Creating Scalable Center of Excellences with Mohammed Alkuhlani

Creating Scalable Center of Excellences with Mohammed Alkuhlani

Mohammed Alkuhlani


  • Mohammed Alkuhlani shares his experience as a digital transformation leader and catalyst in talent, culture, and governance for enterprise-wide adoption. 
  • Mohammed delves into his personal life, discussing his hobbies outside of work and reminiscing about his childhood with his large family. He expresses how growing up with them was a fantastic experience that he cherishes. 
  • Mohammed shares his personal journey of being a career switcher and how he discovered the Power Platform and became an early adopter in his organization. 
  • Mohammed discusses how his organization was adopting new tools and upgrading its infrastructure and services and explains how Power Apps were enabled in the organization. 
  • Mohammed talks about how he connected with the Power Platform community and leadership and shares his excitement and disbelief in being a part of the Power Platform team and how he advocates for the Power Platform within his organization. 
  • Mohammed provides an overview of the company's history, from its origins in oil field services to its current position as a leader in energy technology. 
  • A conversation about the importance of innovation, sustainability, and collaboration in advancing clean energy initiatives and making energy accessible to all. 
  • Discusses the importance of empowering citizen developers and enabling them to build with confidence, as it can help organizations address business challenges quickly and effectively. 
  • Mohammed explains why his organization chose to use the Power Platform. 
  • The benefits of having a team of citizen developers which includes the ability to share and collaborate on ideas, and the importance of having a code of conduct and terms of use in place to ensure responsible development practices. 

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Thanks for listening 🚀 - Mark Smith


[Mark Smith]: In this episode, we'll be focusing on creating scalable center of excellence or communities of engagement within an organization using the Power Platform. Today's guest is from Houston, Texas in the United States. He works as a senior manager, citizen development and COE at Baker Hughes. He's a digital transformation leader and catalyst focusing on talent, culture and governance for enterprise wide adoption. You can find links to his bio in the show notes for this episode. Mohammed, welcome to the show.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Thanks for having me, Mark.

[Mark Smith]: It's good to have you on and it's good to be able to unpack your story. But before we get started, I always like to talk a bit about the things that you do when you're not working. What is that for you when it comes to family, food, fun, hobbies? What are your interests that are not involving your career?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: I love these questions, kind of try to unpack there. So at the family front, I had, I grew up as part of a big family. So I have six sisters and three brothers that I really, they're just amazing. They, you know, growing together and learning from each other was fantastic. My parents, You know, did amazing job raising us as well. Um, my dad is actually the reason. Probably, or maybe a major influence in my obsession with technology. So I remember in my childhood, um, you know, sitting next to him and he is like, programming and Clipper programming language and compiler that do not exist today. And, um, I would see him sometimes frustrated trying to fix things and I want to jump in and help. Mind you, I didn't know how to read back then, but this is where my obsession with technology started growing. And when I get to college, I ended up going with engineering rather than computer science. And I was trying to get the computer science route, but my dad was just... And quite frankly... to his credit, he said, you know what, son, you didn't need to go there. I give you a PhD. You go do and learn something new. So that's where the family component and how it shaped who I am today in technology. Food, I love food. Food is, food unite us. I mean, if you go anywhere, I mean, learning and seeing from these different cuisines, I even enjoy... The few times that I kind of try to learn cooking new things and stuff is so therapeutic, so nice to do. And it's also nice to see people enjoying what you cook. That too is just like has its own, you know, different, you know, joy. The one thing is that just to be honest with myself, I'm not doing it that often. I need to get back into it. It's so good. Yeah. And for fun, there are two things, mainly I would say, I love photography, specifically nature, animals. So whenever time permit, I have membership at the zoo, so I would go and enjoy the weather and everything and take very nice pictures. And sometimes I would sit and question myself as like, why didn't I publish these? Just like, for the people to see what I see and these fine details, it's just fascinating. You know, every animal has these amazing details. The other part of the fun is Formula One racing. So, I'm so drawn into it. And it's just, it's not because of the competitiveness and the race. It's the whole thing around technology, how they push the boundaries in technology, how the teamwork aspect of it, how the teams work together and everything they orchestrate. They do all the pit stop and changing all the tires and everything in two to three seconds, you know, all of this fascinating me and fascinating to me. And I feel like it feeds the engineer and me and the leader and me to learn, get better on, on that aspect. So that's in a nutshell, some of these different areas that I do out of the power platform.

