August 11, 2020

Establishing a Robotic Operating COE: Success Criteria for Starting

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The idea of a Center of Excellence can sometimes seem like a large, monolithic entity that can feel quite overwhelming to many who are in the early stages of automation deployments within their organizations. The concept of formalizing a program is recognized quite broadly in business and technology circles, many times taking the form of a Center of Excellence.

Certainly there is great value in taking the planning of an automation effort seriously and doing plenty of research to understand best practices for organization, governance, security, and operations. However, when starting out, this does not require the creation of a large new organizational structure. When discussing the concept of a Robotic Operating Center of Excellence with clients, we prefer to focus on the concepts that add value and control risk.

Viewing an RPA program through this lens of capabilities, we help clients navigate the series of options and decisions to arrive at the right mix of centralization, guardrails, and flexibility. Our objective in this process is to help clients identify the baseline set of capabilities, competencies, tools, and resources necessary to achieve their automation goal. Through several activities and workshops, we also help clients to establish a roadmap for future program enhancements. The key steps in this process are:

        • Identify the foundational capabilities and tools
        • Put capabilities in place to deliver on those needs
        • Establish a roadmap to satisfy future needs and growth

The lesson at this stage of program development is to start with the basics of governance, policy, security, and operations. Define critical COE services to enable at the start, and once you have this foundation in place, it’s important that you adapt to the evolving demands of stakeholders.

Here, we illustrate the capabilities of a newly formed Center of Excellence with some key day one capabilities highlighted. The others, while still important, can be developed as you transition towards a higher level of program maturity.


Some key things to consider for growth beyond the initial launch include:

  1. Plan for operational support.

One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to underestimate the operational demands of RPA. RPA has been promoted as a quick way to turbocharge your business processes by eliminating manual work, but the reality of what it takes to support and scale a program can take some companies by surprise. Bots run on infrastructure and leverage a number of tools and applications to complete the tasks of the business process. That infrastructure is dynamic, sometimes expansive, and can be very fluid, which will affect the environment in which the bots work.

Maintaining the health of bots takes planning and effort. Managing infrastructure and responding to bot issues will become a full-time job. One way to understand this need is to think about the role a tiered help desk plays in assisting with issue triage and resolution for more traditional areas of business. RPA is no exception in this regard:

        • Virtual machines will need to be provisioned and software installed and patched.
        • Bots will fail to run and require triage.
        • RPA platform licenses will need to be managed.
        • Bot code will need to be deployed between environments.
        • Bot credentials will need to be provisioned and managed throughout the lifecycle of the bot.

All of these activities will require attention, and the effort to support them can lead to major delays in response times if you haven’t planned for them. A good strategy is to embed digital and RPA into your organization in a more significant way rather than think of it as a separate operation that exists in isolation. For example, one way is to leverage a traditional help desk support model, with tier one assistance handled by the digital worker supervisor for day-to-day issues, and skilled RPA resources handling tiers two and three. The help desk can be used to ensure stability and support stakeholders.

  1. Listen to stakeholders and be prepared to adapt and reinforce best practices that are lacking.

One good practice is to track reported issues and complete root cause analysis to gain valuable insight as to where you need to adapt and improve your program. Use these insights to address the most immediate issues impeding your progress, and keep stakeholders informed about future developments in order to maintain support and confidence of the teams who have embraced automation.

  1. The early adopters of RPA in your firm can be your best advocates, but they can turn into your biggest critics if their experience is subpar.

As you establish and enhance the automation program, the first RPA users will feel the growing pains. While learning how RPA will best integrate into your organization, you may encounter rigid processes and resistance from internal support teams that are responsible for various functions your program relies on to operate. To successfully integrate RPA, it may be necessary to make changes in program processes in order to ensure that you adhere to policies and meet expectations of various stakeholders. The goal is to work toward a high degree of stakeholder engagement and strive to provide the most responsive experience possible for these early adopters. This is critical to maintaining support and confidence of the teams who have embraced automation.

  1. Implementing tools to support the automation capabilities of your program can be very helpful at the start.

For example, managing use cases in a use case lifecycle application can be valuable and serve as a key enabler for your program. However, the tools that you employ to deliver these capabilities do not need to be systems nor do they need to be overly complex. You can get started with tracking use cases by utilizing spreadsheets, evaluate the technology with a simple questionnaire, and calculate an estimated ROI using a spreadsheet template. We recommend focusing your efforts on designing these capabilities and start with very simple tools to manage and deliver them. Over time, you will be able to learn what works best in your environment and enhance the program with more robust tools and applications. Starting simple will give you the opportunity to learn what works and limit expensive tool rework.


There is no single approach for structuring your program that will be right for every organization. Finding the perfect balance between structure and flexibility will be the key to its success. It’s important to recognize that the value of a structured program is the support it provides to stakeholders. One that is well designed helps them to understand how to access resources and provides guardrails to ensure risks are effectively managed. Starting small by focusing on basic governance, policy, security, and operations will ensure your program can gain traction and overcome common obstacles that many experience when starting out. After your Center of Excellence is open for business, make sure you have good metrics and open communication with your stakeholders so you can evolve the program to meet the changing demands of the company.



Interested in learning more about establishing a Robotic Operating Center of Excellence?

Download our guidebook for an insight on why a COE matters, the steps and key considerations necessary to establishing a world-class program, and how to maximize your business value.