Don't Make Center of Excellence Another 'IT Project'

Ann All

Learn first-hand how leading technology providers are developing midmarket technologies to solve key business and strategic challenges.

The tag line for this blog is "alignment, staffing and culture are often more critical than software and apps." Concentrating on technology, without devoting enough attention to the underlying processes and people impacted by it, is the best-known "gotcha" in IT. And yet, it's one that derails projects over and over again.


It reminds me of the movie "Groundhog Day." Bill Murray transforms his life for the better after he realizes he can use the knowledge gleaned on his never-ending day to improve the lives of other people. The key is listening to what others say and observing how they act. That's certainly important in any tech project. But too often it gets overlooked.


Michael Doane, a respected expert in technology implementations, especially those involving SAP software, writes about it in an SAP Searchlight post tiled "IT, Your 15 Years Are Up." Doane says he is often asked why SAP projects often don't go well and also why so few companies derive the full benefit from their SAP investments. His answer:

... Clients, consultants, and SAP itself erroneously believe that SAP is an IT subject. By consequence, most activities relative to implementation and subsequent deployment are incorrectly focused.

I met a CIO at the recent Midmarket CIO Forum who told me he's banned the phrase "IT project" in his organization. "All of our projects are business projects," he told me, something he said he reinforces constantly. Most of the CIOs I speak with have similar views. So this brings us back to that common question: Why aren't companies getting more value from their enterprise technology?


The blame doesn't lie entirely with IT, Doane writes. Clients "give their IT departments unwarranted leverage when selecting applications software for acquisition, and they "usually turn over implementation leadership duties to their IT staff." When the implementation is over, he says, "IT is still in charge and the tendency is to focus upon cost containment, risk avoidance, consolidations." (Both business leaders and IT itself sometime don't appear to recognize the transformative possibilities of enterprise technology.)


Doane says all of the discussion over aligning business with IT makes him cringe. He writes:

... "Alignment" is both a cipher for "can't we all just get along" and a false grail. The only alignment needed is a repositioning: IT at the service of business, period.

IT organizations that aren't at the service of business or those that are so tied up in maintaining IT infrastructure that they can't spare time for more strategic projects are increasingly being left out of technical decisions, says Doane. (The unsaid implication here is that this trend isn't good for SAP.)


So how to get IT and business working together, with IT enabling business goals and solving business needs? Doane recommends creating a business-led Center of Excellence. The "business led" part is the key. Business must play a key role, he writes:

In a proper center of excellence, the key position is that of business process owner, with the accent on ownership. Without this, your center of excellence will simply be yet another center of mediocrity.

Also at the Midmarket CIO Forum, I sat in on a discussion in which several CIOs related their frustration in trying to get business leaders involved in IT steering committees. Business folks say they don't have time for committee meetings, the CIOs said. I expect centers of excellence can suffer from a similar problem, business people for whom they just aren't a top priority.


Doane includes a diagram that nicely illustrates the respective responsibilities of business process owners, business process experts and IT support. It looks like the process expert will be the trickiest role, with responsibilities overlapping the business and IT domains. Not long ago, I wrote about the increasing importance of business process professionals. Forrester Research analyst Connie Moore described these folks as "liv[ing] at the intersection of business and IT," and they would seemingly be well-positioned to fill the process expert role on Doane's diagram.


Doane relates an anecdote from a client who has the right idea. At this company, "working in the center of excellence for two to three years was deemed a required stepping-stone for anyone destined for senior leadership. "


Given Doane's expertise in SAP, I feel it's appropriate to share some of my posts about the business-centric focus of a successful SAP implementation at TNG Worldwide, a supplier of products to beauty salons and spas. One of TNG's first steps was closely examining its business processes and workflows at the outset of the project. It also benefited from a highly involved executive sponsor (the CEO) and a team of business people that Pete Martin, president of TNG partner EntryPoint Consulting, called "visionaries" with a "share mutual feeling about success."

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