Episode: 562 |
Karen Friedenberg:
AI Project Case Study :


Karen Friedenberg

AI Project Case Study

Show Notes

Karen Friedenberg discusses a project she worked on to design an Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence for a Fortune 500 medical supply company. The challenge was that the organization was initially looking to leverage robotics process automation (RPA) technology to automate repetitive and manual processes. This led to the development of Intelligent Automation, also known as hyper automation.


Defining the Meaning of Intelligent Automation

The first step in this project was defining Intelligent Automation and defining its meaning. The client wanted to develop a center of excellence to coordinate efforts across the company to take advantage of new technology and benefits quickly and in a coordinated way. The center of excellence would serve various needs and be a resource for the organization. Karen explains that the first step was to identify the pockets within the organization where people were learning about robotics, process automation, AI, and chatbots. She then interviewed stakeholders to understand their strategic imperatives and goals, and a key understanding was to let business lead the way, not the technology. The second step focused on developing the structure of the Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence (COE), its interaction with other teams, and the roles and competencies of the COE team. The COE team would be responsible for staying on top of the evolving technologies and coordinating efforts to leverage project management and program management capabilities in a coordinated way. One of the great things about new technology is putting it in the hands of the business and users, allowing them to solve problems themselves. However, there were challenges, opportunities, and fear to address,  such as change management and fear of the business starting to do this. For example, IT was beginning to fear redundancy in many of their roles.  As a solution to these challenges, it was necessary for the COE team to identify their mission, roles, and responsibilities.


The Center of Excellence Explained

The Center of Excellence (COE) is a team that works to identify and prioritize automation candidates in business units. Karen talks about the knockout criteria they use to assess if a process is an automation candidate and if it can be done within existing systems. The COE then uses a box prioritization matrix to assess the impact and effort of each candidate. If it is easier and less risky, it may be a candidate for a citizen developer role. Governance is also a key aspect of the COE’s role. The COE’s role involves oversight and sharing best practices. They train and certify citizen developers to use new technology and processes, ensuring proper controls are in place. The SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle) is a model that aims to maintain flexibility and speed while ensuring proper controls. People submit requests through various methods, such as email, phone, or using shared systems like Leisha shared through SharePoint and Microsoft tools. The COE’s role is to ensure that the process is secure and efficient, while also ensuring that the right controls are in place to prevent unauthorized changes to code.


Discussion on the Design Phase of a Project

Karen explains that they are still in the design phase and it has not been fully executed yet. The vision was to analyze incoming requests and determine who gets help. The team is divided into a business lead and an IT lead who would work with business analysts to assess the project’s feasibility. The group provide different levels of support, such as a half-hour conversation or a three-month project with a business analyst and consultants.The first step is to train the business unit citizen developer and to provide regular reviews to the client. The team would also provide additional technical, business process, and change management assistance. The goal is to help the client team navigate their blockers and be a centralized source for sharing learnings and best practices across the business.


Integration with The Center of Excellence

The COE is complex and interacts with multiple systems, including  project management teams and various departments across the business. The team would also be aware of other projects in the company and work with them to ensure each project is documented and shared within the ecosystem to share information across departments and projects as required. Karen discusses the development of an Intelligent Automation center of excellence and the marketing approach taken to promote the service.  The center consists of five people and is being promoted internally through business optimization managers. The company is taking a crawl, walk, run approach, starting small and growing. She explains that some barriers to the center include resourcing, funding, and fear of AI impacting employees’ jobs. Organizational change management is crucial in these efforts, as it ensures sustainability and avoids unintended consequences for employees.


The Benefits of a COE

The company anticipates benefits from the center of excellence, such as faster deployment of technologies, reduced manual tasks, and cohesion of information. The technology has tremendous benefits, but the bigger benefit is the new ways of working that can be applied across various parts of the business. The center of excellence also helps in teaching new ways of working and chain collaboration between the business and IT.



01:02 Designing Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence for a Fortune 500 company

02:22 Establishing an Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence

06:40 Automation and citizen development in a business unit

10:49 Implementing a citizen developer program

14:32 Implementing an Intelligent Automation center of excellence



Website: https://www.piconsult.net/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-friedenberg/



One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

  1. Karen Friedenberg


Will Bachman, Karen Friedenberg


Will Bachman  00:02

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed. I’m your host will Bachman. And today we’re doing another AI case study. I’m very excited to welcome today, Karen Friedenberg, who’s going to talk about a project that she worked on to design an Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence for a fortune 500 company. Karen, welcome to the show.


Karen Friedenberg  00:24

Thanks for having me.


Will Bachman  00:25

So Karen, tell us a little bit about the context of this project. Before we dive into the details, just give us a little context.


