“No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew.” — Albert Einstein
It happens more often than you would think: we as consultants encounter situations where clients don’t want to hear the words, “center of excellence.” As puzzling as that is, centers of excellence have gained a bad reputation because organizations have tried to stand up their own without understanding the complexities and have gotten less than desired returns. This is understandable given how fast and easy it is to do an internet search and good ‘cut and paste’ content from software vendors eager to give away free starting point frameworks. Although such shortcuts might make sense to get the ball rolling quickly, they seldom produce lasting results.
Where we encounter the most problems with centers of excellence is in organizations that have adopted such practices and implemented structures and processes that are missing critical details and interdependencies.
There isn’t one clear-cut definition.
The problem with DIY centers of excellence begins with the definition of a center of excellence itself. For some, a center of excellence is not much more than a group with a common interest, discipline, or function that periodically gathers to share ideas and experiences.
In other cases, a center of excellence is synonymous with governance, the acts or processes intended to manage and control change - usually implemented as advisory boards, steering committees, review boards, etc. Finally, for some, a center of excellence is synonymous with DevOps -the processes of development and delivery.
There isn't anything wrong with these definitions, but where they fall short is when they are implemented individually. In a modern professionally-architected center of excellence, all three are critical elements of a fully functioning operational model. We can summarize them as community, governance, and DevOps.
When does a center of excellence make sense?
In the broadest sense, a center of excellence should be used when there are multiple stakeholders across an organization's business and IT domains with some form of shared interest and dependency. Most commonly this is the case around business platforms such as CRMs or ERPs that become critical dependencies for multiple business functions and are among the bigger challenges for IT. As one can imagine, managing funding and priorities across multiple lines of business and functions coexisting in one business platform involve complexities far beyond community, governance, and DevOps.
Delivering continuous value to business and IT.
In practice, there are over 40 center of excellence capabilities that need to be in place, especially in larger organizations, if they want to own and operate a successful center producing year-over-year continuous value for both business and IT.
When implemented and operated correctly, a modern center of excellence is the proverbial silver bullet that eliminates misalignments and dysfunctions between business and IT while increasing value and lowering costs.
Why modern matters.
So much of the center of excellence information found on the internet or offered for free by software vendors is based on dated ideas and theories that have been debunked in practice. But because they’re popularly circulated, they continue to persist. It’s no wonder DIY efforts get lost and not surprising when the unavoidable pitfalls become real or how ‘center of excellence’ becomes a bad word.
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