations
The third phase (Operations Support) which involves managing automations on an ongoing basis post-go-live, is best centralized in most contexts. This ensures that the single platform adheres to the organizational security and infrastructure guidelines. It is not unheard of in some organizations where federated teams may also own their own platform and Operations Support function for RPA.
Overall, the federated model can mostly develop to be a hybrid model where the CoE continues to work on automations for the rest of the organization and complex ones for teams that have federated teams. The CoE thus morphs from being just an executioner to being an enabler and an executioner. The new role requires the CoE to strengthen in terms of its functions and organization.
Key Roles and Responsibilities in Federated CoE Model
The key roles of an enabler are at two levels:
- One-Time Enablement: The CoE can empower new teams that come together or are assigned by the leader of a business group to both identify and build automations (Process Management and Delivery Management). Again, this is the most common model, but federation can be partially enabled with just one of these, depending on the organizational context. The CoE can help build the initial ramp-up plan, which includes awareness, education, and mentoring, to see that the new recruits are aware of the rules of the game and set to build automations that comply with the organizational governance model. This is very important because it ensures that automations now built outside the CoE are within the organization’s guardrails.
- Continuous Enablement: There are several areas where the new teams may need help. Something that the CoE will need to factor in and build a support system around. It could include recruiting champions in each federated team who take part in a champions’ club of sorts and disseminate information within their respective groups. As technology and other changes in the infrastructure development, the CoE will need to build an ongoing governance model to ensure all federated teams are kept abreast of changes (say in nomenclature or development practices). This can also be a forum to get feedback from the federated teams.
The CoE should also drive organization-wide communications and various cultural adoption initiatives. This should include conveying benefits already delivered to the organization and various avenues to explore for the employees in the organization.
Apart from these, there are other components that go into developing a good ecosystem. Some of these must come from within the organization. For several other parts, there are some very helpful components within SS&C Blue Prism’s ecosystem that all customers have access to at no cost. Areas like training material can be fully leveraged from Blue Prism University. There is also a lot of technical information, online community, and other avenues hosted by SS&C Blue Prism that can really help such federated teams (and even the CoE) better understand the technology and the possibilities it opens up.
Managing Challenges with RPA Federated CoE
In the most common models, federated teams take up simple and medium automations and complex ones are moved to the CoE team. Overall, embracing such a model helps open new avenues to identify and build automations. If these teams are well enabled and supported, the CoE still being the key orchestrator, the organization gains by accelerating the adoption of automation technology. It also helps up the profile of the CoE which can drive deeper and broader penetration of intelligent automation. For the business units that build federated teams, they can now move faster with their own team trained to do some tasks the CoE would take more time and cost to deliver. Since the teams are within the business unit, often the efforts (and the cost are subsidized) as there is no chargeback.
While all this works great, there are some challenges that organizations run into. It is good to think through these and any others that can be pre-empted and planned for. Some challenges seen are:
- Dropouts: Some individuals or even business units may see their initial interest levels fade. This could be because of several reasons, including lack of proper support, change in departmental leadership, or movement of people.
- Poor Adherence to CoE Guidelines: The CoE needs to track ongoing activities to ensure that the federated teams are working within the operational guardrails. If these have not been adhered to and not corrected, it may end up creating automations that may cause havoc in the system or challenges in case changes need to be implemented later.
- Technology evolution: Sometimes teams may want to move to some other technology if they don’t find enough support or for other reasons. This is rare, but if the CoE governance is not smooth, some teams may find the guidelines quite difficult to adhere to. In such cases, they may want to move to a different technology that also gives them more independence.
The CoE should factor in these and other issues they foresee as they go into the one-time and continuous enablement plan. Some of these (like dropouts) are inevitable and the plan should factor in these. Several organizations have seen tremendous success with a strong partnership between the CoE and the federated teams which are key to success.
Overall, there is a definite value for the Intelligent Automation CoE to consider developing its role to enable federated teams and use these force multipliers to help organizations accelerate their benefits reaped through the use of this transformational technology.
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