[Mark Smith]: That is incredible. It's incredible. Great. And great diversity. Phenomenal size family. I come from a family of seven siblings and I thought that was large, but it doesn't compete with your size. So that's incredible.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: yeah, we got you on there. Yeah.

[Mark Smith]: Yeah, you got me on there. That's for real. Tell me about, how did you get involved then ultimately in the Power Platform? What was that journey for you?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Oh, yeah. So this is a fascinating story for me personally, because what happened is throughout my career, I consider myself a career switcher. So throughout my career, I always applied my technology knowledge, programming and stuff, and trying to build some tools and things that accelerate the work for my team, workflows, stuff like that. Fast forward. we, you know, the organization is adopting new tools and upgrading, you know, our infrastructure and the services that we have. I turn around and I see Power Apps being enabled in the organization and a community of early adopters was created. It was really driven in our case from the leadership down, it wasn't from the bottom up. So... Anthony Cripps, our CTO has this vision on the need of that and really having a governance around it and model. So I happened to be one of the very early users to create an app. My first app, it took me about four to five hours to put together. And it was phenomenal for the group or the team that I work with just because it just give them all the visibility they need for the. what we call the slow moving inventory, which is subset of inventory that they can just look at and find easily and try to utilize. So it was very, very good idea. And then connected with the community, connected with the leadership, a position opened up light just like everyone else. And then I just couldn't believe it. I'm there. I'm doing it. I'm doing what I love full time. And that was where I jumped. from the business side to the IT side to give it 100% of the time.

[Mark Smith]: Amazing, amazing. Before we unpack what you've done in the organization, can you tell me about Bakie Hughes? What does it do? I've not come across the brand in my part of the world before. So a bit about that and a bit about what geographies you operate in and the size of the organization.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yes, that's a good question. So we in Baker Hughes, we are a an energy technology company. So in our focus is taking energy forward, making it safer for, you know, cleaner for people on the planet. And that's the statement we put front and center for us. Baker Hughes originated from the oil field services originally, but the way we are today structured and what we do, we are, you know, under all different energy areas, not just oil and gas. And we have this commitment to the planet and to us as people, everyone to deliver on the clean energy initiatives. We are operating in over 120 countries.

[Mark Smith]: Wow.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: We have over 55,000 employees. And we have two big or major segments. We have the oil field services and equipment, which is not just the traditional oil field service. We do have some things that are serving, you know, and clean energy as well initiatives around geothermal, you know. carbon capture and utilization and storage and all of that, you know, that will be something that will help us in the interim. And also we have the other segment is the industrial energy and technology segment, which is where we have the, we are leader in the gas technology, the LNG, and, you know, for the end to end when it comes to the, uh gas technology and um you know industrial controls to improve reliability and safety, reduce emissions and stuff like that. So we are and then that's how we are really an energy technology company that just focused on certain segment of the energy sector so. Yeah.

[Mark Smith]: Phenomenal so so definitely in the enterprise when it when it comes to size of organization How you mentioned your CTO before? And as vision and it came from the top down which is I love that What was the the rationale? That you know well for even choosing the power platform You know and what I mean here some organizations go, you know what we we need to do at modernization some organizations say we've got so many processes that are so disjointed, we need an orchestration to bring that together. Automation, forms, data, using some of the latest tech around chat bots and now of course AI in the mix. What really led your organization down the power platform path?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: That's an excellent question. And the answer may sound a little bit trivial there, but as part of our move and upgrade of the tools and stuff, we moved with the Microsoft 365 SKUs and it enabled Power Apps and Power Automate and everything as part of the services. And the leadership took a step back and looked at it. and they were thinking, okay, we have this now. We can choose to be restrictive and restrict everything, or we can enable everything and then, all kind of shadow IT and things may happen, or we can pick a balanced approach where we can maintain the risk and governance and the benefit and provide these robust tools in the hand of our employees across the organization to be more productive and also upscale them. So that's the path that the organization followed. And when I joined, it was really focused on that aspect, building the guardrails, building the governance models and everything to deliver on that vision. And there was a frequent... steering committee with different members in the leadership to just keep them up to date and what's happening, you know, get some guidelines and also some feedback from the community as well to deliver to the leadership. So it was, and it's still happening, but it's less frequent now that we are a little bit more mature in the journey, but this is how it started and it was a great leadership direction that points us on that. and that path and enable this to deliver you.

