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Establishing your Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE)

  • 5 July 2023
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Establishing your Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE)
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This article is part of a broader series that forms the Automation Success Framework. Please click on the link to view all topics. Note that there is a considerable amount of interdependency between each of these topics. For example, your choice of model for the automation CoE will influence how you need to configure the Control Room, and will also influence the roles involved in the Automation Lifecycle.

 

In this article we will discuss the role of the Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE), the different CoE structures that are possible, and the benefits and disadvantages of each structure.

 

Introduction

 

The Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE) is an organisational unit dedicated to ensuring that the automation program is as successful as possible. All activities of the CoE should ideally be directed toward achieving this goal. To ensure that the CoE is fulfilling this goal it is important for an organisation to first define what a successful automation program looks like. The following are the typical outcomes an organisation would be looking for from their automation program:

  1. A high number of organisational processes automated
  2. A high level of return on investment (ROI) for each process automated
  3. Maximise non-financial benefits from automation (customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, risk reduction, etc.)
  4. Minimise automation program operating costs
  5. Automation deployed throughout all areas of the organisation

While it is important for the CoE to automate as many processes as possible, it does not make sense to automate processes that do not provide a suitable ROI or important non-financial benefits. Prioritising automation projects based on expected benefits is therefore often one of the activities the CoE would be responsible for. Note that in listing a high ROI as one of the factors determining success of an automation program, we are talking about the ongoing ROI from automations. The ongoing ROI is impacted by the costs of maintaining the automation logic. It is important to ensure that standards and rules are applied when creating automations, to ensure they can be easily maintained on an ongoing basis. Developing and enforcing these standards and rules is typically the responsibility of the CoE.
 

Centre of Excellence Activities

 

Platform Management

This category includes activities focused around configuring the control room. It is important to begin with best practices when configuring the control room. This will avoid rework at a later stage and will also ensure that the automation program is not derailed by an adverse security incident associated with the platform. The Automation Success Framework includes a control room best practice configuration document which you should consult. Platform management also includes activities such as user provisioning / de-provisioning, deploying licences and computers to run bots, and the scheduling of bots across these resources
 

Automation Governance

Automation governance involves defining and promoting best practices for the design and build of bot logic. Enforcing the best practices is done as part of the Automation Lifecycle Management activities. These best practices should include aspects such as embedding a reporting framework into each process automated, promoting the creation and use of re-usable bot components, structuring and commenting bot logic. Automation Anywhere or your implementation partner can provide a document on Bot Development Best Practices. The automation CoE can adapt this to their own purposes and ensure that bot creators are aware of the guidelines.

 

Automation Lifecycle Management

This category of activities is related to all work undertaken in building, deploying, and maintaining automations. Note that sourcing of automation opportunities, along with monitoring and support of automations in production are also part of this category. The necessary activities to effectively manage your automation pipeline are discussed in detail in a separate document which is part of the Automation Success Framework.
 

Evangelisation

For the automation program to be successful it is important for the automation CoE to promote automation throughout the organisation. There are essentially two main goals of Evangelisation:

  1. Making business units aware of the benefits and capabilities of automation, to help identify new automation opportunities.
  2. Making management aware of the ROI and other benefits delivered by the automation program to help secure funding for growth of the program.

There are many activities that can be performed to promote automation throughout the organisation; newsletters, showcase events, process discovery events, bot-a-thons. Automation Anywhere or your implementation partner can help with ideas and content to support these. Regardless of the activities performed, it is important that executive sponsorship of the automation program exists and is visible to all employees.
 

Human Resourcing

Human Resourcing involves ensuring that human workers are allocated to the necessary roles to run the CoE. A major component of this is ensuring that human resources are properly trained. Resources can either be employed directly, hired as consultants, or a combination of the two. Below are the types of roles an organisation will need to consider resourcing, along with links to training programs:

  • CoE Manager: The CoE manager will be responsible for developing policies and governance and ensuring that best practices are followed.
  • Platform Admins: Platform admins will have oversight of the platform management activities and will be assigned the AA_Admin role.
  • Business Analysts: These users will research and document the processes to be automated. They need a general understanding of the automation platform capabilities.
  • Bot Creators: Bot creators will build automation logic. They should be properly trained and ideally certified in the automation platform.
  • Bot Testers: These users will test the bot logic before it is released to production.

