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IT & the Center of Excellence: Paving the Way in Analytics & Next-Gen Communications

Since reading last month's No Jitter piece, "Giving IT a Say in the Collaboration Cloud," I haven't been able to get the notion of creating a center of excellence, or CoE, out of my mind.

In that post, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar encourages IT to empower lines of business (LOB) to go their own ways in selecting applications they'd like provisioned from the cloud but to act as a cloud services CoE. In this capacity, IT essentially becomes a cloud broker, taking on responsibility for maintaining a list of approved applications, developing selection and assessment criteria, and managing the enterprise relationship with cloud service providers. In so doing, IT makes itself essential to the decision making -- a fount of guidance and expertise rather than a tar pit of sticky processes and delay to be avoided at all costs.

I'd agree that building a CoE is a solid idea, so much so that I'd suggest you think about extending the concept beyond the cloud apps realm that Lazar addresses. As I see it, IT would do well to establish CoEs around two other increasingly important disciplines: business analytics and communications-related application development.

The CoE idea isn't new, not even to IT. In fact, CoEs often bubble up around new enterprise technologies. And now, with increasing calls for applying analytics to all areas of the business, including the contact center, and loudening whispers of integrating communications into business apps, the time seems right for forward-looking IT organizations to pull together CoEs and begin influencing how the business thinks about these disciplines relative to the way it communicates.

Advancing the Analytics CoE
I'm not alone in my thinking that IT needs to take a lead on analytics, and quick. As IT research firm IDC reported in a white paper published late last year, becoming an analytics thought leader is IT's "ticket to strategic relevance." In "The CIO's Chance of a Lifetime," sponsored by enterprise analytics software vendor SAS, IDC proposes a number of mandates for CIOs. It wants CIOs to take an active role in developing analytics strategy, as well as to act as a communications and collaboration hub for all things analytics-related. IT need not look further than its own house to understand just how significant this role can be.

The need for and use of analytics has no doubt already touched many an enterprise communications manager. Customer insight gets fed into the contact center to allow agents to better serve callers in real time. Data collected from collaborative workspaces helps a company identify work patterns of the most productive employees -- and then use those to create best-practice guidelines for all. User adoption of, say, Lync or another unified communications platform gets monitored and analyzed with an eye on keeping implementation on track. IT needs to be a thought leader on analytics as much for its own sake as the businesses at large.

Establishing Communications Competency
To be sure, making the argument that IT needs to be a guiding force -- if not the driver -- in an analytics CoE is much easier than doing the same for the software-driven communications CoE. Businesses are all abuzz about analytics these days, after all. But what is this thing we're calling software-driven communications and what does it mean to integrate communications into business apps? IT is still scratching its head over this one, so how ready can we possibly be to build a CoE around it?

I'll bet that if enterprise communications managers are scratching their heads over this "futures kind of stuff," as No Jitter editor Eric Krapf calls it in Friday's post, "The 500 Feature of Dr. PBX," then so too are business managers and app developers. This is a future that everybody involved in the world of business applications, especially customer-facing ones, needs to understand. Is it too early to begin the conversation? I don't think so.

This is a great opportunity for IT to gather key players across the enterprise and be a leader in what is sure to become a critical discipline. IT should be evangelizing the idea of software-driven communications and partnering with business and app developers on what it means for them and the organization at large.

Get Talking, CoE or Not
The CoE might not resonate with you or fit with the business culture, but don't shrug off the ideas embodied within it. IT has a lot to gain in establishing thought leadership and being a go-to participant in the rollout of analytics for enterprise communications (and far beyond) as well as the integration of communications into business apps. Are you playing this role at your company?

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