If you search on the internet for the exact phrase “RPA centre of excellence” then Google returns a huge 1,930 results. Most of those results are for ‘guides’ on why you need an RPA CoE and how you can set it up, written mainly by RPA software vendors, analysts or RPA consultancies. It should be obvious then that anyone who has embarked on their RPA journey should clearly be looking to build their own RPA CoE. But should they?
The RPA CoE ‘bandwagon’ is a result of the general hype that surrounds this disruptive technology. Of course the RPA software vendors will want to promote Centres of Excellence since it embeds their solutions into the overall automation approach. But there is another school of thought which says that RPA should be part of ‘business as usual’, available to everyone in the organisation and not as part of a centralised, controlling function. According to its adherents, this dispersed approach to RPA allows different functions and business units to take the most appropriate approach for them (including choosing their own software), and not be constrained by a set of rules from ‘headquarters’.
To understand where your business needs to end up, and which side of the CoE debate you will want to sit, it is worth considering what a CoE will actually give you. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Ability to create and use best practices and proven methodologies – centralising the RPA team means that time and effort can be spent creating best practices and methodologies. This investment (which usually involves some guidance from RPA consultancies) can therefore be fully utilised by the team. Many RPA projects fail because of simple mistakes in how they are implemented, so using robust and efficient methodologies will certainly increase the chances of success.
Ability to focus efforts and resources – a CoE will generally consist of a single team using a single RPA software solution (there are variations to this, but even if another RPA vendor is brought in, it is done in a complementary rather than conflicting way). This means that there is little wasted effort training and rolling out best practice, as well as learning how to tackle specific problems. Once a solution to a problem has been found then it can quickly be made available to everyone – a dispersed approach may be trying to solve the same problem multiple times. An organisation that is using multiple RPA solutions will probably have to duplicate (or triplicate) all of this effort.
Ability to control change and manage governance – there are a number of aspects of change control that need to be considered with RPA. The obvious one is where changes are made to the RPA software that need to be rolled out, and there will be times where processes that run across different functions change and these need to be re-configured. One aspect that is often forgotten is that the RPA team needs to be aware of any changes to the underlying systems – if they change then the robots may not be able to complete their process. Having a robust process that connects the RPA and IT teams is therefore critical, and centralising this makes it much easier to achieve.
Ability to prioritise effort and benefits – as organisations start to increase their RPA efforts, and benefits are being realised, there is often a surge of demand for processes to be automated. With limited resources it is important to be able to prioritise them so that they deliver the most beneficial automations first. Centralising this means priorities can be set and balanced across the business. This also has the knock-on benefit of being able to plan the resource usage to best effect, thus maximising their utilisation.
Ability to increase buying power and improve partner management – having one (or maybe two) RPA software solutions, and understanding the demand for licences, means that the organisation can exert greater purchasing power on the vendors. It also means that any third party advisers, such as RPA consultancies, can be utilised and deployed much more efficiently.
Ability to talk with a single voice – the need to communicate clearly and consistently about RPA across the organisation should not be under-estimated. Stakeholders need to understand the benefits of RPA as well as the risks, and their own roles in delivering successful outcomes. If those messages are confused or inconsistent, then trust and confidence in the program can quickly be eroded. Centralising the communications means that messaging can be controlled and can also react quickly and appropriately to any challenges.
If you believe that most of the above aspects are, or could be, important to your business and its automation efforts, then you should certainly consider an RPA Centre of Excellence as the appropriate approach for you. Setting up a CoE clearly requires an investment in time and cost, therefore you need to be clear that this effort will deliver enough of the benefits described above. Just make sure that it is your decision and you are not simply following the so-called guides that proliferate the internet.