Automation Anywhere University is an online resource where you can access a wide range of content to educate your human resources. There are on-demand courses, instructor led courses, and onsite training can also be arranged. Certification for various CoE roles can also be obtained by completing tests
 

 

Centre of Excellence Structures


The CoE structure chosen determines how the activities outlined above are allocated across the organisation. The CoE structure will usually change over time as the automation program matures and the CoE team grows. Different CoE structures arise from either centralising or de-centralising certain activities. Broadly speaking, the different structures are summarised in the graphic below
 

 

Centralised Model

 

In the centralised model a single team of automation experts are responsible for all activities
related to the automation program. Most organisations start their automation program with
this model, as it is quick and easy to setup and offers a high degree of control while the initial
automations and skills are being developed. CoE members are likely to fulfil many roles at once,
which enables consistency of bot logic while standards are being developed and documented.
However, this can also bring risk, as there is less separation of duties and checkpoints involved.

In the centralised model the CoE operates as an automation factory for the rest of the
organisation. While this allows for specialist bot creators to have deep technical knowledge, the
bot creators are not familiar with the actual business processes. This places a heavy reliance on
effective communication between business process owners and the bot creators.

Another major limitation of the centralised model is that it is difficult to scale the automation
program with this model, particularly for large organisations. The automation CoE needs to
work hard to source automation opportunities, as a culture of automation is not embedded
in the business units. The high level of interaction required between bot creators and process
owners can slow down the bot creation process or lead to less positive outcomes.

The responsibility for activities across the various parties in a centralised model is shown in the
diagram below. Note that business units are primarily involved in supplying information to the
CoE. However, they also must take ownership of the final automations and monitor the process
using the reporting provided by the bot creators.
 

 

Federated Model

 

In the federated model, various activities are moved to the business units to make the process
of building and creating automations more efficient. A first step towards federation is often
to simply assign Automation Champions to various business units. Often a part time role,
Automation Champions are responsible for Evangelising automation and for identifying
processes which are good automation opportunities. Additional activities can be moved to the
business units over time to further develop the federated model.

 

The diagram below highlights a common federated model, where most of the Automation
Lifecycle activities are moved to the business units. In reality, different business units will
usually be at different stages of automation maturity. Therefore, some business units may
continue to leverage the CoE as an automation factory, while others may undertake their own
development work.

 

 

As you can see from the diagram, certain categories of activities typically remain with the
automation CoE. To ensure consistent quality and practices, activities around Platform
Management, Automation Governance, and Resource training usually remain the responsibility of the CoE. The CoE must also be responsible for reporting of the benefits of the entire automation program to management, in order to secure ongoing funding. However even these rules are flexible. For example, some business units may require their own control room, and may therefore be responsible for their own Platform Management and deployment of automations.
 

Citizen Development Model

 

The citizen development model is a highly federated model where business users are allowed
capability to build their own low to medium complexity automations. Citizen developers are
not specialist developers, rather they are business users with some basic IT skills who create
and use basic automations in their daily work. More complex automations would be handled
by professional developers, either within the business units or the CoE. A balanced governance
model is required to manage citizen developers. Examples of such governance may include

  • The CoE creates policies to avoid coding or stylistic errors such as hard-coded file path or email addresses. These can be implemented in the control room via Automated Code Checking policies.
  • Limiting the number of packages available via security roles. For example, you may  prevent citizen developers from using packages that require programming skills: Python, VB Script, JavaScript, and others.
  • Each automation idea should be assessed in terms of benefits and complexity. Only low complexity work would be approved for citizen developers.
  • Business users should complete the Citizen Developer Basics learning trail before a citizen developer license is assigned.
  • The CoE must review and approve all automations before they are moved to production.

In many ways citizen development is a strategy and a culture towards automation. Each
organisation will adopt their own version of a citizen development model and their own
approach to balanced governance
 

 

Scaling Your Automation Program

 

As outlined in the introduction to this document, a successful automation program is one where automation is prolific throughout the organisation and is delivering high returns. To reach this state, the automation CoE needs to evolve along with the automation program. The following three stages tend to be identifiable as an organisation’s automation program matures.

  1. Initiation: Automation is introduced to the organisation. Initial high value processes are automated. Standards are developed.
  2. Scale: Initial successes have been delivered. Organisation sees the value of automation and is looking to expand usage. Standards become essential to manage growth.
  3. Transform: Strategic value of automation and digital workforce is recognised. Organisation looking to transform the business with automation. Desire exists to automate all areas and to change business processes where necessary.

The Centralised CoE model tends to be the starting point for every organisation. However, as the organisation’s automation program moves through these phases the model may need to change, along with the nature of the activities being performed by the CoE. The table below summarises the considerations to be made at each stage.
 

 


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