[Mark Smith]: Did it start with a single app or an automation? Did you know how it started as an, and this will lead into other questions like around, do you run a centralized or a decentralized approach? Do you run a DevOps type operating model? Being that you're in so many countries, how do you handle the distribution of your community inside the organization?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: That's an excellent question because that's something I suffered with in the first few months trying to read through literature and things that are out there about, you know, governing such a Such citizen development programs in general, right, if it is power platform or not. And I realized that, you know, one of the things that I was Talking to my team about at some point and being kind of candid with everyone about the vision on what we're doing as a center of excellence is that our job is to basically build, you know, this adoption model where it become embedded process across the organization, across different teams and, you know, departments and everything to the point where If you ask me in 10 years, what is the right place for any center of excellence in any organization, it should be out. It should be done with the job. It should have been dissolved. And that becomes a standard practice across the organization. And, and, I believe it or not, if that's your vision, you will have a lot to do because there's a lot of things to unpack. So, um, we started with few apps. We created a small. you know, community for developers on teams. And then from there, we started building the guardrails and the basic guardrails for any organization. If you ask me as an advice for anyone who is looking at it today is you need to start with, um, basically the, the, the, the absolute necessity of controls like the LPs and stuff. These are, these are, you know, all documentation would point you at that, but also you need to write down. Yeah. What are the terms of use of this service that are internal to your organization? Because every organization based on your industry or where you are, your, your, your standards of data handling, your standard of working with the platform will be different and also building a code of conduct where you can, you know, write down, um, uh, I call this internally kind of for, for just for fun, I call it our constitution.

[Mark Smith]: Nice.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: So it's the agreement between the users and the COE and the whole organization that these are the expectations when you work on this from A to Z. And these are the things that prevailed us to keep moving forward because in my experience, whether from my background or what I've seen in the organization or out of the community, The vast majority of citizen development developers are will intention. They want to do things and they want to do it right. So, you know, these things guide them on how to do it right. And then they will follow. Uh, and, and, and that's, that's where it was the building block that gave us some breathing room so that we can go back and start, you know, designing the strategy and what we need to implement for the broader organization. and basically the decentralization from there on.

[Mark Smith]: let's say somebody in your organization messages you on teams i take it you're using teams right

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yep, we do.

[Mark Smith]: they send you a message and say muhammad i've heard about this power platform thing i want to build something for my department tell me about the journey you then take them on where would they look like on day zero of that communication with you to a point where you have confidence in them, they've read your constitution. What is that journey? Training, adoption, what does that look like for you?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yes, so that's actually a perfect scenario to walk that because there could be different approaches. One is reaching directly to me or the team. Sometimes they get automatically added by their coworkers to the team of citizen developer community. And in some cases, because in our strategy, the personal productivity is open for everyone. So they go and attempt to build something and within 24 hours, they get a welcome email. from the automation of the COE that goes and explain to them what to do next. So in that case for us, the citizen developers, those who want to become citizen developers, it has to be a conscious decision. And what does that mean is that we have a prerequisite of training that they have to do. And we are picking training from LinkedIn Learning. They do these. They get certified. They submit the form. And then they get into onboarding. The onboarding call is where we, we move through these explain, yeah, in these virtual calls, the terms of use, the code of conduct and everything, and then take them to the next environment, which we call the team productivity, where now they can build and share, uh, versus in personal productivity sharing and stuff is blocked, so they, they, they are kind of bound to, you know, being, you know, around the person productivity. space before they officially join the Citizen Development Program. And so

[Mark Smith]: Do you deploy

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: go ahead.

[Mark Smith]: them into their own dev environment as in so they've got their own dev environment that they start in or they're landing in default? And one other question, this is a follow on from before, you talked about doing training on LinkedIn rather than Microsoft Learn and I just wanna understand your thinking there. So, I'm gonna go ahead and start with you, and then we'll go to the next question. So, I'm gonna go ahead and start with you, and then we'll go to the next question.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yeah. So, um, the, the Microsoft Learn is, is great. It's reading material. LinkedIn Learning is, is very well, uh, curated in this video and it easily divided into chapters and they can pause and go back to it. And it happens to be accessible for our employees as part of our, um, broader benefit of learning. So, you know, it's available, you know, go take it, get, get to learn it, you know, in a little bit with. more example and stuff in your own base. We try our best to respect the time of all the, you know, business users, employees, because normally this is not their primary task. So we cannot bring them into, let's say a class or something to make sure that they get to learn. So they go and take that. It feels like it, it covers broader content and because it's video based more than what you see normally and, and, and learn. We advise people to go through learn and get certified if they would like to keep growing, but that's just an option. It's not their...

