How to build an automation Center of Excellence

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A Center of Excellence (CoE) is a team of experts and practitioners who serve as the primary source of knowledge and support for a specific topic, technology, or initiative. CoEs exist in every industry and are usually created by businesses that want to staff and fund a single team to address specific organizational challenges and achieve common goals.

In the software industry, CoEs are a crucial part of establishing standards that promote innovation—this is especially true for businesses embarking on an automation journey. Organizations working to transform their operations and automate processes may create an automation Center of Excellence to overcome the technical, organizational, and cultural hurdles of adopting automation at scale.

The primary responsibility of an automation CoE is to identify areas of the business where automation can be implemented to increase efficiency and productivity, reduce costs, and minimize human error.

Since widespread adoption is necessary for extracting the most value out of automation, CoEs are also largely responsible for overcoming the challenges that naturally arise when transitioning an entire organization made up of disparate teams from manual to automated tasks and workflows. By providing guidance, training, and support to teams across the business, automation CoEs help make automation an enterprise-wide initiative.

Although CoEs excel at navigating the complexity of implementing automation on a large scale, small businesses can also benefit from having a single source of expertise to deliver a consistent strategy, establish best practices early, and get the most value from automation. Regardless of the size of your organization, a CoE helps you achieve greater agility, faster innovation, and increased engagement with your automation strategy.

  1. Determine your mission and goals. Begin by examining your reasons for creating an automation Center of Excellence. What’s motivating your organization to establish a CoE? What hurdles do you want to overcome? What priorities do you want to achieve? It’s important to outline the reason why you need a Center of Excellence—and the performance metrics you plan to measure to determine success.
  2. Obtain executive sponsorship. Building an automation Center of Excellence is like establishing any new team, so you should get approval and support from leadership early. Leadership can help validate and refine the vision for your CoE and advocate from the top. Their buy-in will help reduce friction when it comes to justifying new costs or proposing changes.
  3. Make organizational changes. Automation is critical to the success of your business, so automation practitioners are likely to work on teams across the enterprise—not just in your IT organization. While many automation CoEs report to a Chief Information Officer, some are housed within business units outside of IT. An important step in building an automation CoE is to determine who the team should report to and where it will be most successful at bridging the gap between the IT organization and business stakeholders. This process also requires you to identify the team’s leadership and any staff who will take on a role within the CoE.
  4. Formalize knowledge and tooling. Users and developers of automation look to the CoE as the ultimate authority for automation best practices. For those key stakeholders, it’s important to develop a “storefront” of sorts wherein they can engage the CoE, discover what is available in the organization for automation, and learn about different automation aspects they can explore further. This can take the form of wiki pages, learning curricula, chat channels, and the like.
  5. Engage stakeholders in regular communication.  As with product management functions, it’s important for stakeholders to know what is going on in the automation space—and what is planned for the future. Rather than relying on written communication alone, it can be more impactful to host regular events at which stakeholders can engage with the CoE and learn about developments in automation. Communicating these aspects of the automation landscape can help build enthusiasm for the work and attract individuals and teams to engage with the CoE—building confidence in executive sponsors that their endorsement is well placed.

An automation CoE is often a first step in encouraging widespread automation adoption across the enterprise—but it certainly isn’t the only step or the last.

A Community of Practice, or CoP, is a group of people who organize themselves around their expertise and passion for a shared interest. A CoP is organically developed by the practitioners or experts themselves, and while corporate leadership may provide a CoP with the infrastructure it needs to succeed, membership is not dictated by management and the CoP may not receive formal or consistent funding.

The goals for organizing CoPs vary, but here are some common reasons they form:

  • To create connection and community for professionals who share similar roles and priorities but operate on different internal teams.
  • To establish best practices, build skills, and share knowledge.
  • To identify new lines of business.
  • To energize new practitioners, both in and out of the CoP, by building on the passion and expertise of more experienced members.

Since the outcomes of a CoP include building relationships and enthusiasm regardless of their official job titles, it’s a good fit for organizations looking to adopt automation across their entire IT stack. The shared interest and passion among members is an important tool for increasing engagement in a company’s automation journey—the more teams are engaged, the more likely they are to find new ways to incorporate automation into their tools and workflows.

Some organizations may see the natural formation of an automation Community of Practice, but for others, cultural challenges may stand in the way of getting teams to work together to make automation a critical part of their IT strategy. In these businesses, and in companies with a very top-down organizational structure, a common approach to automation adoption is to establish an automation Center of Excellence and charge that team with the task of building out a larger Community of Practice.

By entrusting a CoE with the expansion of automation across the enterprise, you provide a core team with the tools to do all of the preliminary work required to ensure widespread adoption. Through their efforts to train and upskill other teams, the CoE creates new automation practitioners across the organization motivated by passion, expertise, and a desire for collaboration.

Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform is an end-to-end automation platform that comes with all the tools you need to create, manage, and scale automation across the enterprise. It reduces operational complexity and provides a consistent user experience across teams, breaking down barriers between architects, developers, and system administrators. An Ansible Automation Platform subscription includes an event-driven solution, an expanding suite of development tools, and access to Ansible Content Collections containing modulesplaybooks, and documentation to help your cross-functional teams start automating fast.

Red Hat will not only ease the transition by helping you install and configure Ansible Automation Platform, but will also assist you in expanding automation across your organization. Red Hat Services provides support in the form of hands-on training, mentorship, and automation courses—giving your teams the tools to adopt advanced automation techniques as your adoption journey evolves.

Red Hat Services applies real-world experience and expertise to help you improve infrastructure and application workflows, security and compliance, and CI/CD and DevOps practices with enterprise-wide automation. They will also work with your organization to adopt an automation-first approach—helping you establish an automation Center of Excellence or grow an existing CoE into a larger Community of Practice.

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