Intetics is a leading global technology company providing custom software application development, distributed professional teams, software product quality assessment, and “all-things-digital” solutions built with SMAC, RPA, AI/ML, IoT, blockchain, and GIS/UAV/LBS technologies. Intetics operates from 10 offices in 6 countries. In Ukraine – from Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Lviv. Today, Sergey Kizyan, the company’s CTO shares his experience in creation of CoEs (Centres of Excellence) and its role in the company.
Competitive advantages of CoEs
I have always worked side by side with people in open space. Of course, I paid attention to what is important to developers. According to my observations, active and initiative people always strive for some personal growth; they always want more than just implementing everyday tasks. In my opinion it naturally follows from this insight that each programmer who works for a large organization has three options:
- Growing as a manager within your own company. This implies great loyalty to the company and mutual growth.
- Investing time and energy in yourself and your skills. Being independent from the organization and evolving professionally, thereby increasing your value in the labor market.
- And eventually. launching your own business, which may not even be related to IT.
To sum it up, very few people see themselves in the same position in some 5-10 years. The IT industry itself implies continuous growth, as technology is not standing still. And as soon as you stop evolving, your value in the labor market will begin to drop. Therefore, everyone is striving for personal growth.
There is a number of key reasons for finding new work formats and setting up CoEs within the company. First of all, it is introducing new lines of business. Secondly, setting up a CoE contributes to keeping existing employees. Finally, having CoEs around is a competitive advantage when it comes to considering new candidates.
An Intetics Center of Excellence is a team that provides leadership, best practices, research, support and training for a certain focus area. The focus area might be a technology, a business concept, a skill, or a broad area of study.
In my opinion, CoE suits those who want to grow together with their company and nurture their own expertise. Besides, this does not mean you have to keep on going exactly the same direction you are taking now. For example, you are currently a Big Data programmer but you want to master Machine Learning skills – feel welcome to join the CoE to study new technologies. Get more and more experience in things you are really interested in. On behalf of the company we will gladly support you.
In fact, joining a CoE gives employees an opportunity to open new horizons under the aegis of the company officially, as opposed to home learning or learning secretly at work. It’s all public here.
Apart from revealing employees’ preferences, it also makes possible to find like-minded people and even help to assemble their own team to work on their own project. And this is crucial, because in my opinion, the days when a single person was able to create their own product (probably except for mobile applications) are over. To create something substantial, implement some idea today one needs a group of people. Accordingly, a CoE is best suited to create such a team.
Speaking about the concept of creating a CoE at Intetics: our CEO Boris Kontsevoy has been bearing it for a long time. A CoE within the company forms additional expertise, which becomes an advantage when searching for customers. Additionally, it reduces the risks for the clients as well. For example, if we find a client in a new line of business, we are ready to state at once that we possess certain accomplishments in it and we can easily create a team without wasting time searching people.
We had several attempts to launch a CoE within the company. But in fact it became possible to set up all the processes only last few years.
Emphasis on the word Research
In fact, CoE is a kind of R&D – Research & Development with an emphasis on the word Research. Our company doesn’t have an R&D unit in its classical understanding. In general, few outsourcing companies have their own R&D, as they do not create their own products but hire people who are engaged in development for the client. Talking about Intetics, CoE is in fact a part of R&D and I am its manager.
Of course, CoE is mainly created at the initiative of employees in our company. But since the management of the company often attends conferences and has a clear understanding which business lines are going to be in demand and have potential within the company, they invite volunteers to consider having one of them. We announce the business line and share our opinion on it. And if it makes colleagues interested, they get involved and create a CoE. In this case it is important that both the goals of the company and the team coincide.
The number of CoEs in our company is constantly growing. By this time we’ve got more than 10 of them. Currently we are developing such lines as Cloud Solutions, Machine Learning, AI, Big Data, Blockchain, etc. within the company. In general, I believe that, ideally, all our engineers should be the members of CoE. And we have to create as many centres as needed to meet everyone’s needs. At least we are striving for this.
Members of our centers are enthusiasts who are interested in a particular topic and are ready to set up or join a CoE.
