How to Build Your Virtual Center of Excellence

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

A Virtual Center of Excellence is a fairly new organizational concept. Its aim is to bring the capabilities, knowledge and expertise together from diverse teams across geographical and organization boundaries to create something exemplary and distinguishable within its domain. Said another way, VCOEs create a kick-ass team of experts brought together over the web. VCOEs have been created for all sorts of industries and applications where capabilities are spread over several geographies, such as in medicine, mobile communication and IT.

Especially in today’s climate of outsourcing and multinational organizations, its important for a leader of IT to make the best use of her resources by ensuring they collaborate. The capability of the whole organization is better than the sum of the capabilities of individual teams. If an IT leader can bring together all her capabilities into one place, surely it can be the most optimal way of delivering services to clients, as well as encouraging innovation through diversity.

So how do you go about this? Through leadership and technology.

It’s vital that you get the leadership right to initiate and develop your VCOE. You’ll be bringing people together from different countries, organizations, cultures and timezones so it will be a challenge to get them to collaborate. However, leadership is the key ingredient and the key enabler, everything else is secondary.

Your leadership must set out the vision of what is to be achieved, as well as, the way it is to be achieved. It’s the know-how and know-why . Your vision and your methodology must be compelling, obviously, but it’s really about getting engaged early with everyone involved. Your leadership is a team effort – it won’t work otherwise – so it’s important to establish evangelists in each location and make sure they’re empowered to give incentives to their colleagues and also have the character to bang the drum.

One of the first platforms to enable VCOEs were applications such as Microsoft Sharepoint, where live business information can be shared, documents created and managed, intranet applications hosted and accessed from anywhere, and people thought it was top banana. There are also free software solutions available – do a Google search for ‘sharepoint competitor ‘. BPMS solutions are also being deployed into VCOEs so that a whole business process and workflow can be engineered around your chosen methodology. Whatever you choose, your implementation is most important. Don’t just throw in some collaborative apps and expect them to work – you’ll need to configure them so that it fits with how you’ve chosen to work. I think the trick is to start small and work your way up. First get everyone on a list and have them grouped both by locale and by role/team – represent the community. Then build in information sharing capabilities – let the team see how to access resources. Then apply your processes – use workflow or processes to control the flow of information. Then apply your management reporting – lastly build your reporting mechanisms – I put this last as up until this point you should expect loads of change and you’ll be continually rewriting reports if you apply them too early. Some investment upfront will be well-placed to do a ‘model-office’ on the technology – i.e. run an example through the system and check it works for you.

Important point: You should place a representative in each locale to provide training and support – don’t try and do this centrally. You need people locally who speak the language, know the people and can build relationships. Another important point is to place a representative who can gather and receive feedback about the technology and the leadership and feed it through, both ways. Collaboration is about engagement and teamwork, so you can’t afford any issues to fester. Respond quickly to the feedback and a must – share this feedback with everyone to trigger any similar feedback from other locales. This is probably best done using the technology itself – most platform support this kind of thing.

To summarize the steps, here they are:

  1. Establish your vision and how you want it delivered
  2. Appoint representatives in each location – evangelist/advocate, training and support, and communications
  3. Communicate the vision and the methodology across the team – remember know-how and know-why
  4. Deploy your VCOE platform, e.g. Microsoft Sharepoint
  5. Represent the whole team as a community on the platform
  6. Integrate messaging such as email and establish the feedback mechanisms
  7. Enable information sharing
  8. Deploy your processes/workflow
  9. Build your management reports

And constantly evangelize, advocate and encourage adoption, feedback and collaboration through your leadership team. Good luck!

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