Even though a smooth ‘Go Live’ is a moment of huge relief for a project team that has worked tirelessly to make it a success, for the business itself, the actual work to make a project succeed has only just started. The business goals that the software was installed for are in constant flux, processes are changing, and user adoption needs to be constantly monitored and managed. Fortunately, there is a way to give your software implementation a ‘long tail’ and crank up the Return on Investment (ROI) of your software: a Centre of Excellence (CoE). What I discuss today is far from a theoretical lecture on the mechanics of a CoE, but rather some key practical lessons I’ve learnt while working with businesses of all sizes and across all industries.
Deploying new software is an important moment in the life of an organisation, especially if you are dealing with software that changes people’s way of working, such as Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) for instance. Users need time to grow accustomed to the new solution, even if the tool makes their lives more comfortable. Sometimes users are more interested in seeing how they can bend the new software to their familiar way of working than in using it the intended way. One way of preventing this, is to ensure that all users are not only continuously well trained and suitably skilled, but also understand what specific benefits the program can bring, the famous “what’s in it for me?”. Besides that, users need to feel heard by creating a platform that allows the business to share feedback on their day-to-day use of the solution. Allowing this through an CoE will extend the lifecycle of software and dramatically increase its ROI.
What happens in a Centre of Excellence?
A CoE is a committee of people who meet on a regular basis to discuss the software that is in use. They will monitor the effectiveness of the solution and discuss the future roadmap or the backlog of enhancement requests from the business. They will decide what requests are accepted or what strategic decisions concerning the solution should be made and will then prioritise them. In general, the CoE will investigate how they can further improve the software and will also drive adoption through training and onboarding.
Who is represented in a Centre of Excellence?
There are several different ways a CoE can be set up, but a key principle is that a CoE should always consist of a mix of business and IT people. Business knows best what impact the software has on the company’s results and how a tool is actually used. The business end is usually represented by ‘super users’ who know the software through and through and act as a sounding board for their colleagues. IT needs to be there to evaluate the overall fit in the IT infrastructure and what development effort – and budget - is needed and appropriate to implement change requests.
Why involve an external partner in a Centre of Excellence?
In the current IT marketplace, it is impossible for an IT department to keep up to speed and have in-house skills on all software the company has installed. All vendors have a roadmap and constantly update their software. No way that IT can stay on top of all that. Internal ownership of the CoE is important, but leveraging external expertise is key for a CoE’s operation. Doing so, a company can assure themselves of deep expertise in the value of technology and a close connection to the software vendor. At 4C, we work with managed services contracts for CLM that include user adoption monitoring, training new users, first line support, dealing with change requests, keeping our customers informed on product roadmaps and designing how process- or product enhancements can benefit their business. Our close relationship with DocuSign and our deep expertise and experience in CLM customers give us valuable insights that every customer can benefit from.
Isn’t a Centre of Excellence just another cost item?
There’s no denying that the internal management and the external expertise are a cost factor in a CoE, but it is the value it produces and the risk it mitigates that needs to be evaluated. Done well, it is an investment well spent. It is no secret that IT projects more often fail than succeed. Companies often have to re-implement existing or new software because the legacy solution no longer performs or achieves the desired results. The majority of the projects I have come across are replacing something existing that no (longer) works. Believe me: overall, a re-implementation is a much bigger cost than a CoE.
How do you measure the success of a Centre of Excellence?
When an organisation introduces a new software solution, it has a certain goal in mind. Obviously, at Go Live, you will have not yet reached the goals you initially set. Going back to busy business as usual makes us forget why the investment was made in the first place. A first measure for a CoE is to further achieve and monitor those goals by constantly evaluating whether the desired results are effectively realised. On top of that, there are also metrics that you can use to measure the success of a CoE itself, for example user adoption. The CoE is a sounding board for users. Having a sounding board boosts enthusiasm to keep using software to the fullest.
Setting up a CoE is not something you should be doing as an afterthought, or when you notice user attention is waning. As soon as an organisation embarks on a project, ensuring long-term ROI through a CoE should be considered as part of the scope and budget of that project.