In general, the process of creating a CoE is as follows: for example, we have an engineer who got interested in certain business line and would like to take it up. He refers to his manager or directly the СТО and we establish a CoE after that. At our company, we have at least one leader for each CoE. Sometimes there may be several leaders, but there is always one person who is the link between the management of the company and his team. It is he who gives the CTO monthly reports on everything that happens within the CoE. We discuss their further growth altogether.
Of course, the first CoEs were more difficult to set up, because no one really knew what they really were or how they would operate. But since we’ve created several centers and established the processes, it became much easier to create subsequent centres.
It goes without saying that we offer all the CoE members an opportunity to get certification and proper training in their subjects. Sometimes people enter our CoE without knowledge in a particular area, but they have the motivation and desire to grow in it. Accordingly, we ask the CoE leader to create a database that needs to be studied so that a person could enter the CoE as a full member.
It is important to note that having created a CoE, we practically ceased to influence it. We offer total freedom to its members. They can organize processes in it at their own discretion: some can launch their own project, some can study the theory, and others can join the thematic community and attend conferences. We give total freedom to engineers to develop a CoE in their own way. Therefore, certification and training is also given at the discretion of the CoE members.
Maintaining CoE growth and increasing efficiency
I used to organize personal meetings with each CoE and attend to all the engineers in person. But now, with the growing number of CoEs in the company, I conduct meetings with CoE leaders once a month. The purpose of these meetings is to understand how the CoEs evolve, what their perspectives are, if they need any help and guidance.
It turns out that team members have total freedom inside their CoE. But at the same time, all the CoEs maintain the same framework and processes.
You might wonder how do we manage to convince the company’s top management that CoE is worth the effort. I’d like to start with a joke to illustrate this:
“A conversation between a CEO and a CTO. One says:
– What happens if we train all our engineers and they dump us after all?
The latter replies:
– What happens if we don’t give them proper training and they all stay?”
Following this logic, it makes no sense to convince the top management that people need to be upgraded. It’s their own concern. When it goes to resources and implementation, at first it took much effort to create a CoE, to establish processes.
In terms of finances, CoE is a concept that doesn’t require significant investment. The time engineers dedicate to CoE is overtime. People will anyway devote it to personal growth. And our mission as a company is to help them spend it more efficiently in a circle of like-minded people.
Considering business advantages, this boosts the growth of multiple business lines at a time. This helps the company to minimize risks. In case if one line, for example, extinguishes, others are still maintained. The more of them we have, the less is the risk for the company.
No better motivators than self-growth
The main motivation for CoE members is professional growth. This is what they create centers for. Besides this, all the CoE members immediately draw the attention of their manager and delivery director. And it contributes to their promotion within the company.
Of course, CoE membership is voluntary and hours spent there are not paid by the company. But we do pay for certification, provide books, courses, and conference invitations. I.e. it is beneficial for engineers because they would have to invest their own money in training anyway. Thus, the company provides support and space for personal growth.
We also actively promote all the CoEs within the company, list their achievements, tell more about the members. Developers gain reputation among colleagues and add value to the company. We list them in our internal involvement program, which brings about additional bonuses.
Of course thanks to our CoEs we can already boast a few significant achievements. For example, a couple of years ago we gathered a team of people who took expertise in cartography and geodata.
This team has grown into an independent department. Now we have the whole Geo department with more than 200 team members and it is rapidly growing. They even have their own office in Kharkiv.
The second example is RPA. In terms of knowledge, experience and the number of implemented projects, Intetics is now the leading company in Ukraine in this sphere.
This line of business was once set up at the initiative of Yuri Shubin, one of our colleagues. Now it has become a separate line of business in the company. Both of these business lines appeared in Intetics due to the CoE.
I doubt that there is a risk that some CoEs will secede and operate as independent units in the market. Now we observe the opposite effect. The employees realize that the company is interested in their development, invests in them willingly and this contributes to their loyalty.
Talking about the future, we’re going to maintain CoEs and increase their number. Perhaps some of them will become separate lines of business one day. While others will remain CoE. But we will always encourage employees to join them, as this helps them grow and makes their work more diverse.