Collaboration between Transformation Office and Center of Excellence

According to Tim Groenwals’ view this is crucial to the success of digital transformation. Every organization is different. So every digital transformation will be different. There is no single scenario for its success. And even if you have a good blueprint, many unexpected issues can crop up. To increase your chances of success, good collaboration between the Transformation Office and a Center of Excellence is crucial. We spoke with transformation expert Tim Groenwals about the role both bodies play and why it’s good for the same party to manage both.

Catalyst for success

Introducing Tim Groenwals is hardly necessary. His 25-year career in IT has taken him to Belgacom, Agfa Gevaert, bpost and NMBS/Ypto, among others. For these organizations he excelled as CISO, deputy-CIO, manager technology innovation and responsible for IT strategy and enterprise architecture. From these roles, he oversaw many a transformation project.

Tim, today we want to talk specifically about collaboration between the Center of Excellence (CoE) and the Transformation Office as a critical success factor for digital transformation. What do you think is the role of both bodies and why are they crucial to the success of transformations?

Tim Groenwals: Each of them has their own specific task but, at the same time, they also have common tasks. 

The Transformation Office provides strategic direction for digital initiatives: it is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the digital initiatives in line with the overall business strategy so that they conduce to the organization’s long-term goals and create value. The Transformation Office also plays a role in execution and implementation, keeping an overview of the execution of the digital initiatives. It will ensure tactics are designed and delivered that align with the strategic vision as well as coordinating that across departments.

A Center of Excellence (CoE) also has various tasks. The CoE provides specialized expertise: providing specific relevant expertise in the areas of technology (solution architecture), data strategy, cybersecurity, process optimization, but also documenting business capabilities,… The CoE also determines best practices and standards, by writing and adjusting standards for consistency and quality in the delivery of ‘tactics’ across departments. In addition, the CoE is co-responsible for innovation. It looks at new technologies, identifies the potential in relation to business (or IT) projects and selects which to include in the solution architecture portfolio. A CoE monitors quality, keeps its finger on the pulse and thus ensures continuous improvement. A CoE ensures that the entire organization can improve and not just a particular silo or department. It’s about making the whole business agile and not just part of it.

You also said just now that they have joint tasks. Can you elaborate on that?

Tim: The Transformation Office and the Center of Excellence have to work well together, that’s crucial. That’s why it’s good that they also have common tasks and common goals, that only makes the collaboration better. Among their joint tasks are:

Sometimes organizations start with a Transformation Office, but neglect to set up a CoE as well. Then they run the risk that the various projects are less on the same wavelength and may even get in each other’s way. Either way, you do not get the knowledge-increasing effect that you do by combining and exchanging all the knowledge in a CoE.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Center of Excellence and a Transformation Office

You have a lot of experience with major transformations. Can you point out what the critical success factors are? 

Tim: As I mentioned earlier, you often have to make adjustments ‘en cours de route’. If a Center of Excellence and a Transformation Office each make their own adjustments without aligning them, then it becomes difficult to keep the transformation train on track.

One of the big pitfalls is that strategy and tactics are not aligned, so that the Transformation Office and the CoE each go their separate ways and maybe get in each other’s way.

It is also important that you have a solid plan and can show tangible results. The metrics you can use to measure success are quite diverse. To name a few: the adoption by the organization of best practices, improving operational efficiency (process, cost…), consistent high quality of deliverables, time-to-market reduction, improvement in knowledge transfer and skill development… These are all very concrete things that you can manage.

And everyone will agree that you need support from the top, not just as a sponsor, but also to put the whole company in front of its responsibility in time to realize the value creation.

External input increases success rate

Skills and experience are obviously very important, and not always sufficiently present within an organization. External knowledge then fills those gaps. Is it also a good thing to involve an external agency in the Transformation Office and the Center or Excellence?

Tim: Bringing in missing knowledge (via external consultants) is absolutely necessary. You can move quickly and get the organization moving with knowledge. After all, they bring experience from other projects at other companies. When they share those best practices, they help increase the overall maturity of the organization. It also increases the speed at which you can move forward, because they already know what works and what doesn’t. But most of all, an external agency brings in new insights that you’re less likely to expect from people who have been working within the same company for a few decades. An external can also focus on the work they need to do. Internal employees need to meet certain internal objectives, and may only put their work for transformation second or third. Last point: an external consultant brings a certain element of surprise and has more credibility than someone who is part of the furniture in the eyes of his colleagues. Also, don’t underestimate the coaching role within, say, a Center of Excellence. It can be uncomfortable when a project manager suddenly has to coach his own supervisor from his role in the CoE. 

In the past, you have worked with ACOMPANY for a Center of Excellence and Transformation Office. What was your experience with them, and why would you recommend them to other organizations?

Tim: At Ypto, I worked very closely with ACOMPANY, and I especially remember that the weekly conversations I had with them provided a lot of value. They acted as a sounding board for me to test new insights and ideas and to maintain focus. To ensure that the Transformation Office and the Center of Excellence worked well together, I gave them responsibility on both.

For me, in this way, they were the glue between the different projects, they made sure that everything was better orchestrated and that knowledge was exchanged so that we arrived at a high performing team. Thanks to their holistic approach, they are strong both strategically and tactically.

That combination ensures impact, with effective delivery and implementation. I felt with them a great drive to get results and have impact, and really create value. They brought focus and a lot of knowledge that they were happy to share.

Their multidisciplinary agency model allowed them to bring in additional resources and know-how at any given time where it created the most value. That had an accelerating effect on the whole project, especially since all those experts worked together smoothly.

You don’t have that if you start hiring that expertise from different companies. By working with them, we not only had a single point of contact, but also a single point of accountability. So no, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire ACOMPANY again.

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