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Why every Org needs a Center of Excellence (band analogy)

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Home » Blog » Why every Org needs a Center of Excellence (band analogy)


Salesforce was a band in a bar, now it is on a world tour
Salesforce was quick, easy and safe. But had a narrow focus. Now it is strategic, powerful and flexible. But it needs a complete team with the skills and tools to exploit the full performance, since everyone depends on it.

We’ve been customers since 2001. Salesforce has changed dramatically since then from a Sales Force Automation app (tactical) to a customer experience (strategic) platform, with many customers spending over $20m/year.
The power, scope and complexity of the Salesforce platform has increased dramatically.

At the same time, a growing ecosystem of Trailblazers is inspired by the potential of learning through Trailhead, but far more expansive implementation skills are required to run increasingly complex Orgs. The expectation set by marketing, sales and Trailhead that Salesforce is “so quick and simple anyone can get it going in days” is no longer true. These are risky, strategic, costly project implementations. The penalties of failure are high.

Customers of all sizes are struggling with levels of technical debt that are killing agility. This is (at least in part) due to the low levels of implementation maturity compared with the general IT industry. The good news is that these are “solved problems” in other ecosystems where the implementation maturity is much higher.

All research and experience points to the importance of implementing a Center of Excellence.


Having been a customer since 2001, we never could have imagined the changes over the last 20 years. Salesforce has broken records in the IT industry for growth and democratizing app development. It has been an amazing ride.

Back in 2001 there were just 5 objects, no AppExchange or Trailhead. Sandboxes didn’t exist. But the huge power of the platform was evident. For those of us with years of Oracle, SAP or custom IT implementations, the speed, flexibility and potential to configure Salesforce took our breath away. For our own business, we built out 285 custom objects to run all aspects of our operations with clicks not code. Salesforce was our core platform. Cloud, or ASP as it was called then, meant our teams around the world had access to a single source of truth for all customer data: customer-360. There were no IT barriers to scaling our business internationally. Amazing.

Fast forward 20 years. Salesforce has invested heavily through R&D and M&A to expand the platform capabilities and integrations to the corporate IT landscape. The scope and complexity of projects has expanded massively. Customers are committing to Salesforce as a strategic platform and it is the single source of customer data access across their enterprise. That rapid growth and success has enabled Salesforce to go from a tactical sales automation app to a strategic platform in many of the 200,000 customers.

So far, so good.


A key issue, that has been recognised by Salesforce over the last 2-3 years, is the increasing levels of technical debt in Orgs. Technical debt is at crippling levels in mature orgs and is the #1 reason for not migrating to Lightning. It kills agility, which ironically was the most compelling reason for using Salesforce in the first place. It stops customers adopting more Salesforce technologies and puts renewals at risk.

Back in 2017 Forrester wrote an article called the “Salesforce @scale dilemma” which summarizes perfectly the current issues of technical debt we are now seeing. John Rymer from Forrester explains

“Salesforce@scale dilemma: a client chooses Salesforce CRM for its business responsiveness.

Typically, clients are impressed by Salesforce’s CRM applications, which are more modern and user-pleasing than older applications. And they love Force.com’s high productivity for developers to configure the CRM applications as well as create new applications from scratch.

Initial success breeds demands for more and more. As additional departments ask for Salesforce subscriptions, business leaders want to expand initial wins with Salesforce CRM into customer and/or partner engagement, marketing automation and analytics. New custom applications and customisations mushroom.

In addition, the complexity of scale crushes Salesforce’s responsiveness. As Salesforce use grows, innovation slows and flexibility evaporates. Why? Every app change risks breaking one of hundreds of data and process customisations, integration links, and third-party add-ons. The result: every change requires long and expensive impact-analysis and regression testing projects – killing the responsiveness that made Salesforce attractive at the start.

The Salesforce@scale dilemma is a challenge for clients to overcome, rather than an inevitable outcome of large-scale, strategic Salesforce implementations. It is a big issue because Salesforce has become a much more strategic supplier in technology strategies to win, serve and retain customers.”

