Why automating workflow management improves security and productivity

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New technologies often come around which can be helpful but are expensive and take significant time and effort to implement. But there are some technology solutions that organisations may overlook that can have a great, positive effect on efficiency.

For example, in any organisation where there are frequent requests, such as for account changes, additional access or for physical resources can be a time-consuming process to efficiently and securely approve these requests.

While organisations may believe they are able to manually facilitate all of the requests and that their process is functional, there are several downfalls that they may not realise are creating issues. These include problems such as errors and security issues. 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 organisation has no way of knowing who requested what and who has access to which systems and applications.

So, for example, a lower level employee might ask a manager or the IT department for access to a certain, secure system. That IT employee might not have the authority to give out access and accidently give permissions to the lower level employee to a system which they should not be accessing.

What is workflow management – and how can it help?

Workflow management is a controlled, automated process with a defined sequence of tasks that can replace an otherwise manual process performed by multiple people. This allows for a streamlined and efficient process for employee requests.

So how can this help with ensuring security and help with efficiency? Using a web portal, employees can easily request access to anything they need (applications, name changes, mailboxes, distribution lists, etc.). A workflow is set up by the organisation so that when a user requests a change, the request then goes through a predefined sequence of personnel who need to approve it before the change is implemented.

The workflow can be set up in any manner that the organisation requires. Depending on the user and what they request, the process goes through a certain order. Managers can also easily carry out a multitude of management tasks themselves, such as managing temporary logins, administering rights to shares and distribution groups, requesting new user accounts and password management tasks such as resetting passwords.

Having a workflow in place ensures that there is a consistent process, and that nothing is getting miscommunicated or lost along the way. Additionally, it 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 be restricted from.

A manager simply clicks that they either approve, or disapprove, and the process either moves along or stops. In the case of a denial, the ability to give reasons is also provided so the employee has an understanding of why the request was denied. 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.

Innovation in workflow

While workflow management can be extremely helpful, there have been innovations that have made the implementation and management that much easier for organisations.

One of the newer innovations is the ability to easily customise the workflows. While workflow management can be enormously beneficial for end users, it can be a bit difficult for the system administrator to set up if the workflow is a bit more complicated than a single level of approval. It often requires a consultant from the software company to help the system admin to customise exactly how it should be structured – if, for example, the organisation needs a complex workflow set up where they may require a request to branch out into two separate requests that need to be approved, or a request may require two levels of approval before it should be carried out.

The greater the customisation and complexity that is needed to make the workflow functional, the more time-consuming it can be to set up the workflow. System admins want to make workflow easier for the end user, but do not want to spend months setting it up.

Some software companies offer the innovative ability of a drag and drop interface to set up the workflow. The system admin can easily create a flow chart with different nodes to represent the action that needs to be taken after a request is made by an end user. They can drag and drop “action” nodes for active process, and “passive” for those in which no action is being taken, such as a request waiting for approval, or waiting to process a request.

This makes it extremely easy for the system admin to develop a flow chart and visually see the process that each request needs to go through. This means the admin needs minimal programming skills to be able to easily create the workflow and can then easily export and import the workflow between development and production environments.

While this drastically reduces the difficulty of setting up a workflow, it also reduces the time and money involved. The organisation can implement a workflow much more quickly than they would have without a drag and drop interface. Additionally, this makes the cost of implementation that much lower as the consulting time required is significantly reduced.

Use cases

A drag and drop workflow allows the organisation to more easily create complicated workflows, such as those which are not just linear or single level. For example, if an employee makes a requests for a new administrator account. This type of account, since it has high privileges, usually requires more than one level approval to be created. The workflow can be set up so that when a user requests this type of account, a request is automatically sent to an IT manager and also the CIO. Both approvals are necessary before the account creation actually occurs. When both approvals are given, the account is then automatically created as the final step of the workflow process.

Another example would be if a manager is requesting a new account be created for one of their new employees. This manager may send a request for a new account and also check a box that says the user also needs access to SAP with specific role requirements. The workflow can be set up to automatically create two approvals from that one account request. One would be sent for approval of the new Active Directory account and the other for the SAP account. These would be two independent requests, so when each was approved the accounts would be created automatically as the last step of the workflow.

These examples show how a drag and drop interface can assist with easily creating more advanced workflows. Organisations are able to implement a workflow which can ensure security by requiring approval from more than one person, or create accounts in different systems with one originating request, while not needing to spend a great deal of time implementing the workflow. 

 

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RyanGallavin
11 Sep 2015, 9:25 p.m.

Excellent article. In fact, I struggle to translate this every day to potential customers. Our software automates all sys admin activities through a centralized location, providing access controls that are based on the role you have and job responsibilities you hold. (RBAC) . We have had use cases that have shown automating privileged users and sys admin functions reduces the amount of unplanned security events by 1/3, while increasing the amount of projects completed on time and under budget by 1/4. The end result is significant increase in efficiency and productivity while reducing operational expenses and security concerns., so what is the push back? In my experience , some admins worry it will replace their jobs, but in fact that is not true...it actually frees them up to use their skills on activities they are really needed for and gets rid of people in other depts making requests and eating up all their work time. This is change that is needed and ultimately required to stay competitive in the business world, however sometimes change comes with kicking and screaming from those whom it will benefit the most:) Keep up the great work!

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