Does enterprise social doom the Center of Excellence ?

9897568_mHere’s a pre-coffee morning thought and following on from recent posts about enterprise social here on Successful Workplace: with social creating a wave through the business process space, removing silos and increasing collaboration in the enterprise, does this mean that specialised and centralised functions like a Center of Excellence should no longer exist ?

Two sides of the coin

In previous interviews on BPM Redux, Vinay Mummigati formally of Virtusa said “A BPM center of excellence (COE) is an absolute must for organizations planning to adopt BPM across the enterprise. As companies adopt BPM in more than a single department they often start seeing challenges in terms of standardization, scalability, performance and governance.

And yet there was a completely different perspective taken by Max J Pucher of ISIS Papyrus who stated “…if there is one thing that Social [sic] could knock down, it is the Process Center of Excellence and the related bureaucracy overhead!

As a supporter of what the social concepts can achieve from an internal organisational structure perspective I have to side with Max’s view. There are increasing levels of collaboration and communication at stake that involve a lot more people than previously would have been invited to participate, so therefore why create a centralised function full of specific roles and ‘experts’ when what we’re trying to prove with enterprise social is the exact opposite ? The two ideals are actually opposed to each other when you think on it this way.

So what do we do next

There is an argument that depending on the BPM maturity level of an organisation that creating a CoE would still be valid but then it’s lifespan would still be finite once the enterprise social paradigm has been embraced and creating another silo shouldn’t really be a goal. What perhaps we need to think on is how social concepts can create a more fluid entity consisting of many participants rather than purely those with a process background. Innovation and creativity involves more than just singular skills.

Gabe Newell, President of Valve Software gave an interesting insight into their development process for their hit game Half-Life released in 1999 (!), where they formed ‘cabals‘ instead of structuring their teams in traditional ways. In hindsight, Valve and how they worked were far more progressive than any of us could imagine back then and we’re only now beginning to scratch the surface.

The first few months of the Cabal process were somewhat nerve wracking for those outside the process. It wasn’t clear that egos could be suppressed enough to get anything done, or that a vision of the game filtered through a large number of people would be anything other than bland. As it turned out, the opposite was true; the people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.

Internally, once the success of the Cabal process was obvious, mini-Cabals were formed to come up with answers to a variety of design problems. These mini-Cabals would typically include people most effected by the decision, as well as try to include people completely outside the problem being addressed in order to keep a fresh perspective on things. We also kept membership in the initial Cabal somewhat flexible and we quickly started to rotate people through the process every month or so, always including a few people from the last time, and always making sure we had a cross section of the company. This helped to prevent burn out, and ensured that everyone involved in the process had experience using the results of Cabal decisions.

I decided to get in touch with Gabe directly after finding the article and find out his own opinions on hierarchy vs social organisational models.

“The simple answer is that hierarchy is good for repeatability and measurability, whereas self-organizing networks are better at invention,” Gabe said, “There are a lot of side effects and consequences. The lack of titles (roles) is primarily an internal signaling tool.”

“The alternate answer is that organizations that think they are hierarchical actually don’t gain advantage by it (they actually have hidden networks), and that the hierarchical appearance is the result of rent-seeking.”

So is the notion of building silos like a (BPM) Center of Excellence short lived as we move towards breaking down the internal enterprise barriers with hyper communication and collaboration ?

As this seems to be a good year for making predictions, I’ll stick my neck out and say, Yes…..

This post is an update from an original that appeared in BPM Redux in 2010.

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Categories: BPM, Continuous Improvement, Disruption, Future of work, Process Management, Social / Collaboration

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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2 Comments on “Does enterprise social doom the Center of Excellence ?”

  1. January 18, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    I love that you contacted GabeN. He’s great, and his responses are awesome.

    I agree with Vinay. I also agree with Max. And yes, I agree with you too.

    But what exactly is a silo? Is it the organizational structure that supports the execution of some process, or is it the information generated as a by-product of executing that process? I say that the definition has changed. A silo was an mechanism of enabling social interactions when those interactions were costly (i.e. bringing people together required travel, coordinated calendars, and filing cabinets, etc.) Now it has been automated and no longer requires the significant investment in time and effort to continue, because of (big air quotes) the “social” movement.

    The main benefit of “social” in this case is the easing of the costs associated with collaboration. For example, consider what happens when a traditional COE is faced with the departure of its leader. Depending on the culture, the existence of the COE may be called into question. Effort is expended to identify a new leader and transision the responsibilities. Structures must be reviewed, revisited, and maintained.WIthout a strong leader, the COE will likely fail, taking the content and collaboration with it. The group fragments and dissolves.

    In a social enterprise however, the content and processes stand alone and have a very long tail. It’s almost like a watering-hole of excellence; people are drawn to it because it has what they need to get their jobs done. It exists whether or not they are there to partake in it. This is not a social paradigm, but rather a phenomenon of having instant access to information that is sufficiently organized to make sense to the group accessing it.

    The costs are sustainable because there are few: organizaing people around these “watering holes” of collaborative tools, content, and knowledge is relatively inexpensive, and doesn’t require constant supervision from a centralized entity.

    What say you Theo?

  2. Richard Waroway
    January 22, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I don’t believe you have to choose one at the expense of the other. I believe it starts with understanding and articulating the value that a COE is expected to bring to an organization vs social organisational models, each have their strenghts and weaknesses. why not leverage the strenghts of both approaches to minimize any limitations they indixidually have. This can and should be different based on the BPM maturity level of the organization.

    As an organization’s maturity levels and capabilities with in the business units increases and just as importantly, they consistently demonstrate colaborative and enterprise values, the role of the COE can contract. I do not believe that it ever completely disapears as there is a need for some group to steward BPM maturity from an enterprise perspective, keep the standards, monitor new tools/methodologies and continuously grow the capabilities in the business.

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