Center of Excellence model

Exploring the uses and benefits of a Center of Excellence

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Innovative organizations embrace change. They also make the most of the talent and disciplines at their disposal to drive that change no matter where they sit in the organization. A McKinsey survey found that organizations committed to change regularly and effectively prioritize and deploy capabilities that best empower transformative efforts. 

However, any meaningful transformation also requires intentional, focused effort, and that can be hard to come by for organizations already strapped for time and resources. Implementing a Center of Excellence (CoE) is a great way to give a specific project or initiative the attention it deserves. Let's look at what precisely a CoE is, what a CoE model is, the core elements of a successful CoE, and when it makes sense to build and implement one to optimize or transform part of your business. 

What is a Center of Excellence? 

A Center of Excellence is typically a small team of dedicated individuals from different disciplines that come together to share expertise, insights, and resources in pursuit of achieving a specific business goal or implementing a new process, practice, or technology. 

Gartner describes a CoE in more focused terms as a team "concentrating existing expertise and resources in a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class performance and value." A Center of Excellence combines learning and oversight around a specific area to drive the organization to shift across multiple disciplines together over the short or long term. 

But what does this look like in practice? There are a few ways to model a CoE. 

What is a Center of Excellence model? 

Effective CoEs follow a framework to ensure your organization has the right team and strategic approach to tackle organizational and technical challenges. For future-focused organizations that consistently embrace change, it's essential to establish a consistent, repeatable CoE framework from the start. When done correctly, you can implement and engage the model to facilitate change over time throughout the organization.

These four elements are necessary to any successful Center of Excellence model:  

  • Executive buy-in: Like with any new process or investment, your CoE is more likely to succeed if you first gain executive buy-in, approval, and support. If you're implementing a Center of Excellence model, the buy-in stage may take a long time to achieve. Sometimes executive or team leaders can be resistant to change. Listen closely to their concerns and incorporate that helpful information into your CoE model and project plan. 
  • Cross-discipline team members: Myopic thinking can result in equally narrow, myopic outcomes. If you only include people from one team or department, you will be missing critical input from other teams that could contribute to your CoE. A better plan of attack is to bring together a team of people across disciplines.
  • Consistency and governance: Establishing a leader and processes to maximize the input of these diverse perspectives. Clearly outline meeting schedules and roles and responsibilities across your CoE to ensure projects stay on track and that you can build a CoE model that's consistent, repeatable, and successful. 
  • Shared resources: A critical, logistical element of a CoE model is a system of shared resources. Task the leader of the CoE with building and maintaining accessible templates, tools, calendars, and folders and establishing expectations on how to use those resources.

Use cases for a Center of Excellence

Understanding what defines a CoE and how to build and implement one at your organization is one thing. The benefits and uses of a CoE open up an entirely more actionable conversation. 

Regardless of whether you're a B2B or B2C company, the ability to establish a CoE drives innovation and improvement across your entire business. A CoE helps create a culture of change and innovation that encourages team members of all disciplines and seniority levels to speak up and push each other forward. This cultural shift promotes transparency and trust and can be a powerful way to drive organizational alignment toward shared business goals rather than individual or departmental metrics. 

A well-formed and executed CoE can also build trust with customers, instill confidence and self-assurance across teams, and establish a superior reputation among other players in the industry.

Now that we've defined a CoE and looked at what it looks like in practice, let's explore a few situations where an organization might implement one. 

Implementing cloud infrastructure 

Any digital transformation is a massive undertaking, but any digital transformation effort, even while ultimately resulting in efficiency, can be especially disruptive and challenging in the short term. A designated cloud Center of Excellence can equip your organization with the functional team, governance, consultative, and implementation responsibilities necessary to move your business and its processes to the cloud and keep your business running smoothly and securely while it happens. 

Implementing and driving adoption for new technology 

Product adoption is a challenge for even the most flexible, agile organizations, but it's also essential to realize the ROI of any new tech investment. Teams may resist new technologies when it disrupts the ways of working they're used to—even if those ways of working will improve with the new tool. In this case, a CoE acts as an agent of change, and the holistic perspectives of the team can ensure that all viewpoints and processes are considered during implementation. 

Conducting research and gaining business intelligence 

Often decision makers do not have the headspace, time, data, or insights needed to make intelligent decisions for their businesses. By dedicating a CoE to gather research or intelligence on competitors, customers, technologies, and best business practices, you can empower your business to uncover insights that lead to truly transformative business decisions. 

Of course, the way you build and invest in a Center of Excellence will depend on your organization's needs, available resources, priorities, and more. Out of the gate, team members may need to split time between their day-to-day job and a CoE team. However, as your business grows and transforms, the principles of a CoE will remain the same.  

Over time, your CoE model will mature, become more formalized, and you'll be able to show executive leadership real results and outcomes from the effort. Regardless of where you start or which path to CoE success you follow, it's an essential building block to managing change, time, resources, and staying innovative in the constantly changing landscape of modern business.

Center of Excellence model

Use this Center of Excellence operating model template, created in partnership with Salesforce, to map out your own CoE.


Try it now

Use this Center of Excellence operating model template, created in partnership with Salesforce, to map out your own CoE.

Try it now

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