Magazine Article | November 19, 2008

Streamline Audits With A Workflow Solution

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

This self-storage company implemented an automated workflow solution to eliminate paper forms and simplify its audit process.

Integrated Solutions, December 2008

U-Store-It is a self-administered and self-managed real estate company that focuses on the ownership, operation, acquisition, and development of self-storage facilities. The company has more than 400 storage facilities across the United States. When a new employee is hired at any of these 400 locations, there are steps that need to be taken to give the new employee access to the appropriate company resources (such as hardware, email, network, applications, and client data). Formerly, these steps were completed using a time-consuming manual process.

or example, when a new employee joined the company, the hiring manager would complete a paper user-access request form detailing the company resources the employee would need to access. This form was then mailed or faxed to the CIO at the corporate office for review and approval. Upon approval, the form was then sent to IT and/or applicable business application owners to grant the new employee access to the appropriate company resources. Finally, the IT department would contact the hiring manager when all tasks on the form had been completed.

Inherent to a manual process where papers are being shuffled around, documents could sometimes be held up on desks or in mailboxes, which delayed the processing of the request. An impediment in processing prevented the new employee from being given appropriate access in a timely manner. The manual process also caused Sarbanes-Oxley audits to be time-consuming for U-Store-It. "Auditors would sometimes request to review information on specific employees and what company resources they had access to," says Jennifer Bridgwater, IT project manager at U-Store-It. "With the manual method, this meant pulling all those employee files, letting the auditors leaf through them, and then refiling the documents."

In his previous position, Ajai Nair, CIO of U-Store-IT, had worked with integrator BizTech Solutions, Inc., and he suggested the company turn to the solutions provider for a workflow solution to automate its forms request process. Working with U-Store-It, BizTech did a comparison of two workflow engines that would enable routing of electronic forms from one location to the next. Captaris Workflow was chosen because the software was based on Microsoft.NET technologies. This programming framework would enable BizTech and U-Store-It to more quickly develop and integrate new workflows. U-Store-It worked with BizTech during a two-month period to develop automatic workflows within Captaris Workflow for user-access requests. Once the solution was implemented at U-Store-It headquarters, the company's training department trained employees using a combination of online and remote methods to walk them through how to access and use the new electronic forms. "The new electronic form mimics the paper form the managers were used to, and they access it via the Web, so it was an easy transition for them," says Bridgwater. The forms can also be accessed and approved from a BlackBerry.

Today, when a hiring manager needs to complete a user-access request, they log on to the Web interface, complete the electronic form, and click 'submit.' The form is automatically sent to the CIO for approval. From there, it is sent to IT and/or applicable business application owners, who grant the employee access to the appropriate corporate resources. Once this is complete, a notification is sent to the hiring manager to confirm request fulfillment. The form is now on the CIO's desk from the hiring manager within seconds, rather than the days it sometimes took with the manual method.

Not only has the automated workflow solution eliminated paper and time-consuming manual processes, it has also streamlined U-Store-It's audits. The application creates an audit trail for each form, which details when the form was created and by whom, as well as a log of each person who acknowledged/approved the form. Therefore, during an audit, U-Store-It now can pull up electronic records for the auditor in seconds. "The integrity of our data is much improved," says Bridgwater. "We no longer have to worry about the possibility of forms being misfiled or incomplete."

Since the initial deployment of Captaris Workflow, U-Store-It has been working with BizTech on additional workflows to streamline processing at the company. Besides automated forms routing for user access, the company has created online forms for user termination, financial system requests, returned checks, hardware requests, and change management requests. The two companies are currently working on a workflow for incident reporting.