Karen Friedenberg  00:33

Sure, like, as you mentioned, Abell, this is for a fortune 500, medical supply company. And the challenge they were facing is that at pockets within the organization, were first looking to leverage robotics process automation, or RPA technology to automate repetitive and manual processes. So that’s where it started. And as you know, this technology space is quickly evolving. And so shortly after we got started, it started to expand into more than just RPA. But well, as we defined as Intelligent Automation. You may also know it as hyper automation, as coined by Gartner. And the first step in that really was actually defining what we meant in terms of Intelligent Automation. And the client was looking to us to develop a center of excellence, to coordinate the efforts across the company. So in order to take advantage of this new technology, and the benefits of the new technology quickly, and in a coordinated way. So, you know, like I said before, that may be the, you know, one of the first steps that we took was actually defining what is Intelligent Automation? And what did it mean, because that was a new term to a lot of the people at the client.


Will Bachman  01:50

All right, great. Well, so tell us it. So it sounds like the issue was that in lots of different pockets within the organization, people were trying to learn about robotics, Process automation, and then AI and chatbots. And so you had a bunch of people kind of on the side, doing the research and using open AI or whatever, trying to figure it out. And it sounds like they decided to say let’s have a center of excellence that can serve all these different needs and be a resource. Tell us tell us about the project kind of walk us through step by step.


Karen Friedenberg  02:22

Yeah, absolutely. So like, just as you were saying, Well, you know, that first step was what is what is it that we’re looking at in those pockets and finding where those pockets were right finding where those pockets where we had started down a paths of RPA with UiPath. Like you said, there was chatbot capability and things that there, the nice the customer service software was looking at the listings in Salesforce, et cetera. So first was saying, Okay, what are we looking at, and we really started out with interviewing those stakeholders, so all the ones that were coming up, both within the business and within it. So I think you could think about this, for the people listening, like similar to setting up other types of centers of excellence you might have done, such as a program management office, or an operational excellence CLE. That’s been a bit of my experience in the past as well. And it really follows a lot of the same steps. But just thinking about it in a little bit of a different way. And the first thing was, you know that it needs to be really business lead. That was kind of the first thing that we really need to think about it, that partnership between the business and it and letting the business lead, not the technology leads. So just like I think we think about any other types of technology as the enabler. I think a key thing that people can get caught up in the, the new, shiny tool that we have in our tool belt. But rather than that leading our way in the tail wagging the dog, really thinking about where we’re going as a business, what are our strategic imperatives? What are we trying to achieve? And of course, that’s usually around things like right Profitability and Cost Reduction, how to service our customer better, how to engage our employees better, or things of that nature. So that was really the first step. And it started to go into developing then what was the structure of that COE look like? How do they interact with the other teams that were kind of similar to them? Because they have a PMO? They have an operational excellence department already. So how would the Intelligent Automation, Center of Excellence interact with them? And then what would the roles be within that team? And what was the key competencies that we were looking for for them to do? So what was their mission? Right kind of thinking about the mission of that team? And what would they be responsible for? And this included things like them being the experts, right then not only being the expert experts in the new technology and staying on top of it, as the new technologies are evolving, and how it can be used to solve business problems. Again, coordinating the efforts so kind of leveraging a lot of sort of project management and program management types of capabilities in a coordinated way with the PMO sharing of knowledge. So you know really key because I’m going to talk a little bit more I can talk about it a little bit now about one of the great things about this new technology is putting it in the hands of the your business and your users. So a lot of these technologies are no code or low code. And it began the concept of what’s called a citizen developer. So it’s putting it in the hands of the business, putting in the hands of the users the ability to solve the problems themselves, these technologies. And so that, you know, that chip gave a whole other level, another level of challenges, opportunity, but challenges and fear, you know, so that we’ll talk a little bit about change management also well in a bit, but that was like, Oh, wow, like, you know, it was starting to fear that, oh, now the business can start doing this. And what were the controls around that? So I’ll talk about that in a bit. So really, we were the first piece was what number one was the definition? And Number Team Two, what is this COE team look like? What was our mission? And what were the roles? What were we going to do? And again, it was kind of very similar to like, what we think about, you know, when I’ve created PMO, is in the past, or these operational excellence types of centers of excellence. So how do we do that? Well, moving quickly, like leveraging learnings, right, these pockets, again, he talked about the pockets. So how do we make that visible? through things like, you know, having centers of learning and having those, those communities of practice like to use an agile term communities of practice where we were sharing the knowledge and what would that look like? So that’s a lot of it,


Will Bachman  06:35

in terms of what the Center of Excellence actually, like, does? How did it work? Let’s say someone out in a business unit, hears about it, we can talk about marketing later. But let’s say they hear about, oh, we are now the Center of Excellence. So we use some Would you just call someone up? Or would you say, hey, I need some dedicated bandwidth from the center of excellence? Team? Would people have to submit a brief that and then or like a trouble ticket? Or how, how did people request help? And then how did the Center of Excellence start adjudicating and prioritizing those and say, Okay, your request is silly, we’re not going to help you your request, okay. It’s really a good idea. We’re gonna put, you know, some serious resources against it.


