Creating a BPM center of excellence

Editor's note: This article introduces the concept of a BPM center of excellence (CoE), sometimes called a BPM competency center, and offers tips for launching one.

If you could boil one common expert recommendation for business process management initiatives down to a succinct formula for success, it might look something like this: BPM + CoE = A+.

CoE, of course, stands for "center of excellence." (The acronym can also refer to cost of energy, chief of engineers, cash operating expense and "cut out early," but in the BPM universe, it's the first meaning that matters most.)

While it's tough to find a single definition of CoE that meets with universal agreement, such centers are typically designed to set standards, describe methodologies, define best practices, provide BPM tools and templates, offer support and serve as a source of guidance, expertise and skills.

Why bother with a CoE?

Because they work. In fact, Forrester Research calls CoEs "the secret sauce" in the best BPM initiatives. "We have found a correlation between centers of excellence and BPM success," says Connie Moore, vice president and research director for Forrester Research. The reverse is also true, she says: BPM failures often go hand-in-hand with the lack of a CoE.

Specifically, in one Forrester survey, 67 percent of respondents who reported receiving clear and measurable benefits from their BPM initiatives had formal CoEs. Among those reporting BPM failures, only 14 percent had such centers in place.



"It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of putting your core business process improvement skills in a central group," she says. Ultimately, a CoE can help improve and expand an organization's process skills-and that, in turn, can boost the pace of BPM adoption.

Forrester isn't alone in evangelizing about the value of CoEs. Analysts at Gartner Inc. also cite creation of a CoE-and the selection of the right expert to lead it-as a BPM best practice. Asim Akram, senior manager of Accenture's Process Architecture Group, describes the CoE as an important bridge between short-term activity and a strategic, long-term approach to BPM.

"While focusing on tactical needs, organizations tend to overlook areas such as process ownership and governance, roles and responsibilities, service levels and standards that should be associated with any process initiatives," Akram wrote in a recent article for BPMInstitute.org. "A BPM center of excellence can help with all of these areas."

How-and when-to begin

Creating a CoE is certainly an important task-but it doesn't have to be a massive one. "I think sometimes we build it up into this intimidating thing, and it doesn't have to be," Moore says.

Some experts recommend first completing a couple of successful BPM initiatives before launching your CoE. The idea: Those early successes will help build the case for the center and attract those all-important executive business sponsors--or reassure any hesitant ones you may have already approached. Those first initiatives may also yield your initial CoE staff and resources. "Your first project and the team that worked on that can morph into a center of excellence," explains Moore. "Then you can expand it as needed, depending on how big your BPM program is."

A small company or one new to BPM may need only two to six people involved in its CoE; a big organization or one with multiple large initiatives may require dozens of participants. Experts say that effective centers include both business and IT professionals. A start-up CoE might include a few developers, a business analyst, an enterprise architect, possibly a specialist in BPM tools and perhaps a CoE manager or executive. At the other end of the spectrum, a global or highly diversified organization might have multiple CoEs, each with its own specialized staff.

Centers should be centralized, not isolated, experts say. CoE staffers should collaborate not only with each other, but with employees from business units undertaking BPM initiatives. Doing so provides the center with a broader range of knowledge and expertise and helps spread process skills throughout the larger organization.

One final note: Some companies find they can create a CoE by converting or expanding a resource that's already up, running and familiar to employees. Consider the example of TD Banknorth, a large North American banking and financial-services company that wanted to expand its use of BPM throughout the organization.

TD Banknorth already maintained an integration competency center (ICC) that helped manage the integration of various legacy systems, according to a Forrester case history on the project. Led by its vice president of technology and SOA enterprise architect, TD Banknorth successfully converted that ICC into a CoE for BPM. Leveraging the existing resource "ultimately reduced the cultural change and turmoil associated with changes of this type," Forrester researches noted.
So take a good look around your organization: The foundation for your CoE may already be in place.

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for SearchCloudApplications.com at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at astuart@techtarget.com. Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail editor@ebizQ.net.

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