Gartner: Business process competency centers bring big benefits

Want faster, better BPM projects? Create a business process competency center (BPCC). Gartner's Bruce Robertson explains how to get the job done.

Bruce RobertsonBruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson summed up the ultimate goals of a business process competency center (BPCC) in one sentence: "You want to build better and more repeatable processes, both in the center itself and out in the field," the Gartner Research vice president and distinguished analyst said.

But he needed a little longer to enumerate all the benefits of a BPCC, also commonly known as a center of excellence (CoE).

First, a BPCC allows a company to develop a centralized BPM program, rather than just a series of isolated BPM projects, Robertson said recently, at the Gartner Business Process Management Summit. Nearly 600 business and IT professionals attended the four-day conference in National Harbor, Md.

"A BPCC plays an important role here," he said. Specifically, a BPCC allows a company to build a customized mix of BPM tools, expertise and skills that serves as a centralized "internal consultancy and expertise focal point," he said.

Other BPCC benefits include:

  • Improving project results by better aligning business with IT and reducing project redundancies earlier.
  • Creating better and more repeatable skills.
  • Establishing the ability to cross functional and business unit boundaries.
  • More fully leveraging technology investments.

Typically, the BPCC team -- which might include a business process directors, analysts, architects and consultants -- provides a standardized set of methods and technologies for BPM project teams to use. Standardization is critical to ensuring that the company uses a consistent BPM approach that supports business goals, Robertson said. BPCC team members also ensure that individual BPM project teams capture and share the lessons they’ve learned.

But despite their benefits, BPCCs remain the exception, rather than the rule. According to Gartner's 2012 BPM Adoption Survey, only about a third of the more than 500 participants reported having in-house competency centers, a figure Robertson called consistent with other Gartner research. At the same time, about 80 percent of the business and IT executives surveyed described their companies as being BPM beginners.

Gartner believes that establishing a BPCC strongly correlates with moving into more advanced BPM stages, Robertson said. He cited other research in which all participants at Level 4 on Gartner’s five-step BPM maturity model reported having a BPCC in place.

Getting started with a BPCC

Robertson offered the following steps for launching a BPCC:

Enlist the right executive champion. Finding a C-level sponsor is, of course, an early step in just about any business IT initiative -- but Robertson warns that not just any champion will do. The key: Finding someone willing to actively participate in building and maintaining the BPCC, rather than someone who agrees to support the project initially, but then doesn't request an update for a year. "You want someone who says, 'I'm willing to put my credibility on the line,'" Robertson said.

Don't skimp on transformational skills. These can make or break a project.

Bruce Robertson, research vice president and distinguished analyst, Gartner Inc.

Staff the team with the right people with the right skills. BPM leaders should identify both the skills they've got and the skills they lack, then establish a road map for training or hiring to fill any gaps. Have both business and IT team members assigned to the BPCC full-time, rather than adding competency center work as a side responsibility, Robertson recommended. Try to establish professional career paths in which team members can move up or take on new different roles as they acquire new skills and knowledge. If necessary, hire outside consultants to fill any expertise gaps. "Don't skimp on transformational skills," Robertson warned. "These can make or break a project."

Develop and maintain a communication plan. Again, it may sound like standard IT-project advice, but sending the right message is especially important for establishing a BPCC, Robertson said. "You must see who's going to get the value and who you have to sell to," he said. Keep in mind that you may need to communicate different value propositions to different parties -- and avoid doing so with generic language. "We've got to get specific about value propositions. That's what metrics are for," he said.

Communicating well also involves clearly defining and describing the BPCC's services, sharing best practices among practitioners and letting key contributors and stakeholders know results.

Use a consistent process methodology. Robertson advises recycling and re-using expertise, skills, tools, technologies, content and code wherever possible. In-house or external training will help provide consistency.

Collaborate with other centers of excellence. Robertson advised attendees to integrate their work with that of other competency centers in their enterprises, rather than overlapping or duplicating efforts.

Take an evolutionary approach. Finally, process professionals should view their efforts as a constant work in progress, Robertson said: "You must improve BPM roles and skills continuously over time." Start with communications and process modeling, then add methodologies, technology skills and people as demand grows. Strive for scalability and the flexibility to deliver both "built-to-last" BPM projects and initiatives designed to adapt to constant change.

Additional Gartner research on BPCCs includes "Starting Up the Business Process Competency Center," by Gartner analysts Elise Olding and John Dixon and "Toolkit: Internal Marketing for a Business Process Competency Center," by Gartner analyst Michele Cantara. For more information, visit www.gartner.com.

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This was first published in April 2013

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