Without strategies and tools to manage a Salesforce Org it can rapidly get to a stage where the technical debt is out of control, resulting in one of 3 things;

  • it becomes unresponsive and ROI disappears
  • a costly clean-up project is launched
  • the Org is thrown away and replaced with a new Org or a different platform.

We’ve analyzed over 1 billion Org metadata items and the scale of Org customizations is staggering. Here are the highest numbers of metadata items we have seen in Orgs: 250,000 reports, 50,000 email templates, 2,000 custom objects, 400 record types on an object, 20,000 custom fields, 13,000 dashboards, 100 managed packages, 18 million cases, 1.4x storage limit. There was an org with 10 million task records, which we thought was jaw-dropping, only to be beaten the week after when we analyzed an Org with 114 million tasks!!

Bar band to global sensation

This band analogy really does bring to life the transformational change to Salesforce that we have seen in the last 20 years. But it also shows what is now required to exploit its awesome capabilities.

Back in 2001 Salesforce was relatively simple with a narrow scope; sales automation for a small group of people. The speed and flexibility of Salesforce was amazing. And if it stopped working, no biggy. Only a few people were impacted.
The band members pitch up at the bar, plug in and play.

But now in 2020, Salesforce is a core platform. The entire company depends on it. Having a customer-360 view is a competitive advantage for the company. It is strategic, and unplanned downtime is unacceptable.
There is a world tour with a whole team that expects it to be a huge success.

What does it take to execute a world multi-stadium tour?

Here is the full detail of what it really takes  https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/concert-tour.htm

It requires a Tour Director, promotors, music lights and dance director, venues, stage with lights and amplification, roadies, technicians, logistics and transport, catering, rehearsals and musicians, and PR & communications.

Best of breed

It is a team effort and the winning teams have the best leadership, the best promoters, the best venues, best logistics, the sound and lighting, the roadies and technicians, and the best musicians. Not all of these relate directly to the roles, skills and tools on Salesforce projects, but broadly:

Best leadership: CIO or CRM owner
Best promotors: budget/investment
Best venues: implementation approach
Best logistics: Center Of Excellence, business analysis, DevOps, Org analytics, change management
Best sound and lighting: Salesforce platform and Appexchange add-ons
Best roadies and technicians: qualified project managers, business analysts, architects, admins, developers and change managers
Best musicians: trained users

To continue the analogy. Trailhead and Certifications cover how to sell tickets, play a song, set up the lighting or assemble to stage. Whilst these are vitally important to understand, they are tactical activities as part of an overall strategic plan.

Strategy puts tactics into context

A tour is not just like playing in a bar but with more people watching.

The same is true for Salesforce functionality. For example, Flow, Record Types, Permission Sets are powerful and have a place but only in the overall implementation strategy.

BTW “Record Types are like glitter. Once you add them, you can never get rid of them.”


These are not new issues. These are “solved problems” and not unique to Salesforce. Salesforce implementations have similarities with the Oracle and SAP implementations post-2000, but with 2 key differences: cloud and the power of the Salesforce low-code platform. Sure, the cloud has made some aspects easier, but the fundamentals of implementing technology remain. Successful implementations consider more than the core technology. They cover people, process AND technology. What is missing from successful implementations are the activities that are grouped under a Center of Excellence (COE).

The 10K Advisors Project to Program research identified that 91% of customers with a very high ROI and 82% of customers who felt they were A players had a Center of Excellence.

Now that Salesforce is a major strategic platform it requires the proven approaches, tools and skills of a COE to exploit the power and deliver the potential ROI at scale. Without them, the true differentiator of Salesforce – the super agile platform – is blunted. These approaches and tools are available in the ecosystem, and being applied by the global SIs and some large customers, but not yet adopted across all customers.

That needs to change.


