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As process-improvement professionals of all types are learning, an in-house BPM resource center can make the difference between a business process management program that boosts productivity and cuts costs--and one that accomplishes nothing and goes belly-up.

However, it’s tough to find even a single universally accepted name for such centers. Some, including Forrester Research, call them BPM centers of excellence (CoEs). Others, including Gartner Inc., refer to them as business process competency centers (BPCCs). But by any name, such centers are typically designed to consolidate BPM expertise.

Experts and practitioners alike call such centers critical to effective process governance--and well worth the effort it takes to create and staff them. “We have found a correlation between centers of excellence and BPM success,” says Connie Moore, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst.

The reverse also holds true, Moore and other experts say: BPM failures can also be traced at least in part to the lack of CoEs. A recent Gartner research report states bluntly that organizations without such cross-functional centers “will find that their efforts do not deliver the promised results, and their BPM initiatives will subsequently be disbanded.” Fully 50% of BPM projects conducted without CoE support go belly-up, according to Gartner (which will explore best practices for establishing such centers at its upcoming Business Process Management Summit in Baltimore).

So how common are BPM CoEs? How is such a center structured? What does it actually do? Who staffs it? This feature will answer those and similar questions.

CoEs remain an emerging trend, according to a recent ebizQ research. Only 25% of the 137 business and IT professionals who completed ebizQ’s in-depth survey said they currently have a CoE or plan to add one in the next year. But another 30% indicated long-term interest in developing a centralized source of BPM skills and know-how.

That’s probably due to growing interest in BPM as well. In the same survey, fully 92% of respondents described BPM as being equally or more important this year than last year. BPM is also a major 2012 priority for most of the business and IT professionals who participated in a much larger global IT priorities survey conducted by ebizQ’s parent company, TechTarget.

Gartner sums up a center of excellence as “an internal consultancy [that] offers a ‘one-stop’ shop” for BPM guidelines, expertise, tools and other resources. Functions that BPM CoEs might serve include:
* Setting standards

* Defining and disseminating best practices and principles

* Providing training

* Providing BPM tools and templates

* Providing project scoping and selection

* Advising on BPM methodologies, techniques, tools, skills sets and other issues

* Coordinating BPM efforts

* Enabling knowledge transfer

* Storing code and project components for shared use

* Improving the enterprise-wide view of process improvement.

CoEs also typically have responsibility for BPM suite (BPMS) deployment, maintenance and upgrades, says Forrester Research Senior Analyst Clay Richardson.

At one global financial-services company, BPM specialists throughout the company can now turn to a centralized CoE for help with a variety of BPM projects. The CoE offers project consulting, implementation support and training, and also provides referrals to others in the company who can provide needed knowledge. “It’s a federated environment of subject-matter experts across the business that offer expertise as they have bandwidth available,” says the enterprise architect who initially proposed and now oversees the CoE.

The CoE team’s ultimate goal is to have each group it assists ultimately take ownership of its own efforts. “We’re more of a jump-start service, and then we let them drive it,” the architect says.

The result: “We have a federated network of 60 lines of business that have partnered with us to grow out BPM in their organizations,” he says. The CoE has trained 2,000 employees about BPM skills and tools. For the overall business, that translates to big savings: $60 million per year and tens of thousands of hours in time-to-market improvements.

CoEs come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from isolated grassroots groups to centralized entities coordinating BPM activity across global enterprises. Some are stand-alone organizations; some may be part of another, larger governance group. Some have a physical home base; others are entirely virtual.

Those involved with the CoE could represent a broad range of business and IT roles, from enterprise architects to BPM project managers to business analysts to the top executives responsible for process improvement. Some CoEs also work with outside consultants or other expert contractors.

If there’s one role that every CoE needs, it’s an executive sponsor—not just for the center itself, but for every project or program, says Elise Olding, a research director in Gartner’s BPM group. Olding, author of numerous reports on such centers, says that such sponsorship requires more than simply serving as an initial champion. “It requires active participation…[and] the ability to objectively make difficult decisions and take action to continue the momentum of the process improvement work in the organization—regardless of politics and resistance to change,” she writes in another recent Gartner research report, "Best Practices and Pitfalls for Business Process Competency Center Success.” Depending on their backgrounds, sponsors may even need some basic training about BPM techniques and terminology.

The problems most likely to derail a BPM CoE effort are the same as those for many other IT initiatives: lack of executive support, lack of communication about the project’s benefits, lack of alignment between business and IT goals.

But Gartner’s Olding cites two mistakes that commonly trip up BPM center efforts in particular:
* Making process work too complicated, time-consuming and bureaucratic. This pitfall can potentially jeopardize the entire BPM program. The solution here: Keep things simple, at least at first. Plan to have the center evolve gradually. Rack up some early project successes that amply demonstrate BPM’s benefits, then scale up.

* Launching a center that overlaps too much with other governing groups. This mistake can lead to turf wars and competition for resources. To prevent it, start by knowing exactly what the center will—and won’t—govern, and also about who’s in charge. Then determine whether your best bet is a BPM center that’s completely integrated with one or more other groups—or a stand-alone one with a clear sense of its own mission and goals.

READER FEEDBACK: Does your organization have a BPM center of excellence or competency center? If so, how has it benefitted your process-improvement efforts? ebizQ’s editors would love to hear your story. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

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.

More by Anne Stuart, Contributing Editor



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