Judging an IT department’s effectiveness by how long it takes to create a user account

Posted Tuesday, April 2, 2013 12:03 PM by CoreyRoth

As an IT consultant, I have seen it all (ok that’s a pretty big statement…I have seen a lot).  I often ask why does it take days, weeks, or even months to create a new user account?  Is it because there is so much process involved, your help desk or administrators are over-worked, or is it because someone in the chain is slacking?  Honestly, it could be any of this.  I find that watching how long it takes to create a user account is a good metric for an IT department’s efficiency.  You can see things from a business process and technical perspective by watching this process.  It shows how well the business process works to request and approve an account.  It can also expose any resourcing shortfalls that you may have.  In reality, the process of creating a new user account should really be simple.  Read more to look at possible causes of why it takes so long to create user accounts and for ways to improve it.

If you’re reading this as a business user or executive and have been told the process of physically creating the account takes forever, prepare to get angry.  Watch this video and see how long the process actually takes.  This particular video (albeit old) is under two minutes and there is a lot of ramp up time.  The process takes seconds.  I’ll give you that it might take a big longer if you are also configuring Exchange mailboxes (although minimal) or trying to decide on a username, but as you can see the process doesn’t take that long.  If your administrator tells you that this process takes a long time, he or she is lying and it’s time for him or her to go.

Let’s look at the business process.  Obviously, you need to have some sort of approval process for creating accounts.  Your data is important.  You don’t want people requesting accounts for their friends or even worse a competitor.  Who needs to approve an account request?  Well from what I have seen in the past, typically someone from the business approves the request such as the requester’s manager, director, or VP.  You’ll probably also have someone from the IT department approve it as well.  Every organization is different, but if you have more than two or three approvals required to create an account, that is probably over-kill.  You definitely don’t want to have too many VP-level or C-level approvals required.  After all, most of them don’t really care nor do they have time to deal with your approval to begin with.

For each approval you have, you can pretty much assume that is going to cost you a day at least.  A well-engineered process will use multiple approvers and have fall-backs for when approvers are not available.  It should also have task reminders to remind approvers to approve tasks after a set period of time.  What is not surprising is that the technology that powers this process widely varies in every organization and it is far from standardized.   Typically, organizations manage this process inside their help-desk ticketing system.  I’ve also seen it put together in everything from an E-mail, a custom form, a Word document, you name it.  You could certainly build an approval workflow in SharePoint too. :)   If it takes a long time to create a user account though, it is more than likely a business process problem and not a technology problem.

It’s amazing how much money is lost because a new hire or contractor doesn’t have an account.  I see it all the time.  If I was the CFO, I would be yelling at you the CIO to get this process under control.  Of course, no one in their right mind would let me manage a company’s money. :)  Creating a user account should not take weeks and you know it.  So as the leader of an IT department, how do you fix it?  You need to figure out if it is a technology problem, a resource problem, or an approval problem.  

Although I have never seen a help desk system that I would classify as great, I would rarely say it is a technology problem.  Still though, you can look at the process that the end user completes to get an account created.  This could be a form, an E-mail, logging in to the help desk system, or a phone call.  Make sure the process is obvious and make sure your users know how to get to it.

Let’s look at potential resource problems.  Monitor how long the ticket sits with the person actually creating the user account as well as the number of other tickets.  If that administrator is being hit with 50 new tickets a day and he or she can’t keep up, then it’s probably a resource problem which ultimately means it’s your fault.  Get that poor admin some help.  If the administrator only has a handful of tickets a day and doesn’t have any other responsibilities, you may be dealing with a slacker and you need to fix the problem.  Slackers are notoriously bad about making up excuses of why things take so long.  They use your ignorance in technology against you because as a non-techie you no means to question them.  Ask the slacker lots of questions and it usually becomes pretty obvious.

You can find approval problems by looking at ticket history and examining the time in between approvals.  If you are seeing huge lags times in between approvers, you likely have too many required approvers or the wrong approvers.  Look and see if you see any trends where the process is getting hung up.  Interview people from your help desk about it because chances are one of them knows where the delays usually come from.  Think back to when the approval process was first created, does anyone there even remember why it was built the way it was?  Don’t be afraid to re-engineer the process from the beginning to simplify it.  Does the CIO or the VP of Legal really need to approve every account?  I’ve seen it before and it just really isn’t necessary.  Put a little more trust in your management to make the right decisions.  After all you hired them because they are good people and they just want to get work done.

Lastly, separate the account creation process from the process to grant permissions to applications and files.  If the user is going to need access to sensitive files, often times you will want additional approvals.  Separate this from the account creation process so that the new employee can at least read E-mail and get started with his or her job.  Let the approvals for those sensitive areas come in on a separate ticket to expedite the process.

I know there could be other factors in the mix such as dependencies on HRMS systems and the like.  What have you seen?  I know a lot of you out there are consultants and work with companies of varying sizes.  What are your experiences?  Do you have any good stories about starting somewhere?  Share them in your comments.

I could be totally off base here.  I haven’t done any significant systems administration work in years, but I think these are good ideas.  As part of being a SharePoint architect, I am often working with business users to improve processes and this one almost always needs help.  Remember, nothing gives your IT department a worse name than being slow at executing such a rather simple process.  Perception is reality.  Fix this problem in your organization and you’ll get a big win with your stakeholders.


# re: Judging an IT department’s effectiveness by how long it takes to create a user account

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 3:54 PM by Derek Gusoff

At one very large company I worked with it took six weeks to get an access badge and user id. In my experience this only seems to happen when IT operations are outsourced.  These outsourced vendors can actually improve their bargaining position with their clients by acting in opposition to their client's best interests.

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