Increasing Organizational Efficiencies Using Workflows

by Dean Wiech | 6/9/15

There are many more areas of a business that can be dramatically improved and made more efficient than companies often realize. They believe because a process works, it shouldn’t be fixed, but in actuality they may not realize that it is costing them a great deal of time and resources. Many of these issues are related to the manual processes that a wide variety of organizations use daily.

Inefficient Manual Process

For example, think of the process of requesting access or other changes to your network account. You need to email your manager to ask for permission for a change, which then often needs to be passed along to yet another manager to validate the request and finally sent to IT to implement the account changes. In the meantime, the employee often cannot complete their work and needs to wait on the modification to be made to access the resource or application they require. This can especially be a nightmare if the employee is assigned time sensitive project. This is a waste of time and energy for the employee and often delays them in the starting or finishing their project. Additionally, the employee may need to remind their manager and bother them to check on the status of the change as these requests often are lost or not carried out, so the employee needs to frequently check up on the status.

Errors and Security Issues

This manual process can also lead to error since information can be incorrect or not sent to the right people and in the end, the user does not get what they originally requested. The users then needs to start over again and contact their manager again to correct the issue.

The biggest issue, though, with this process is that it can lead to security problems. It is not ensured that the correct people gave permission and users can accidently be given access to systems and applications that they shouldn’t have. Additionally, the organization has no way of knowing who requested what and who has access to which systems and applications.

The requesting does not need to be limited to account changes though. In different organizations, users have different needs. It can be something like requesting a new phone or a change in their name when they get married or their title if they get promoted. There can also be some custom active directory attributes a company might want to set such as a proxy address. In each industry there are different hardware and software needs, which each have their own requests for employees to perform their jobs. All of this needs to be approved and then sent to the correct person to carry out the task.

Sound like a huge headache? It is. Though the manual procedures of requesting these changes may work, it is inefficient and can lead to the numerous issues mentioned.

What is Workflow Management?

One way to correct these issues and make the organization more efficient is with a workflow management system. Workflow management is a controlled, automated process with a defined sequence of tasks that can replace an otherwise manual process performed by people. This allows for a streamlined process for employee requests.

So how can this help with the requesting process? Users can simply go to a website and request what they need and the request is efficiently and securely carried out. Using a web portal, employees can request access to applications, name changes, mailboxes and distribution lists, as well as anything else that is needed. A workflow is set up so that when a user requests a change, the request then goes through a predefined sequence of people who need to approve it before the change is implemented. The organization can set up the workflow process however they want, so that depending on the user and what they request, the process goes through a certain order. There is also no need for the employee to bother their manager to check on the request. They can easily access the web portal and see exactly where the request is and what steps still need to be completed.

There can also be standard requests set in a drop down menu that can be customized for the organization, such as access to certain groups, a new phone, pass card, etc. This makes it much easier for the user to see exactly what can be requested and further standardizes the process. Additionally, it is also possible to set a maximum processing time for the request, which allows the organization to set a required service level for completion of the tasks. If the task exceeds the time limit, certain action can automatically occur, such as an email reminder to the approver to remind them that tasks need to be completed or re-routing the task to a different approver.

As an example, if an end user gets a promotion and now needs access to an additional system to do his job, he can easily request this change. Users access the dashboard, choose what they want to request and this information is then automatically routed to the next person in line who needs to give their approval. If still another approval is needed, it is automatically sent to that person also after the first approval. Once all approvals are given, the request is automatically made by the system without any manual intervention. This allows a request to easily be made, approved and carried out, so that there is no confusion and the user can complete their work.

Managers can also easily carry out a multitude of management tasks themselves, such as managing temporary logins, administering rights, requesting user accounts and password management tasks, such as resetting passwords.

This ensures that there is a consistent process in place, and that nothing is getting miscommunicated along the way. It also ensures that the correct people are giving permission so that there is no misunderstanding and the end user is not receiving something, or gaining access to a system, which they shouldn’t. A manager simply clicks that they either approve or disapprove and the process either moves along or stops. This overall also makes the entire company more efficient by streamlining requests so that employees know exactly what needs to be done in order to get their change approved.

How Can Workflow Improve Security?

Another benefit is that there is an audit trail for every request and change that was made through the workflow. It can record details of the applicant, the request made, time of approval and the approval issuer. This makes it easy for managers to easily generate a report of who has access to what and make changes if needed. It also makes a systems audit extremely easy when that time of the year comes around. Additionally, it ensures that any issues can easily be detected and corrected, such as in the case of access rights.

Workflow also is helpful when employees are going to be leaving the organization. Departing employees can automatically be sent a notification of items they must return within a specific period or managers can receive an automatically-generated e-mail notification about the configuration items the departing employees still hold. This is helpful since it is often difficult for large organizations to keep track of what employees have which company resources and employees often leave with company items, whether it be on accident or on purpose.

Case in Point

An example of this was a city government organization in Canada. The organization implemented a workflow to allow for requests of new accounts and resources. Once a request was put in by an employee, a notification was automatically sent to the appropriate manager. If approved, a new Active Directory account was made, user name generated, department and title set, phone extension given, as well as a mailbox name, access to certain systems and applications, and a personal drive, all without manually intervention. An email was then automatically sent to the employee’s manager with all the information of the new account.

If for some reason the request was denied by a manager, the information would be stored in an auditing table that the account was denied with a time and date, and a denial reason. An email is also sent to the employee’s supervisor with the request failure and the reason for it. Overall, this greatly improved their efficiency and allowed new employees to easily get everything needed to reform their jobs and be up and running in a timely fashion.

In conclusion, workflow management can help an organization improve efficiency while at the same time ensuring security; every request and creation is automatically logged, as opposed to a manual process where there is often not a paper trail. Workflow ensures that requests are streamlined and efficient allowing an organization to save time, money and resources.  

 

Dean Wiech is managing director of Tools4ever US, a division of the global supplier of identity and access management solutions.