Whilst every organization’s COE is different, there are some common aspects. No matter what size of project, these need to be in place. These are activities, not roles. The smaller the project, the lighter the touch.

Here is the overall scope or key pillars of a COE

  • Vision: strategic vision and direction for Salesforce for both the business and IT
  • Leadership: Steering Committee and key sponsors in business and IT
  • Governance: overall control of strategic direction, business cases, investment and risk management
  • Change control: management of changes to all aspects of the project
  • Methodology: the implementation methodology covering people, process and technology which includes business analysis, DevOps and adoption.
  • Standards: includes standards for business analysis, org documentation, metadata naming, coding, testing, communication, change management and training
  • Metadata management: control of the Salesforce metadata across the deployment pipeline
  • Architecture: technical architecture of Salesforce and how it relates to the integrated systems and InfoSec
  • Change management: communications, organizational change and training to get Salesforce adopted
  • PMO: the Project Management Office that manages the COE activities
  • Tooling: platforms/apps/ tools used to support the project
  • Prototyping: innovation hub that builds out Salesforce prototypes to show the “art of the possible”

Phased approach

As the size and strategic importance of the Salesforce implementation increases, then each of these aspects becomes more important. We’ve tried to give some perspective in the diagram below. The definition of “size” is by no means prescriptive, but an indicator of strategic importance.

  • Small – Solo or small Admin team with limited developers. Fewer than 100 users
  • Medium – Team with BA, Admin and Developers. SI engaged. External integrations. 100-1000 users
  • Large – Multi-org, multi-cloud. 1000+ users

The colors of the circles indicate how important it is to have that capability in place (white: not required, yellow: needed, red: mandatory). Ideally every implementation has all of them, but we understand the trade-offs of running an Org.


There are real world benefits of a COE and a more structured approach as the Forrester report and 10K Advisors research have shown. Often it is best to hear from customers. Here are both sides of the story from the Forrester report:

A food and beverage firm that adopted Salesforce for all its customer operations avoided the Salesforce@scale dilemma with planning and governance for adopting a platform as opposed to a CRM application and associated tools.

The firm set up a CoE and defined a common data model (including built-in and Custom Objects), a master data service, and a process rollout across the world. “One platform for all data and application building blocks means you need to be aligned on how you use those assets,” says a leader of the firm’s Salesforce CoE. “[The assets] have to fit together, and everyone needs an understanding of what is possible and what should be done.”

And a less successful outcome at a large US public sector agency. Sadly this is a more familiar story.

One department was happily using Salesforce’s core customer relationship management (CRM) application when a cloud-first directive changed everything for the worse. The directive was: move as many applications as possible to the cloud – including Salesforce.

“The perception was that it almost didn’t matter what we did – if we put apps on cloud and Salesforce, we’d be successful,” recalls the agency’s Salesforce centre of excellence (CoE) leader.

The agency quickly added about 12,000 Salesforce seats in seven separate Orgs, lots of customisations, and many custom applications. As this expansion progressed, innovation on the agency’s core Salesforce apps slowed to a crawl, and operating costs rose. Updates and changes to enterprise processes and existing apps were now sluggish, although the agency still could quickly stand up isolated new applications.

“When you start adding custom code [to Salesforce], you need developers to make changes,” says the agency’s CoE leader. “And Salesforce becomes way more expensive to maintain.”


I will leave the final word to John Rymer from the Forrester analysts, who said this back in 2017 in their report “Five ways to cut the risk of going all in with a Salesforce customer platform”

“The Salesforce@scale dilemma is a challenge for clients to overcome, rather than an inevitable outcome of large-scale, strategic Salesforce implementations. It is a big issue because Salesforce has become a much more strategic supplier in technology strategies to win, serve and retain customers.”


COE Lounge (monthly discussion, ET / PT / Europe): invite
COE Success Community: join
COE LinkedIn Group: join
10K Advisors: Project to Program report: download
Forrester report summary blog
Forrester report (requires client membership) link

Photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash

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