[Mark Smith]: Yeah, yeah. Any particular course on LinkedIn learning? Because I think a bunch of people will be like, well, I didn't even think of LinkedIn learning as a resource.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yeah, so we go with the essentials. So there is like Power Apps essentials. There's basics and beyond the basics, Power Automate basics and beyond the basics. And Power BI is a tricky one because the essentials of Power BI is very long. And our COE, we include Power BI. So

[Mark Smith]: Of course.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: we chose to not require. Power BI per se for the citizen developers, but we encourage them to get these trainings. There are multiple trainings like Power BI desktop, there is a Power BI DAX training specific, and there is as well the essentials, which is an extended one. So these are the basics that we put there as a requirement for the onboarding process. Yeah.

[Mark Smith]: How do you handle evangelism of new apps that get created? Is it? Is it purely word of mouth? Is it you run regular, let's say, app showcases and look what we've done, and because that might spark ideas in other divisions, departments, with other people, teams, et cetera. How do you go around attracting potential would-be future makers, citizen devs, that wanna get involved?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: So that's an excellent question. And I will tell you frankly, that we do not have a specific way of doing it. We do a mix of that. And it has to do with the nature of the growth that we faced. We had exponential growth in our adoption journey that it didn't give us the time to sit and work with that. It seems like the word of mouth and the user experience is just smashing it and is doing

[Mark Smith]: Wow.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: perfectly what needs to be done. We, however, we look at those, you know, the use cases that stand out and we showcase them to the leadership of the functions that they are part of every now and then so that they see what's going on in their areas. But at the same time, from a COE perspective, we are trying to do our best to be hands-off. And one of the things that I keep, I'm talking about with my team and the rest of the organization is that we do our best to try to respect the segregation of duties. The COE has a potential of becoming an IT within IT because you can do everything. And that will be challenging because you will be so dependent on the COE. That's one thing. And another thing. the upscaling of the other department within your IT will become a challenge. And the business users may be in a way higher skill set level because as a citizen developer, they're getting there. So what we do is normally when we see cases like these, we go and talk to the leaders of those departments and make sure that they are aware. For example, you are from finance. You are from, you know, HSE or whatever department, you manage all the digital tools. Here's what's going on in your area, or these are some cases and what you'd like to do. And with that, we had success in multiple teams that adapted the platform to deliver enterprise applications to the users, because they've seen the capabilities and they've seen the potential of converting, in some cases, what the users are doing. point to talk about a little bit about our governance approach, because what we did is we created a heat map, a risk-based governance approach. So what it is, is if you try to visualize or imagine two axes, like you have in your x-axis, in our scenario, we looked at the user base of the app. So as the user base grows between a small team and to a department, and to a business unit, and to a business segment. it grows. And in your y-axis, in the vertical axis, you look at the app risk for the business continuity. So is it low risk, no risk, high risk, critical? And basically, we put areas that are green zones for citizen developers, areas that are applicable for fusion development, and there are areas that are the zone that are not applicable for citizen development. And what's nice about this is In an area, in citizen development in general, we practice reactive governance, if you want to think about it that way. So you react to what the users are doing. You make sure it's balanced in the right way. But sometimes things grow out of the hands of the business user. They create a great process. The organization loves it. Next day, they are presenting it to another business unit. The business unit adopts it and it keeps growing. What do we do? And we apply that risk-based approach. So if the app started going into the yellow zone or the red zone, this is where we, we pulled a stop and we go without disrupting the business, but we, we take the use case, we sit with the, with the, with the digital team assigned to the tools for that function. And we reach some sort of agreement of transfer of support or ownership and funding and stuff so that the continuity, the business continuity is not impacted. And the citizen developer is relieved as well, because at some point, if you give them too much work, are they doing the job that they are primarily have to do? That's where, that's where I'm very defensive and protective of citizen developers when it comes to that. It, it protects the company, but it protects the talents at the same time.

