Digital Center of Excellence

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework” , an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

I briefly mentioned the Center of Excellence when we talked about digital governance models, but in this post we’ll dive deep into it understanding what exactly is a Digital Center of Excellence, why it’s important, what are its main responsibilities and how we can establish one in our organizations.

What’s a Center of Excellence?

In general, Center of Excellence (COE), also known as a competency center or a capability center, refers to a team or an entity that provides leadership in a determined focus area.

For us this focus area is digital, so we can describe the COE as a centralized hub for digital excellence between executive layers and business units.

The COE empowers the existing management and execution roles within each division to introduce digital elements as they apply to each circumstance while still centralizing the resources and intelligence necessary to guide stakeholders. This COE team is often run and managed by a Social/Digital Strategist. The executive management team responsible for the direction of the brand though, remains at the center.

Center of Excellence

Credit: Brian Solis – If you are not familiar with this model, listen to this episode and make sure to read Brian’s blog.

Why it’s important?

When digital is among the top requirements of a project, a careful analysis and a solid support are critical for its success. A digital COE is a crucial element in ensuring:

  • the successful specification of requirements.
  • the effective delivery of solutions that will enable the organization to achieve its business and communication objectives.

Today, to be successful, an organization has to have the right set of skills and competencies. In addition to the standard methodologies, processes and tools, “digital” must be available to guide the organization through the complexities of today’s projects. A digital COE provides such support and is essential in reducing the risk of projects and in increasing the maturity level of an organization.

Responsibilities of the Digital Center of Excellence

A significant responsibility of the COE is to ensure that digital is implemented with the same level of quality throughout the entire organization. Often, the way digital is used by one unit may differ dramatically from that of another. When that occurs, the organization has to deal with a performance that varies in level of quality. Digital is highly dependent on the unit that is using it, so the absence of a COE that is able to coordinate its implementation across the organization can easily lead to an uneven quality of performance and it can increase the project risk.

The COE must focus on formalizing the expected quality of an organization’s digital performance. Such a level of quality is reached initially through training, the creation of a methodology for the implementation of digital at different levels and the standardization all of tools used by the units/departments/divisions.

Most importantly, the COE ensures that the same level of digital professionalism are applied to all projects within the organization and that the right assistance is provided not only during the planning phase but also when executing and analyzing the post-project retrospectives to understand which are the areas of improvement that the organization should keep working on.

To sum it up, a digital COE should provide support and be responsible for the following:

  1. Strategic and tactical project assistance
  2. Methodology
  3. Tool standards
  4. Best practices
  5. Learning
  6. Organizational digital development

How to create a Digital Center of Excellence?

The creation, ongoing maintenance and full organizational management of a digital center of excellence involves several steps and it requires significant investment by the organization in terms of financial and human resources.
The main steps required for the creation of a COE are:

  1. Analysis of the current and future state: Where are we starting from and where do we want to arrive? Start by analyzing the current state of the organization’s maturity and then define the desired future state and level of maturity.
  2. Gaps analysis: How are we going to get there (strategic approach)? Test and analyze the existing skills of the teams and conduct focus groups with executives, mid management and project managers to understand their needs as well as the perceived/real gaps.
  3. Creation of a development model: How will you implemented and spread digital across the organization (tactical approach)? Evaluate the results you got from skill analysis and, if/when possible, compare them against industry benchmarks. Then, based on the identified gaps, define the future competency model needed to support the projects and the actions needed to disseminate digital across the organization.
  4. Maintenance: Running a COE is not easy. It requires a continuous enhancement of existing and new competencies. This involves regular periodic training, surveys, focus groups and individual competency analysis.

Over to you

This is based on my experience, what would you add or adjust based on yours? Is something missing? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments.

Andrea @vascellari
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