By Tim Scannell
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. IT organizations today have absolutely nothing in common with that excellent movie, Field of Dreams. Whereas the overriding theme of the flick is if you create something that everyone wants and likes – in this case a baseball field – then people will come to see it and ultimately like it.
Not so in the real world of an IT organization. You can develop the most incredible app or map out an infrastructure that puts everyone else’s to shame, but there are no guarantees of a homerun in terms of usability, effectiveness, and maximum delivery of business value. Success, in this case, is based more on carefully mapping out key processes, developing a workable methodology, making the best of workforce skills and resources, and applying metrics that can pinpoint even the most elusive ROI. Even then, there are no guarantees of total success.
One approach that seems to be working is establishing a Center of Excellence (CoE) that basically brings together teams of skilled knowledge workers who can apply best practices to solve problems related to specific areas of technology or business. The practice has long been applied in the military to train groups of soldier for specific and often difficult tasks (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, etc.) However, the concept has its roots in lean manufacturing and tactics developed early in the 20th Century by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of the Japanese auto company Toyota (spelling changed since it was easier to write in Japanese and luckier since it took only 8 strokes instead of 10 to create.)
Over the years, CoE approaches in various forms have become a business mandate as IT organizations and businesses strive to develop end-to-end processes that can not only deliver more efficiencies and enhance customer experience but can fuel innovation and help ‘future-proof’ operations since people and IT resources can easily pivot and adapt to changing situations and demands.
When done correctly, CoE’s can transform business processes, improve productivity, and inspire innovation among the entire organization, notes researcher IDC. Results of an effective CoE include increased market share, more revenue, a better-aligned and more motivated workforce, and faster response to customer demands.
Getting to this point, however, is a bit more difficult than mapping out a baseball field and hoping for the best. Here are some best practice points to consider when developing a CoE in your organization:
- Successful CoEs often require a cultural shift – Responsibilities for specific technology or business areas will be assigned to different teams within the organization, which can be a challenge for people who are more comfortable working semi-independently or may not be comfortable taking direction from people and teams outside of their own ‘field of vision.’ IN many cases, this requires an attitude adjustment, or in extreme cases a reassignment of duties
- Strong top-down leadership is important. In most cases a CIO should be a ‘change leader’, The CIO, for example, must be a change leader or someone who is able to effectively communicate and inspire people to be part of a collaborative culture – not easy in this new hybrid world with its mix of in-office and remote workers. The leaders should be able to craft and sustain a shared vision among workers and establish a process that can accommodate disruptions and organizational transformation.
- Key to success is having a clear understanding of strategies, priorities, and business objectives. It also helps to have a mission statement that adheres to the SMART principle, notes IDC in a 2023 PlanScape report, which dictates that all CoE efforts be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. This mission statement should also define how the CoE will operate, what resources it will be given, what deliverables will be expected, and how those deliverables will enhance efficiency and innovation, the report points out.
- Measuring success and effectiveness can be difficult in a CoE. Teams are typically focused on different objectives and may not have similar priorities – especially if goals and mandates are broadly defined. To ease the ROI-tracking pain, you need a realistic roadmap. that highlights specific and universal milestones, while maintaining enough flexibility to adapt to changes. The processes and practices of CoE teams should be frequently reviewed and tweaked if necessary. Any updates or changes to the mission statemen must be communicated across the organization to maintain trust and worker alignment.
- When establishing teams within a CoE don’t limit recruits to ‘best and brightest’. Assemble teams that are diverse in thoughts and actions and not laser-locked on any one function or responsibility of the business. Some of the best ideas often come out of left field, especially as generative AI tools are used as through process enablers.
- Don’t let cleverness and uniqueness get in the way of creating a successful CoE. While CoEs can differ in terms of mission statements and objectives, foundationally they should all incorporate capacity planning models, agile frameworks, traditional project management tactics, and governance guardrails. Reinventing the wheel is okay as long as you have a strong axle to support it.
Tim Scannell is VP, Strategic Content at IDC, a premier global market intelligence firm.