Published On: 18 August 2023By Categories: Tags: 12.8 min read

Learn how to build an Automation Centre of Excellence through Best Practices

Businesses across industries are recognizing the transformative potential of automation. To harness the benefits of automation effectively, many organizations are turning to the concept of an Automation Center of Excellence (CoE). An Automation CoE acts as a hub for expertise, strategy, and governance, facilitating the organization-wide implementation of automation technologies. However, establishing a successful Automation CoE requires careful planning and execution.

Cybiant has established its own Automation Centre of Excellence in Kuala Lumpur, from which we support global customers in robot design, workflow development, technology updates and simple knowledge requests. The Cybiant Automation CoE was built on the best practices of the Service Automation Framework and the Ultimate RPA Handbook. It’s fair to say that we know a thing or two about establishing such Centers. In this article, we will therefore share some of the main lessons we learned, so other might not need to make the same mistakes.

We have summarized seven best practices to consider when setting up your own Automation Centre of Excellence:

Lesson 1: Define a Service Catalogue for the CoE

Defining a service catalogue for an Automation Centre of Excellence is a crucial first step in ensuring the effectiveness and alignment of automation initiatives within an organization. A service catalogue outlines the specific automation services and solutions that the CoE offers to different business units or departments. Here’s why we learned it’s important to have a well-defined service catalogue for an Automation CoE (the hard way):

  1. Clarity and Consistency: A service catalogue provides a clear and standardized description of the automation services available. This clarity helps eliminate ambiguity and ensures that all stakeholders understand the scope of the services being offered. It prevents misunderstandings and sets consistent expectations across the organization.
  2. Aligning Business Needs: A well-structured service catalogue allows the CoE to align its automation offerings with the specific needs of various business units. Different departments may have distinct processes, pain points, and objectives. By tailoring automation solutions based on these unique requirements, the CoE can deliver maximum value to each unit.
  3. Prioritization of Projects: The service catalogue helps in prioritizing automation projects. Not all automation initiatives are of equal importance or urgency. By categorizing services and clearly defining the criteria for project selection, the CoE can allocate resources and efforts to projects that provide the greatest business impact
  4. Efficient Resource Allocation: Automation projects can require a significant investment of time, human resources, and technology. A service catalogue enables the CoE to allocate resources more efficiently by understanding which services are in high demand and aligning resources accordingly. This prevents overcommitment and ensures that resources are utilized optimally.

These are just a few of the most important reasons why defining a service catalogue for an Automation CoE is important. A side benefit is that it will help with defining and structuring Service Level Agreements, which brings us to the second lesson.

Lesson 2: Define Service Levels to Manage Expectations

At Cybiant, we provide the Automation Center of Excellence as a managed service. It will therefore not be a surprise that we have clear Service Level Agreements (better known as SLAs) that outline what level of services customers can expect against which fees. For those of you who are unfamiliar with SLAs, here’s a quick definition:

A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a formal and documented agreement between a service provider and a customer or client that outlines the specific level of service quality, performance standards, and responsibilities that the service provider is obligated to deliver.

So for commercial providers, it is clear that SLAs are required – they are in integral part of you contract. But even if you provide service internally, which in fact most Automation CoEs are, it would be a good idea to set up Service Levels.

First, SLAs provide clarity and accountability by clearly outlining the expectations and performance standards that various teams and stakeholders within the CoE must meet. For instance, if the CoE is responsible for delivering automation solutions to different business units, SLAs can establish specific response times, project turnaround times, and quality benchmarks. This clarity prevents ambiguity, aligns efforts, and helps manage workloads effectively, ensuring that the CoE operates smoothly and meets its objectives.

Secondly, a defined SLA, even if it is only used internally, provides the perception of value and can be used as the basis for internal charging. SLAs help demonstrate the tangible impact and value that the CoE provides to various departments and business units. By setting clear performance standards and metrics, the CoE can showcase its ability to deliver timely and effective automation solutions. This, in turn, enhances the perception of the CoE’s contribution to the organization’s overall goals and objectives. When departments see that their automation needs are being met within agreed-upon timeframes and quality levels, they are more likely to view the CoE as a valuable partner in their operations. Moreover, SLAs can be used as a basis for internal charging or cost allocation. Many organizations allocate costs associated with shared services, such as CoEs, based on the services provided to different department.

Lesson 3: Invest in a Tool for Project Management and Time Tracking

The next lesson sounds a bit counterintuitive, because: is the Automation Center of Excellence not there to support an RPA tool? Why would the CoE then need another one? The anser is simple: if you want to build a CoE that learns from previous mistakes, you need to have the ability to track how much time a specific request takes. Does a business request take two days or two weeks? How efficient are different teams working? Where is a lot of time lost?

In any service center, there needs to be a focus on time and efficiency. Customers will like it if their request get resolved quickly, and the CoE will need to make choice about where it will allocate their resources and time. Since time is the most valuable commodity, you need to have the ability to track how you spend it. If not for anything else, then do to keep track of project progress and to make status update reports.

At Cybiant, we use a Tool that enables us to track resources per projects and has the ability to communicate with customers based on their requests (simple ticket functionality). If we summarize some key features, any tool for your Automation Center of Excellence should at least include:

  • Ticket Registration: the ability for users or teams to log tickets with requests.
  • Prioritization an Categorization: the ability to prioritize request and ticket based on importance or type of request.
  • Resources Planning: the ability to set up teams and assign team members to projects.
  • Project Tracking: The ability to see and determine whether projects are on schedule.

The list above just outline some of the core functionalities that any tool should have that supports a CoE model. There are many good ticketing and service management tools that can fulfill this requirement with ease.

