Center of Excellence, Part II

I should know better than to blog late at night. I will never be classified as a night person. Anyway, in reading back over my post yesterday on Centers of Excellence or Competency Centers, I never quite finished my train of thought, but a post from the SOA Consortium blogs by Brenda Michelson refreshed my memory. This post recaps a podcast from their March meeting that discussed the topic of SOA Centers of Excellence. In the post, she called out that the panelists articulated the skills required to operate a SOA Center, which included:

  • Project/Portfolio Management
  • Service Design
  • Business Knowledge
  • Technical Aptitude
  • Communication
  • Teaching
  • Governance

This list reminded me of a different view on COEs and Competency Centers. A challenge with SOA adoption is leadership. Who drives the organization’s adoption of SOA? If you’re like me, and don’t view SOA as just a technical thing, there’s no easy answer to the question. While enterprise architecture has the appropriate scope of visibility and influence on the technical side, they’re not the best group for handling organizational decisions. From the organizational side, there may an IT leadership group or committee that could handle it, but what about the technical aspects? This is where a cross-functional group may make a lot of sense and could be quite long lived. I know I’ve always thought of SOA as at least a 5 year effort, and looking back now from 5 years after I first said that in an organization, 5 years was clearly too optimistic.

Even given this long-term commitment, I still think the people running the SOA Center should always plan on having a time-limited lifecycle. SOA should become part of the normal way IT operates, not something that requires a special group to manage. While a cross-functional group will be required at the beginning, at some point, individual managers and technical leaders must take responsibility for their parts in contributing to the overall goals of SOA. It may not occur until sufficient organizational change (restructuring, not necessarily people) has taken place, but the goal of the program must be to make the behaviors associated with SOA normal practice, rather than something that must be explicitly enforced because it’s still outside of the norm.

5 Responses to “Center of Excellence, Part II”

  • Rob Eamon:

    Great points in the last couple of posts. My faves:

    * “Its purpose is not to hoard all of the development efforts, its purpose is to train others.”

    * “…should become part of the normal way IT operates, not something that requires a special group to manage.”

    The key is in understanding exactly what this group is supposed to do. Too often it seems that it is set up as primarily an implementation group but then is also expected to be the primary advocacy group. As you point out, these goals are quite different.

    Now if we can just get rid of those horrible group names…


  • Thanks Rob, I’m glad you picked up on that. If there is one takeaway I hope people get, it’s that the group should have clarity on exactly what their purpose is and how they’re going to work with everyone else to accomplish it.

  • Shrini Neelaveni:

    Thanks Todd, et. al for bringing this important discussion to the board. I concur with most of your points. Having had the unique opportunity to create 2-3 COEs in the past 8-10 years, I have gained some wonderful experiences. Just in my last assignment I was lucky to build a full life cycle SOA CoE (with some technically automated services). I am looking forward to replicating similar centers for other companies. The ROI is amazing.

    Some of the lessons learned in the past project were:

    1. Building processes as part of the center support does help in the long term
    2. Risks should be taken to implement strategies that are otherwise considered unprecedented
    3. Strategic planning is of utmost importance

    Position CoEs as incubators for new technology, in my view would be an easy sell within the organization. However, the CoE leads have the responsibility of delivering the excellence in goods we promised along with processes, procedures, and documentation.

    Thanks again for opening up the discussion.

    Shrini Neelaveni

  • Todd,

    Long time reader. First time commenter. I generally agree with your thoughts but this time I couldn’t disagree more. I think creating new groups, committees, centres or offices is a band-aid solution. The EA Group in any organisation **should** be able to perform all of the functions expected of a Centre of Excellence. But I agree that in many cases they can’t.

    I also agree that in many cases “enterprise architecture has the appropriate scope of visibility and influence on the technical side, they’re not the best group for handling organizational decisions.”

    But surely we must ask the question ‘why not?’ and then take steps to fix the deficiencies within the EA Group rather than forming yet another group.

    In my opinion, creating a new group to overcome the shortcomings of an existing one is akin to saying “my house is dirty so I’ll go buy a clean one.” The new house will get dirty eventually. Similarly any new group created will eventually face and same challenges that the EA Group did (the day to day ‘stuff’), and probably end up in the same position.

    I have written a post to explain my reasoning in more detail.


  • […] Cammarano posted a great response to my last two blogs (here and here) on his blog. The title of his entry says it all: “No More Groups, Committees, […]

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