SAP User Roles - A Way towards a Personalized Workplace

By Peter Bittner, SAP AG – August 1, 2000

Disclaimer: Please note that this edition was written in 2000. Therefore, statements in the articles, particularly those regarding SAP's products, product strategy, branding strategy, and organizational structure, may no longer be valid.

What Are User Roles?

Roles are actually an old concept in the world of business. However, today many organizations become more focused on individuals. Individuals need to be motivated and empowered in their roles to significantly contribute to the companyís success in the markets.

Roles are the links between people and processes.

A role defines an activity set and all the sources of information and services that an individual needs in order to achieve a desired business objective. A role, rather than a person, defines how a business process is fulfilled, and how the business process leads to achieving a particular business objective. Processes become wrapped in roles, and roles are responsible for ensuring that process tasks are carried out. A role can't truly exist without a business process or many business processes that define a necessary activity set.

Processes become wrapped in roles

In general users need access to all kinds of different information technology systems and services when acting in different roles within an organization in order to

  • retrieve internal and external information and
  • execute/use internal and external services.

Role-based access from a single point of entry preserves the user from the complexity of the IT system landscape. The role-based Workplace only offers the applications, information and services that each particular individual needs to fulfill his or her role, no matter from where those items come.


The Added Value of a Role-based, Personalized Workplace

Access to the various systems/services is fast, and navigation from one component to another is easy.

The knowledge about roles that is acquired over time by individuals exists within each role. This knowledge constantly populates the knowledge management system with more and more knowledge about the roles and how they can be carried out most effectively. Therefore, other individuals performing the same role automatically benefit from any "best practice" experience. In addition, each individual can personalize his or her role by adding web-based services to the role that facilitate the execution of specific tasks.

A role can be built from a functional as well as from a process perspective. The process perspective helps to reduce training because the role already reflects what a user should do in the order in which it should be done, and what information is typically needed to support these activities. These "instructions" are, in fact, business process knowledge stored in the roles.

In addition to the role-based menu that allows the user to pull all application services that are necessary to fulfill the daily tasks, MiniApps create significant value for the individual and the organization. MiniApps are "pushed" to, rather than "pulled" by the individual. Time-critical information, such as key performance indicators or alerts, instantly become available on the individual's desktop. Whenever an individual logs on to the workplace, the most current material relevant to his or her daily work appears in the MiniApp area for quick reference. The user selects from a role-specific list of MiniApps only those MiniApps that are really relevant to the user.

Roles also control an individualís access to the corporate network. An appropriate role design makes sure that all business controls, such as the segregation of duties, are in place. The role finally defines which information individuals or groups that are assigned to the same role can access.

Personalizable outward facing roles, such as roles for a customer, supplier or even a consumer facilitate the enabling of collaborative internet business scenarios with external partners.


How to Design User Roles

The content of a user role is primarily determined through

  • the work objectives of the individual and
  • the interaction of the individual with other individuals within or outside the organization
  • to achieve the companyís objectives.

can be identified from a functional perspective and from a process perspective

The roles for an organization can be identified from a functional perspective and from a process perspective. The functional perspective takes a closer look at the jobs and the dominant activities that exist inside the corporate functions of an organization. The understanding of the relationships between jobs is crucial to role design. The process perspective focuses more on the key business processes (big picture) and the resources required to enable these processes. Combining these two views with the Business Control requirements leads to excellent, and realistic role design.

Typically, different roles in an organization need access to similar applications or information services, such as customer master data or specific parts of the companyís knowledge systems. Therefore, the design of reusable building blocks that include functionality and information services relevant to multiple roles is highly recommendable. Whether these building blocks are designed according to application components, business scenarios or other grouping aspects, they always have to take into account the business control strategy of the enterprise. If business control issues are dealt with at this lowest level of functional groupings the design process of roles that build on these blocks becomes much easier.

Once all of a roleís key activities and information needs that are required to enable the key business processes are identified, one must definately consider the human dimension of a role-based Workplace.

Satisfying the needs of an individual goes beyond defining key activities and services to enable business processes. Retrieving information and exchanging information usually consumes plenty of an individualís work time. You can make a userís workplace more efficient when the role design takes into account all the communication and collaboration aspects of his/her work environment. For instance the Workplace could include:

  • Chat MiniApps
  • Newsgroups to which users can subscribe
  • Publishing services based on roles

Incorporating efficient, role-specific communication tools disseminates personal knowledge throughout the organization by taking advantage of the role approach for more efficient knowledge management.


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