Lesson 4: Define Policies and Processes From the Start

The next thing that we learned (regrettably by some mistakes) is that establishing proper policies and processes right from the start in the Automation CoE is crucial for several reasons, particularly when dealing with credential management, enterprise privacy, and security. Let me highlight some of the most important areas that your policies and processes would need to address.

1. Credential Management:

In an automation CoE, robots or bots are often used to interact with various systems, applications, and data sources. Proper credential management is vital to ensure the security of these interactions. Credentials such as usernames, passwords, API keys, and tokens are sensitive pieces of information that, if mishandled, could lead to data breaches or unauthorized access.

By setting up policies and processes for credential management, the CoE can establish guidelines on how credentials should be stored, accessed, and protected. This includes practices such as using secure vaults for storage, encrypting sensitive information, rotating credentials regularly, and enforcing strict access controls. Starting with robust credential management policies ensures that from the outset, the CoE operates in a secure and compliant manner.

2. Enterprise Privacy and Security:

Automation often involves the handling of sensitive data, including customer information, financial data, and proprietary business data. Without proper policies and processes in place, there’s a risk of mishandling or exposing this data, leading to regulatory compliance issues, reputational damage, and legal consequences.

Creating policies and procedures for enterprise privacy and security helps define how data should be collected, processed, stored, and shared within the context of automation projects. This could include anonymization practices, data encryption, access controls, and guidelines for complying with data protection regulations like GDPR or HIPAA. By incorporating these policies from the start, the CoE ensures that data privacy and security are embedded into its operations, minimizing the likelihood of data breaches or privacy breaches.

3. Compliance and Consistency:

Policies and processes set the framework for how the CoE operates. By establishing these guidelines early on, the CoE can ensure that its operations are consistent, compliant with industry standards and regulations, and aligned with the organization’s overall governance framework. This consistency is especially important when working with automation technologies, as it helps maintain a high level of quality and integrity in the solutions delivered.

Establishing proper policies and processes from the beginning in an automation CoE is essential for maintaining the security, privacy, and overall effectiveness of the CoE’s operations. By focusing on credential management, enterprise privacy, and security, the CoE can build a solid foundation that safeguards sensitive information, promotes compliance, and facilitates successful automation initiatives across the organization.

Lesson 5: Build Knowledge Units that Specialize

At the Cybiant Automation CoE, we support different customers with different technologies and different (technical) requirements. Some of these customers have very mature organizations, some are at very early stages of maturity. From the very start, we saw the need to build up specialist ‘knowledge units’ within the CoE.

The type of knowledge required will obviously vary between from organization to organization, depending on the technology stack of an organization and the Automation tools that they use. The model that we have chosen is set up units that specialized in functional aspect of the CoE, as well as in different RPA technologies. A brief summary of the structure and the type of knowledge units is displayed int the graph below:

Activities in the Automation CoE
Process and Bot Monitoring
Remote Support and Maintenance
Workflow Improvements
Pro-Active Support
Automation CoE Technology Expertise

The graphs above give an indication how we structured the activities and competencies of our Automation CoE. The majority of customers that we support, use the UiPath platform, followed by the MS Power Automate platform. It is therefore not surprising that most of our agents have technical skills in these platforms. Similarly, most our customers rely on our expertise for Remote Support and Maintenance and Workflow improvements.

Lesson 6: Keep the focus on Service

In any Automation Center of Excellence, maintaining a focus on service is crucial to achieving meaningful and sustained success. At Cybiant, we try to ensure that the CoE remains aligned with the needs of the organization and delivers tangible value. In order to accomplish this, we use a five principles that are communicated frequently:

While these individual principles might not be perfect by any means, and can be replaced by others, we noticed that formulating and communicating a set of principles does bring the focus back to the customer. It helps during service delivery to ensure that agents listen (‘The Customer Knows Best’) and consider different options to problems (‘Have an Agile Mindset’). So whether you chose to adopt and adapt these principles, or chose completely different ones, does not really matter. What matters is that it enables an Automation CoE to focus on the most important aspects: customers.

Lesson 7: Periodically Re-evaluate Performance

Although the last lesson might sound very straightforward, we found it is easily overlooked. An Automation Center of Excellence is a very operational organizations, with many day-to-day activities, and daily fires to put out. As a result, you can easily get carried away with daily business, without focusing on the bigger picture. It is therefore necessary to periodically conduct a structured review, and take some time to act on its results. We would recommend to conduct this review at least quarterly.

A periodic performance review provides an opportunity to evaluate the CoE’s operations, processes, and outcomes. By analyzing what is working well and identifying areas for improvement, you can refine your strategies, optimize resource allocation, and enhance the overall effectiveness of the CoE. Continuous improvement is crucial to staying relevant, efficient, and innovative in the face of changing business needs and technological advancements.

Additionally, we found that conducting a periodic review will help to keep the goal of the Automation CoE in line with the more strategic objectives of the rest of the organization. A CoE exists to support the organization’s strategic goals. Regular performance reviews help ensure that the CoE’s efforts remain aligned with these goals. By evaluating how well the CoE’s initiatives contribute to the broader objectives of the organization, you can make informed decisions about where to focus resources and adjust strategies as needed.

Closing Comments

In this article, I have tried to summarize some of the key lessons that we (at Cybiant) learned in establishing an Automation Center of Excellence. There might be others lessons, or other pieces of valuable advise, but I think it might help any reader to avoid some mistakes that we made. The key purpose of this article is to contribute to Automation Best Practices, and to emphasize the value of an good Automation Center of Excellence.

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