Enabling Collaboration for Remote Teams – How does IT help?

Our CIO, Prasad Ramakrishnan, was interviewed by our very own Alan Berkson, Global Director, Community Outreach and Analyst Relations at Freshworks. Their freewheeling conversation covered important topics like business continuity planning, remote working, digital transformation and more. For more such videos, please visit our Remote IT Hub.

Here’s a transcript of the above conversation (Note: It has been edited for purposes of clarity and brevity)

How to ensure collaboration when working remotely?

Alan Berkson: Hi, I’m Alan Berkson.I am the Global Director of Community Outreach and Analyst Relations for Freshworks, and I am joined by Prasad Ramakrishnan, who is the CIO of Freshworks. We’re having conversations around business continuity digital transformation and how organizations are responding to the current crisis.

Please check out our other remote support videos in the series. Today, we’re going to be talking about collaboration, getting your IT team to ensure collaboration among different teams in your organization. Welcome, Prasad.

Prasad Ramakrishnan: Thank you, Alan. I think we have a great example of collaboration at play here. The fact that you’re on the East coast and I’m on the West coast and we are collaborating on this discussion is a great example. Looking forward to the conversation, Alan. .

AB: So, Prasad. 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 also 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.

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How do you decide what software tool to buy for remote work?

AB: So, what are some of the key criteria to consider when you’re looking at the right collaboration tool for your organization. I mean, you have your size, your vertical and your function. How do we approach it?

PR: Yeah. So, 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! .

AB: laughs

PR: 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 your employees is very low.

AB: You’re also creating a single point of failure. If you can’t get into your premises, you’re in trouble.

PR: Right. 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.

AB: Yeah, I think one element to that is also just thinking about tools that, as I call, play well in the sandbox. They’ve got built-in connectors to the technology you’re already using to run your business.

PR: Yes, I think that’s a great point, Alan, because 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 actually move transactions between these various applications.

How is Freshworks enabling collaboration in the current scenario?

AB: Here at Freshworks we’ve sent all our employees home. Obviously, we’ve had to close our offices for now. How is Freshworks enabling collaboration during these times?

PR: 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 computing device.

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. Right, Alan?

AB: Yeah, and the collaboration in terms of how we’ve been enabling collaboration for our employees…

PR: Yeah, so 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.

AB: Fantastic. That’s some great advice on collaboration. Thank you Prasad for sharing that with us today and we look forward to sharing some more insights on business continuity and how organizations can handle crises like this. Thanks for joining us.

PR: Thank you, Alan.

TL;DR, Only if you need to Zoombomb someone!

  1. Important items to have your in your WFH toolkit
    1. Chat Application – Slack or Google chat
    2. Video Conferencing tool – Zoom, BlueJeans, Cisco WebEx
    3. An ITSM tool – Freshservice (Shameless plug, I know!)
  2. What’s the criteria for choosing the right tool?
    1. It should be a Saas or a cloud-based tool
    2. It should be easy to implement and use
    3. The tool must integrate well with other software you may be using
  3. How did Freshworks enable a remote work environment for its employees?
    1. Our employees already had remote computing devices; Laptops, routers etc.
    2. Being 100% cloud-based and SaaS-based helped smooth the transition
    3. All the necessary security-related settings for end-user devices was done
    4. We trained our employees on all things security regarding their devices
    5. We implemented tools like Slack and Freshservice that helped in creating a collaborative system

We’d love to hear your feedback on this. Do let us know in the comments below. Check out our Covid-19 resource center for more useful content on enabling collaboration for your remote workforce.

For now, stay home and stay safe. 🙂

Blog cover by Saravana Kannan

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