Karen Friedenberg  07:20

That is a great question. That is a great question. So that’s lead us to kind of the next step. But what was developed within the team, so exactly what the next step was, you know, we can talk about the marketing and a bit, you’re right, like, how do people know about it, but the mechanisms to take the input for each of those candidates for automation, prioritize them and move them forward? Just like you said, right? So and I would say, like, you know, what was key on that was exactly some of those knockout criteria, looking at like, Is this even something that is an automation candidate? Because maybe it is something you know, it’s you think it’s automation, but you can just do that within your existing systems like you didn’t need, you don’t really need to come to us, that’s just something you can work with your IT team and doing it within your existing systems? Or should it even be automated? You know, we don’t really want to automate a bad process, right? So some of those types of like, I was called the knockout criteria. And then as they came in, we use sort of that for box prioritization matrix. And we’ll looking at the impact and the effort. And this helped to say like, okay, yes, it’s something that we’re going to do, we think that’s important is going to give value to the business. And then based upon the effort, if it was something that was easier, lower risk, less risk as a big shock about risk and a little bit to lower risk easier to do, it may be a candidate for that citizen developer I was talking about, and something that we can maybe have just have oversight over, right? I’m gonna talk about governance in a second, too. But it would be maybe missing that sense. The COEs role, would it be more of oversight, sharing of best practices, here’s how you go about doing it. Let me go back to that system developer role that I’ve been mentioning. Okay. So that was a huge, like I said, a culture shift to move to that model. And the idea is that we would train those that were training those citizen developers certify them, if you will, not only in how to use the new technology, but also the processes that we’re going to be going through, right. One of the fears of it was if we just open this up, that any user could just go in and make changes to code. So kind of what is that SDLC, the software development lifecycle light look like? So that we still have that flexibility and still have that speed, but having the proper controls in place? So that’s number one. So in terms of like


Will Bachman  09:38

the, how, practically, did people submit a request? Was it? Was it like some kind of JIRA system which I don’t not familiar with? Or is it you know, they just email or call or was? Yeah, so they


Karen Friedenberg  09:53

utilize similar systems they had for the PML for input, right for the input process.


Will Bachman  09:58

And that’d be like, how would these submit a request. Yeah.


Karen Friedenberg  10:01

So they utilized I think Leisha was shared through like SharePoint through Microsoft tools. Okay, so they had already they had something already developed to be able to do that. Yep.


Will Bachman  10:11

So the people submit requests. And then just how did the team? Was there someone designated on a team to be monitoring that? Or how would they? Was it a committee or one person who would sit there as they came in? And say, yes, no. Or I’m really interested, like the real detailed granular view of how did they analyze these incoming requests, and then adjudicate who gets help?


Karen Friedenberg  10:35

Yeah, so this is still this is still in the design phase. It hasn’t been fully executed yet. But I can tell you what the vision was well, for it. Yeah. So the idea was that through these criteria that we would, that are that are developed, we would say, okay, where does it fit? Where does it fit? Is it something that is a candidate to the into the center of excellence, if not communicate back? So did not feel those knockout criteria? Okay. Now, this is something you should just be talking to your IT rep about, or, you know, this is something that doesn’t really fit or yes, then it comes into the body and didn’t really talk about that much details on the roles. But we had a I have a business lead, and an IT lead that will come into that with a you know, with business analysts support for that, okay, to be able to bring it up. So yes, we think it is and then meet with them, right, meet with them to say, yep, we believe this is something let’s look at what it is, let’s start scoping it out. Is it something that we believe that again, is easy to do? Let’s move forward? Or is this become more of a project? Is this truly more of a project and that would flow more into the project management type of lifecycle lifecycle?


Will Bachman  11:39

And like, what was the range of the nature of help that this group provides? Or it sounds like it’s not yet operational yet? It’s not yet running.



It’s not fully operational yet. I can talk about what some of the barriers are to implementation in a bit. But the again, so in


Will Bachman  11:57

terms of like the elimination, or is it, you know, there’s one version of it, where they just get on the phone with you for half an hour and tell you, Hey, here’s how you use this tool. Good luck, or, you know, or is there. So are there like different levels of support, one is just that half hour hour conversation, versus we will actually take this on as a project that we will support with a business, lead a business analyst, and it lead and will come in sort of as consultants, and help you drive this thing for three months. What are the steps between those


