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How to create a Center of Excellence

Jonathan Whiteside
Jonathan Whiteside
Global SVP Technology & Engineering
4 min read
6 October 2015

In my role, I work with many different technologies, teams, structures and skillsets. I work with customers who’ve been with a platform for several years, as well as those who are just beginning on their journey with a new technology stack.

Regardless of a company’s experience, the objective is the same – build technical expertise in the platform, often referred to as a center of excellence.

What is a Center of Excellence (COE)?

A Center of Excellence (CoE) is a team of people that are knowledgeable, promote, share and collaborate on a specific technical focus area. They follow best practice, and are passionate about the chosen technology. They focus on utilizing the technology to achieve the business objectives efficiently and effectively. Ideally, and depending on the business needs, a CoE should be made up of several professional disciplines, either as full-time or part-time members.

How to start?

Whether you call it a CoE, a Competency Center, a Capability Center or something totally different, the requirements and success factors are common.

The first and most important component of any team is people. This may seem a little obvious but, in my experience, it is often the most overlooked factor. If you can build a team of passionate, motivated individuals who can work well together, many of the other things will naturally fall into place without too much work.

Before moving on from people, there is another important thing to mention. When you have good people working well as a team, keep them happy! An unhappy team won’t work as smoothly; they will lose their motivation and, ultimately, move-on. The cost of re-building a team and replacing key members, is much higher than keeping a team happy! No one is irreplaceable, but good people are hard to find.

Once the people are in place, you need to invest in them. This may be in the form of formal training, personal development plans, innovation time, or allowing them to work closely with external subject matter experts. At Building Blocks, we work closely with our clients’ developers to start the knowledge transfer as early in the project as possible.

To build a team and impart them with the skills and experience required to be an efficient CoE is going to take investment. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be cheap, but the rewards are plentiful and long lasting.

So you’ve got the people and they are starting hone their skills, what next?

Continuous improvement

It is important not to rest on your laurels, and continually learn and improve.

Keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in the chosen speciality (and its competitors) is a must, of course.

Less obviously, once the team has matured, it’s time to start looking at the bigger picture.

Look at areas such as your processes across the entire project lifecycle from inception to development, deployment and maintenance.

Also consider tooling, and if investments in software can further optimise your ability to deliver.

Finally, concentrate on delivery. A sure fire way to ensure the team is invested in and given the autonomy to perform, is to deliver.

What value should a COE bring to your business?

A well-oiled CoE should provide many valuable benefits to your business. To name but a few:

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