Out with the Old: A New Center of Excellence Way

August 27, 2018 Andy Anguelo

Salesforce is undoubtedly more than a single-function tool. It has become a key strategic platform, serving worker and customer experiences across multiple business functions. It is arguably one of the more valuable business enablement investments a company can make.  Serving capability across multiple business functions has the ability to cause internal pressure and challenges that have less to do with Salesforce as a strategic platform, and more with the alignments, funding structures, and corporate culture. The multiple complexities and dynamics with such an investment are inevitable, and therein lies the point of failure for traditional Center of Excellence models. In looking at the general operating principles of a couple antiquated CoE examples, the centralized and federated models, we reveal the innate dysfunction of the older CoE structure.

Centralized Center of Excellence

In the Centralized Center of Excellence model, the underlying operating principle is command and control, from either a business operations or IT delivery perspective. This model places the day-to-day responsibility of running and maintaining Salesforce on platform teams. Platforms are typically serviced through defect tracking processes and routine maintenance activities. Functional customizations and changes are mostly driven from process pain points and/or loose ideas. This approach results in tactical and reactive requests that are difficult to gauge their value.  

Although Salesforce operating strategies and processes can feel like a well-oiled machine, they are inherently tactical and reactive, leaving little room for innovation and best practice. This ultimately limits optimal use of Salesforce by boxing it into self-imposed constraints and bureaucratic processes. Operating Salesforce through a centralized CoE model is a common mistake many companies make, limiting their investment potential. Necessary thought leadership, solid business process optimization expertise, and deep Salesforce knowledge are often lacking in this type of Center of Excellence. The absence of best practice culture-shaping activities compounds this CoE’s ineffectiveness.

Federated Center of Excellence

The federated Center of Excellence model brings with it a number of different challenges. In this model, no single team is responsible for overall Salesforce success — but rather, that responsibility is dispersed across many teams and siloed smaller Centers of Excellence. 

The general school of thought is that no one team can have the necessary breadth of expertise to effectively enable innovation and meet business needs and demands. Although this may appear to be true in general, it is a form of self-imposed constraints and limitations. Federated CoE sounds optimal at first glance, however they do not function well in practice. 

In the absence of overall accountability and focused expertise, organizations using this model will tend to see their Salesforce investments become muddy over time and enter into a diminishing value spiral. The lack of overall process, innovation, and change disciplines enables an anti-best practice culture. This inevitably builds fragmentation and instabilities into Salesforce orgs. In other words, the cost of ownership increases as inefficiency and complexity grow. 

An innovative approach

Leveraging Salesforce investments calls for a new approach that places strategic value on key activities, both external and internal, that foster sound practices, adoption, creativity, change enablement, and a thriving stakeholder community. Companies that have achieved CoE nirvana have departed from antiquated governance and development centered bureaucracies. Instead, these businesses have made a shift towards more comprehensive value. 

As a brief overview, modern Centers of Excellence implement and manage characteristics of both centralized and federated models. A dedicated centralized team is entrusted and accountable for deriving business and technology value out of Salesforce investments. As part of a joint business and IT initiative, this type of CoE runs more like a program with shared operating functions. 

This new COE structures innovation, solutions, change controls, delivery, and Salesforce best practices under a single operating model. A combination of CapEx and OpEx fund an appropriate balance of skills and capacity, servicing demands and executing on critical internal alignment with Salesforce culture-building activities.

An important success note 

The Center of Excellence’s mission and function matter more than where it sits within an organization’s operating model. When empowered to focus on core success activities from a business and IT perspective, a CoE — staffed with the right resources, processes, and tools — becomes the epicenter of Salesforce competency, best practice, innovation, and value. 

Certainly, this Center of Excellence topic is too complex to cover in a single article. However, this new approach to modelling a CoE produces tangible value for companies to adopt it. The intent and objectives of traditional governance, change controls, and maintaining business agility are much more effective through this approach; experienced through new processes and ways of thinking. When implemented, funded, and run correctly, Centers of Excellence are proving to be a driving force behind maximizing Salesforce investments in ways never thought possible. 

Appirio will further expound on our Center of Excellence expertise at Dreamforce this September. Our speaking sessions will soon be announced on our website, and we look forward to seeing you there!

About the Author

Andy Anguelo

Global Managing Consultant CRM Strategy at Appirio

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