[Mark Smith]: Have you built an app or a dashboard that has those quadrants in it you talked about? That an app automatically by number of users you realize it's moved into it's a critical application for the organization number of people using it that type of thing? Or is it something that you're looking at your dashboards and go oops that one looks like it's moved into the yellow or heck it's now at the point. It could be higher on the red zone. You talked about, is it an automated thing? Have you automated that process? Or what does that look like?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: that's a great question because you kind of started reading in my roadmap, but I don't know if I can talk more about that. But in general, we are doing it somewhat manually now through the dashboards and reporting that we have. But we intend in our plans to automate the way we're looking at it and put it into the quadrants and everything so we can address them. And all of this has to do with improving the functionalities of the, you know, in the COE starter kit, there is a compliance center, but it's very basic. So we took it and we were adding a lot of functionality to it and questions and stuff that will eventually automatically put things in the blocks. You know, when you, when you have that, in addition to the telemetry, you will be able to tell immediately what is happening and. And the teams proactively could see this dashboard from whatever function they are and could take action as they like. So that's our vision when it comes to maturing that side. Again, another theme of where we're trying to be hands-off, focus on infrastructure, focused on delivering the service, and making sure everyone is empowered to work within their scope.

[Mark Smith]: There's so many questions running through my mind that I want to drill into and I can see we're at 30 minutes already. I'll pick,

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Fire them up. Yeah.

[Mark Smith]: yeah, we might need to do a version two in a month or so time of this. You mentioned Fusion Teams there, which tell me that it looks like you've got a digital team that is brought in to do stuff at a larger scale than what a citizen dev could handle.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yes.

[Mark Smith]: which is quite common, right? As in because I see lots of scenarios where the business comes to the center of excellence and says, hey, we don't have any citizen developers, but we're going to go out to market and buy some technology to do something. You look at the requirements and go, man, that's a sweet spot for the Power Platform. We're already licensed. It's logical to do it on the Power choose the technology set that you're going to use and build that and provide it back to the business? Is that the situation?

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Yeah, so that's a really good question. So we have in the COE three major elements. The Power Platform COE has the Citizen Development Program Manager. So this has been in the team focused on the citizen development aspect, hackathon training, onboarding, all that feedback from the community engagement. And then we have the Digital Operation Manager, end user support administration and all that focus that you need in the infrastructure side. And in my team as well, Josh manages the what we call the Power Platform Solution Factory. And we picked the word factory for very important reason is that we will never support anything as a COE team. It has to land in the right support zone. So

[Mark Smith]: Gotcha.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: there will be cases where the business, you know, they have citizen developers and they are willing to support things, but They really don't have time to build. And they have a budget to fund and do it. So this is where the app, the solution factory, come and play, spin out something quick. And also, it sets the tone in the organization of the standard of user experience and how to design application, the development cycle. So it becomes an all-in-all good practice because you are building that culture. Now this is the COE model. We are now working on expanding that model on what we call the operation hubs, which is in different segments and areas. If they are willing to adapt this franchise or this approach as this federated model, they can go ahead and do the same structure and then they will follow the COE guidance. We work with them closely on what they need to do and work with. And this is why today our successful Fusion story so far is done with one of the digital technology unit of another business segment, it's not the COE. And we tell them, there are different ways to do Fusion. It's not necessarily that you are building or doing something. So in the case that we have is they basically focused on bringing data from one of the ERP instances. to a data verse and have the citizen developers from there, for example, build automation around the PO headers or something or integrate them in a workflow or whatever. So the job of that kind of fusion is, hey, we are the data stewards. We'll give you the data. We'll make sure it's accurate. We'll make sure it's consistent. And you build whatever you want with it, as long as you are part of that unit and you can access it. So That's where we want, we don't want to tell people how to do it. We would rather see the creativity of every team on how they want to build their own fusion based on the function or the needs in different segments.

[Mark Smith]: I love it. Muhammed, we're out of time. I feel we will do a follow up if you're interested. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

[Mohammed Alkuhlani]: Well, thank you. This has been great. And yeah, there is a lot to unpack, and we'll look forward to talk to you again.

Mohammed AlkuhlaniProfile Photo

Mohammed Alkuhlani

From field operations and front-line engineering roles to Digital Technology, Mohammed Alkuhlani established the Citizen Development practice at Baker Hughes and currently leads Baker Hughes' Power Platform Center of Excellence.

He is a career switcher, a digital transformation leader, and a catalyst focusing on talents, culture, and governance for enterprise adoption. Mohammed speaks low code and governance where everyone is a maker.