My TechDecisions spoke with Prasad Ramakrishnan, CIO of Freshworks, about the importance of collaboration to remote workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the IT department can help ensure that collaboration is happening in their organizations:
TD: What are some of the key collaboration tools you recommend for teams working from home?
PR: Yeah, the obvious one which most people will think about is what we call a chat application, which enables you to send instant gratification messages. So, this could be Google chat or could be Slack, or any one of the tools, which enables people, who are now not working in the same office, to get the simulated experience of truly collaborating.
The second, I would say, is having a video conferencing solution when you’re geographically separated from your colleagues. Video conferencing, like the one we’re doing right now, enables us to bridge this gap. You’re taking this call from the East coast. I’m taking this from the West coast, but it enables us to see each other and see each other’s body language. Zoom has come up a lot. I think Zoom has got a lot of press during this time. There’s BlueJeans, Cisco WebEx and others.
Third, I would say, is a good ITSM tool because at the end of the day, IT is in the business of providing services. An IT service management tool enables us to record the transaction or record the incident that the end customer is having as well as respond to that. Tomorrow, we can go back and run the metrics in terms of seeing how many tickets were received during this period.
What is my average SLA during this period? What is it that I need to change moving forward with my service delivery models to make sure that I provide the right level of service to my stakeholders? In this kind of a crazy mode we’re in, I would say an ITSM tool is even more critical. At the end of the day, keeping your employees productive and provisioning them to the access they need to various business services is all the more critical and you need a tool of record for that.
How do you decide what software tool to buy for remote work?
TD: What are some of the key criteria to consider when you’re looking at the right collaboration tool for your organization? How do we approach it?
PR: I think there was an industry statistic which said that close to 30-40% of the companies were on the cloud as of 2017-2018 and that number is projected to climb to 70+% by 2020-2021. From an infrastructure perspective, the real question is what percentage of your infrastructure would be purely cloud-based.
By 2023-2025, the prediction was that almost 99% of all the infrastructure used by companies worldwide will be on the cloud. This pretty much means the term ‘on prem’ would only be seen in museums. You can go to the San Jose Discovery Museum on computer discovery and you will see the word ‘on prem’‘ being one of the relics displayed there! .
The mode that we’re in right now has pretty much accelerated everybody’s, what you call, flight to safety. Because of the need to have a cloud-based provider for your services. Anytime you have infrastructure that’s only in your premises, you are mandating that employees either, physically or virtually, have to come into your premises. This removes the word agility from your dictionary. Right now, you don’t have agility.
The minute you say there’s only one way by which all of your services are going to be provided, you’re limiting the reach of that service to the employee. You’re limiting the ability to manage that service. This means the quality of service that you’re providing to our employees is very low.
TD: What about those that can’t get into their premises?
PR: One key piece of advice I would give to people who are evaluating software is to go for SaaS-based tools. That’s point number one. Two, when you’re going for a tool, one of the risks that you have with SaaS vendors is you end up having to spend three to six months, in some cases, to bring that software to a usable state. When you’re evaluating tools, make sure that you are evaluating tools which provide you a rapid time to market. You don’t wanna spend money on buying a tool and then realizing the benefits from that tool only after six or seven months. You want tools which enable you to realize the value within a few weeks.
Especially in this mode, there are a lot of companies that may be ‘on prem’ solutions and they’re looking to migrate to the cloud. But, just imagine them saying ‘Oh yeah, I found the best cloud-based solution, but it’s going to take another five months and an army of engineers for me to enable it. Now, some of your engineers are working on implementing this. They could be doing other value-added services for your business. So, you need to look for tools which, one, provides you a complete SaaS-based service and, two, you’re going to be able to deploy this to your user base within a few weeks and not a few months.’
TD: What about tools that play well in the sandbox?
PR: When we talk about SaaS tools, the term we use from an IT perspective is best of breed tools, or integrated platform state like Oracle or SAP, you pretty much have all of the functionality within one suite of applications. The HR functionality in SAP will talk to the supply chain functionality, which will talk to the financials. But now what you have is specialized tools for each of these, which means it’s all the more important to have these tools talking to each other or have an open API, right?, if they don’t automatically talk to each other. They need to have an open API method using which you can use an external data movement tool to actual- ly move transactions between these various applications.
TD: How is Freshworks handling the COVID-19 pandemic?
PR: Here at Freshworks we’ve sent all our employees home. Obviously, we’ve had to close our offices for now.
From a Business Continuity planning perspective, we already had a model where employees were provided laptops. In fact, 99% of our employees already had laptops, so that took care of one of the key requirements from a BCP model; which is providing a remote
Second, we are a 100% born-on-the-cloud company and we are a 100% SaaS-only
company. So, any business service that we invest in, from a technology perspective, is completely SaaS-based. And so, what that enables for us is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in our offices in San Mateo or Berlin or Chennai. you could still access the portfolio of all the business applications that you need to access. It doesn’t matter where you are, you could be sitting on a beach or sitting in your home or sitting in the park and you could still access all of those, right?
Three, All the IT security settings that needed to be done on our end user devices and the corporate infrastructure that we provide. We already had the prep work done from a security perspective.
Last but not the least, Training of our employees. We spend a lot of time educating our employees on the importance of security. And we continue to do that. You can never overdo the emphasis on security. So, we took care of that as well. I think part of the question was how did we enable BCP.
TD: How are you enabling collaboration for your employees while they are remote?
PR: Yeah, we also have a collaboration platform. We have Slack as our collaboration platform.
So, we enable users to talk to each other using Slack and we also use our own product; we use Freshservice as our ITSM tool. It was so easily configurable for us when we had to level the playing field and make sure that all of our IT agents can pick up any issue irrespective of whether it was their domain or somebody else’s domain. It was a quick workflow change that we needed to make where I didn’t need to go through a development effort. It enabled us to completely remove the friction from end users to report issues.