Karen Friedenberg  12:30

yet? So not quite as late as the first sight? But the first side is yes, this is something we believe to be a more of a business unit citizen developer type of opportunity, do you have somebody has that person been trained? And then more of a light, like a once a week type of review? Right with them? Okay, let’s see you moving along? Are you having any really more of a prod program manager, you know, kind of program management? Consultation? What barriers are coming up with? Do you need some extra help? From a technical perspective? Do you need to help from a business process perspective? Do you need help from a change management perspective? So more helping them through their blockers, right, to help them move through, and then being that centralized source to say, Okay, we did this, this is documented and sharing with the rest of the ecosystem, if you will, right? If you think about it, like a community of practice, others that are also doing this across the business that we can share, and share those, those many those learnings with? And be aware of what else is going on in the company? That’s a key piece of this even being aware to see Oh, you did that over in this area? Right? I want to do it in my area, too. So that’s a key a key roll all the way exactly to the way you said, Well, this is big, this has a lot of it. This has a lot of risk associated with this. It’s complex, we’re interacting with a lot of different systems. It needs a full blown project with project management and a full team and more going through that type of process, if you will.


Will Bachman  13:53

Okay, how big is the center of excellence? Is this three people? Is it 300?


Karen Friedenberg  13:59

It’s like five people. Okay. All right.


Will Bachman  14:03

And you mentioned communication. So how did you market this internally and get the word out?


Karen Friedenberg  14:10

Yeah, absolutely. So the there was, I get, like I said, those pockets of the business, that were already going down this path and less of a coordinated way. So you already sort of had your change champions, if you will, kind of built into certain places in the business, customer service sales a bit in supply chain. So really starting, they’re starting there. And that was what was building up sort of build this business. We call them the business optimization managers in each area. That was the the linkage back into the business to be able to get this going. Right. And we really, we’re taking a crawl, walk run type of approach where just starting with getting some of those wins, right, starting with getting it getting those wins, learning how to do it, and then rolling it out more broadly to let People know about it. So starting small and growing.


Will Bachman  15:05

Tell me about some of the barriers. Yeah.


Karen Friedenberg  15:09

Well, I think one of the first ones, it was just really honestly on that resourcing, the resourcing, and the and the funding for it. So we had to get people to think about it differently. Because we’re like, Well, I can add people, or I can’t take more on as a job. So what could we replace that was happening elsewhere in the business, that could be replaced and really utilized for this. So that was one of the things is honestly still happening, to be able to make this get this up and really, truly up and running. The other barrier, or the other fear was, what was his AI going to do in terms of people’s jobs. So I think organizational change management and change management is huge in these types of efforts, not only in just like you said in the marketing and getting this up and running, and potentially a different way of working. But even thinking about it as we’re rolling these opportunities, or use cases or projects, whatever you want to call them out, and the fear that employees would have of what’s going to happen to my job. And we had to really think about rolling out some more formal, if you will, a common change management methodology so that everybody was keeping that always in the forefront of their mind to make sure that this was sustainable, and that we weren’t having some unintended consequences for our people. So that was another one a key learning that really can’t underestimate the change management.


Will Bachman  16:34

And what sort of what sort of benefits is the company anticipating to get from the center of excellence?


Karen Friedenberg  16:40

Yeah, absolutely. So by, you know, first of all, to go out faster to this, because I think these technologies have tremendous opportunity, and may allow you to look at in different ways. So we were looking at a lot of opportunities to reduce a lot of manual tasks, bring things together, you know, bring a couple of things together to service the customer that were happening, happening independently and utilizing some of this technology, technology for that. But so definitely, the technology has tremendous benefit. But I think that actually very interestingly, the bigger benefit was just the new ways of working. And like I said, it was it wasn’t it was really something that we were sharing that and teaching that of new ways of working with chain collaboration between the business and IT, these ideas of change management, some of these, some of these new ideas and ways of working was an added benefit that can be applied across many different parts of the business, right, not just an Intelligent Automation, center of excellence that they got the benefit from. And that was a key, a key piece as well.


Will Bachman  17:46

Fantastic. Karen, thank you so much for sharing this case study with us for listeners that want to follow up with you and find out more about your practice in your firm. Where would you point them online? Yeah,


Karen Friedenberg  17:58

absolutely. So I am the founder and managing director of performance improvement consulting. So that’s p i console.net. We’re also on you can follow me Karen Friedenberg, on LinkedIn, and we have a LinkedIn page. And our company is focused on developing on delivering operational innovation to primarily midsize companies actually, to take you from strategy to execution. So really, in terms of strategy, articulation, operational improvements, project management and change management. And we’d love to connect with with anyone who’s who’s interested. And I try to stay in the forefront of of what’s been going on a lot of these areas, including technology, but also how do you bring together people process and technology all together? Fantastic,


Will Bachman  18:43

and we will include those links in the show notes. Karen, thank you for joining.


Karen Friedenberg  18:48

Thank you so much. Well, I appreciate it was fun.

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