Centers of Excellence (CoE) have been around for decades and can be found in all walks of life. Whether it’s a CoE for a comprehensive cancer center, a chemical manufacturing company, a non-profit research organization, or the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Center of Excellence, the concept remains the same: gather the experts, knowledge, content, best practices, and services pertaining to a specific domain in a “center” and make the resources for success available to all who need them.

The massive, almost constant changes in business practices and the technology used to drive business success make it clear that the CoE concept is even more relevant today than ever before, and in particular within the SAP ecosystem. The SAP customer trying to stay afloat in a rolling sea of business disruption and the SAP customer actively pursuing new business opportunities have a similar requirement: they need to understand how to best deploy the vast array of SAP technology and services to meet their specific business needs.

The ability to address the specific business and technology needs of an individual organization has never been more essential. SAP customers are transitioning from a highly customized, yet ultimately limited, world of on-premise ERP software to a much more standardized, broadly capable world of cloud software and services—all while trying to navigate a rapidly changing and increasingly unpredictable global economy. SAP customers need their software to cater to their specific industry, geography, and competitive profile—and to do so continuously—all while navigating a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model that emphasizes standardized business processes whenever possible. Meeting the need for continuous change within the context of SaaS has become an important core competence for SAP customers. Housing and expanding that competence inside an SAP CoE is the most effective way to go.

End-to-End Processes and Cross Pollination

The broad capabilities of SAP software today represent a massive change in how software serves the business. Every core process is evolving to become a truly end-to-end process that potentially touches every corner, and therefore potentially every employee, of a company. Supply chain management is no longer the unique domain of supply chain experts. Customer service people need its data too, just as supply chain executives need to understand the demand side—the customers ensconced in the CRM system—that they ultimately deliver finished goods and services to. This cross-pollination of data and process means that the SAP vision of the intelligent enterprise represents a technological and business challenge of unprecedented complexity. It also represents an equally fertile opportunity for success—or failure—at a scale that once seemed inaccessible.

Against this backdrop of change loom two incontrovertible facts: real productivity growth in the economy has languished for decades, despite enormous investments in new technologies; the basic function of successfully implementing enterprise software remains all too elusive for many organizations. There are myriad reasons for these problems, but the most basic reason for a lack of productivity and implementation success can be found in a single concept: problems with the alignment of business goals and technological capabilities.

Comprehensive Point of View

This all means that addressing the need for innovation while avoiding the pitfalls endemic to the union of business and technology requires as comprehensive a point of view as possible for what works and what doesn’t. And this view needs to be available to as broad an audience as possible.

That’s where the CoE comes in.

A well-designed, well-managed CoE is the place where alignment happens at the scale of the business, a place where the levers of success can be understood and managed. It’s also a place where SAP technology investments are given the greatest possible chance to deliver the envisioned business outcomes. Organizing this requirement into a “center” is a vast improvement over the haphazard, project-by-project, ad-hoc way in which infusing SAP into a company has been managed in the past. There’s been a lack of standardized processes and training, inaccessibility of core institutional knowledge about SAP products, and excessive demands on superusers to fill in the blanks. This all contributed to problems with implementation success and value realization that should have been—but all too often weren’t—part and parcel of every SAP project.

An SAP CoE can also have a broader impact that extends beyond an organization’s SAP portfolio. As companies digitize and build out their end-to-end processes, the need for those processes to include non-SAP software becomes a given. An SAP CoE can also function as a repository for information that non-SAP stakeholders need—among them admins, Workday HR managers, and Kinaxis supply chain managers. These stakeholders, and many more, need to understand how their technology and processes will change as they connect to an SAP product or service.

Ultimately, a CoE is the best way to manage the biggest problem looming over every software implementation: change management. No implementation can succeed without end users and other stakeholders being fully on board. And there’s no better way to start that process than to build a CoE and imbue it with the knowledge and best practices needed to ensure success. The software and services cost of a project may seem like its biggest expense, and it usually is. The best return on investment, however, comes from a CoE. Learn from and connect with ASUG members, SAP, and the ecosystem that—together—centers on excellence at the upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP Center of Excellence conference. Learn from and connect with ASUG members, SAP, and the ecosystem that—together—centers on excellence.

Joshua Greenbaum is Principal at Enterprise Application Consulting.

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