Building an Automation Center of Excellence Part One: People and Processes
Robotic process automation is rapidly growing in popularity, with the RPA market expected to reach $443 million this year. Understandably, many businesses are eager to take advantage of this transformative technology. But rushing into automation without an effective strategy leads to disappointing results. HelpSystems automation experts Pat Cameron and Richard Schoen recently hosted the first webinar from a three-part series on building an automation center of excellence.
What is an Automation Center of Excellence?
An automation center of excellence (COE) includes the people, processes, and technology necessary to maximize the benefits of automation. It is crucial to finding new automation opportunities, scaling your automation within the organization, and carrying out a long-term vision. The center of excellence draws resources and expertise from many places.
In this webinar, Pat and Richard discussed who should be involved with an automation COE and what processes they should follow.
Automation center of excellence projects don’t have to be spearheaded by the IT department, but IT should be involved from the start. For a successful automation project, you’ll need a core group with a variety of diverse skills.
The COE team identifies business pain points, documents existing processes, gathers requirements, researches automation solutions, and builds the initial workflows. This team should be made up of people who embrace change and champion process improvement. Often these people have already automated some of their own work and want to help others. People skills, organization, and a talent for research are just as important as programming ability for this group.
Pat and Richard recommend making sure your core team includes the following skillsets. In some cases, one person can cover multiple roles.
The Business Analyst
The business analyst has a talent for visualizing process improvements. A great business analyst will not only be able to document processes as they are today, but also redesign them to meet future requirements in enough detail that developer can build the workflows easily. This person should be a respected individual who can lead good discussions with process stakeholders.
This job involves taking well-documented processes from the business analyst and converting them into automated tasks and workflows. Depending on the needs of your organization and the capabilities of your automation solution, the developer may not have to be an actual programmer—it can be anyone with the ability to build effective workflows. Some automation teams have multiple levels of developers.
Recruit this role wisely. Often the best developers in your company will be accustomed to turning to custom coding to solve any problem. You COE developer should understand the benefits of implementing a comprehensive automation tool. They are still developing, just in a more efficient way.
The Operations Specialist
The operations team will be a key part of your automation center of excellence once it gets off the ground, so they should be represented on the core team from the start. They will be aware of all automation in the enterprise and most likely own the scheduling activity. Keeping operations in the loop ensures that they will be equipped to solve most automation problems without escalating the issue to development.
After finding an automation solution and quickly putting together a couple automated workflows, many businesses struggle with next steps. When you’re ready to spread automation across the enterprise, you’ll need a few more people on board.
Your evangelists, or automation champions, may have been members of the original core team, or they could be part of the management team from anywhere in the business. The important thing is that they know about the power of automation and are gifted at explaining business benefits. They’ve already experienced successful use cases with the robotic process automation software and are ready to get the rest of the company excited about it.
The Executive Sponsor
Getting executive sponsorship and visibility is key. An executive sponsor could be a CIO, CTO, or CFO. They will be someone committed to maximizing ROI for your organization, and they will see how the long-term savings from automation fit into the big picture of the organization’s finances. This person could end up sitting on the steering committee.
The Steering Committee
The steering committee will help your automation project obtain the resources it needs. It will hold regular meetings to review recent automation case studies and prioritize upcoming projects. The committee will have a plan and process to measure ROI for each automation candidate.
Your core team is assembled and your automation solution is efficiently managing at least one business process. Where do you go from here?
The Weighted Matrix
There’s a potentially endless queue of processes in your organization that could be automated, and you need a quick and accurate way to prioritize their importance to the business. A weighted matrix, such as a Six Sigma cause and effect (C&E) matrix, is an invaluable tool for the COE team. The matrix will include various criteria for evaluating processes, such as frequency, effort required to automate, criticality to the business, potential time savings, and anything else that is significant to your organization. Each factor is assigned a value based on its importance. Enter the automation candidates into the matrix to determine priority. We offer a pre-made weighted matrix as part of the Robotic Process Automation Toolkit.
Approaches to Automation
Robotic process automation at the user interface level is one of the most popular and useful tools out there, but it's not the only way to build automation. An effective automation center of excellence team will understand the various automation options at its disposal and know how to choose the best one for each workflow. Low-volume, non-critical processes like proofs of concept can be quickly automated as-is with GUI-level RPA. If you have a process that involves multiple people and is fairly high-frequency, you should consider optimizing your automated workflows with a combination of backend and GUI automation. Some processes are so critical you will want to completely rework them to maximize ROI. Find out how automation best practices can help you choose the best method for your workflow.
You’re ready to put together a dynamic core team and follow COE best practices. But your automation center of excellence is still only as good as its technological foundation. Making good choices about systems and infrastructure sets the stage for rapid growth and prevents issues down the road. Learn about RPA infrastructure, center of excellence use cases, and more in the Business Leader's Handbook for Building a Center of Excellence.
The Business Leader's Handbook for Building an Automation Center of Excellence gives you the expertise you need to put together a great team, follow best practices, and continually optimize your automation COE.