Centers of Excellence – Rationale

By Anne Smith

As information management becomes more important to organizations, many are struggling with coordinating the components of EIM (meta data management, data governance, enterprise data management and architecture, data and information quality, data warehousing and business intelligence, etc.).  Many of these components are practiced in different departments or divisions and the staff that support them may reside in the business areas or in the information technology unit.  How can the activities of all these components be coordinated and the best practices be disseminated and replicated across an enterprise?  One successful solution is the creation and sustainment of an Information Management Center of Excellence.

A good definition for Center of Excellence is a team of people that promote collaboration and use best practices around a specific focus area to drive business results.  Whether staffed by permanent members or organized as a federation of experts from across the organization for each EIM component and led by a permanent coordinator, the staff for a Center of Excellence (CoE) serves as the resource that aligns all of the project, department and specific activities for each component across the enterprise.  This alignment enables the company to implement industry best practices into each activity consistently, so the organization develops a comprehensive approach to enterprise information management, enabling it to capitalize on its investment in information.

Why implement a Center of Excellence when the organization has limited resources, and has many separate projects actively exploring data quality or meta data or other data management functions?  Those are precisely the reasons to develop and implement a Center of Excellence!  Creating common methods for doing something requires that the organization recognize that consistently using common methods and best practices will facilitate realizing their business goals (faster to market, reuse, cost reduction, etc.).

A common misconception of CoE’s is that they are large, cumbersome entities that impose their will on existing staff and projects, requiring significant changes to the established environment.  This misconception has given the concept of CoE a bad reputation, and has led to the rejection of this proven approach for internal coordination among the various EIM efforts at many organizations. The CoE structure does not have to be a single physical team, since virtual teams are used in many successful Centers of Excellence. A virtual team has responsibilities assigned to individuals across projects – they also sit within another role in the organization in addition to the EIM CoE team. Conversely, the physical team has resources staffed in dedicated roles on the team and the EIM organization is fully funded as an entity. In reality, most organizations will use a combination of the two models.  Both models require the creation of a position of EIM Coordinator, who leads the CoE’s activities and is responsible for the alignment and coordination of all the organization’s EIM components across all the projects / activities.  The virtual (or federated approach) recognizes the need to use existing resources and avoid creating new and possibly unnecessary organizational structures.

To start an Enterprise Information Management Center of Excellence, form a small group that can identify the challenges and problems faced within the organization for each EIM component (meta data scattered across the organization with no enterprise standards enforced; projects that may or may not execute a logical data model before developing the physical model and database; inconsistent data quality efforts; several data marts / data warehouses scattered across the organization; no coordinated data governance and stewardship program; etc.).  Locate the internal experts for each EIM component, forming a confederation of experts led by an EIM Coordinator.  Establish the CoE’s intended scope and communicate it widely. Gain wide executive support (business and technical) for the creation of the EIM CoE, using the federation-with-coordinator model to maximize current resources and expertise if appropriate.  Choose the first component to be implemented and develop and communicate standards for that component to be followed on all projects, working with the enterprise project management office and any other competency centers that can assist in the socialization of enterprise information management.  Repeat this step for each component, leveraging existing efforts whenever practical and coordinating best practices across components where appropriate. Promote the existence of the CoE at every available opportunity and make opportunities to display the capabilities and successes of the CoE as often as possible throughout the enterprise.

Some organizations are developing their EIM CoE as a resource for their enterprise data governance program, while others are using the EIM component alignment to institute data governance.  Both approaches are successful; the common denominators are the use of internal and external experts to form the CoE, the development of the EIM Coordinator function, the sustained executive support for the CoE, the leadership of the data governance council and the acceptance / socialization of the CoE’s expertise across the enterprise.

The members of the Center of Excellence and the Coordinator would focus on expanding use of the organization’s core competencies and pushing leaders to explore new opportunities and relationships to keep information management relevant across the enterprise. When the organization cannot imagine life without the Center of Excellence, they have achieved their objective.

About the Author

Anne Marie Smith is a leading consultant in Information Management and is a frequent contributor to various IS publications. Anne Marie has over 20 years experience in information management for several corporate entities and has successfully led the development of data resource management departments within corporations and consulting organizations. Anne Marie is active in the local chapter of DAMA and serves on the board of directors of DAMA International, and is an advisor to the DM Forum. She has been an instructor of Management Information Systems (MIS) with Philadelphia, PA area colleges and universities. Anne Marie has taught topics such as: data stewardship and governance, data warehousing, business requirements gathering and analysis, metadata management and metadata strategy, information systems and data warehouse project management. Anne Marie’s areas of consulting expertise include metadata management including data stewardship and governance, information systems planning, systems analysis and design, project management, data warehouse systems assessment and development, information systems process improvement and information resource management/data resource management. Anne Marie holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts and a Master's of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from La Salle University; she has earned a PhD in MIS at Northcentral University. She is a certified logical data and process modeler and holds project management certification. Anne Marie can be reached at

Free Expert Consultation