Ensuring Business Continuity with your IT Team


This is part 1 of a 4-part series where our CIO, Prasad Ramakrishnan, was interviewed by our very own Alan Berkson, Global Director for 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 and useful resources, please visit our Remote IT support page. 

Note: The interview transcript below has been edited for clarity. 


Alan Berkson: Hi, I’m Alan Berkson. I’m the global director of community outreach and relations at fresh works, and we’re here today to talk about Business Continuity. I’m joined by Prasad Ramakrishnan, the CIO of fresh works. And there’s someone who knows more about business continuity than I will ever know. Welcome, Prasad.

Prasad Ramakrishnan: Thank you, Alan. Hi, everyone.

AB: Ensuring business continuity in times of crisis. So, what’s the role of IT, Prasad, given the unprecedented times. How do you see the role of IT and ensuring business continuity?

 PR: So, Alan, if you look at it, we live in a pretty connected world. We are more dependent on computers than ever before. And it’s not just laptops and desktops, but mobile devices too. IT is all around us. It is a significant enabler of business outcomes. IT has always been the main service provider in terms of enabling digital transformation, enabling employees to have the computing resources that they need, right?

We, as the IT team, provide the right technology platform using which the businesses can achieve the outcomes they desire.

We do a lot of project management in terms of our day to day functions, whether it be building and publishing new sites, or bringing up new applications. We also do incident management at the first level. Level two teams that are part of the IT org, take care of responding to and triaging end-user issues and make sure that they’re resolved. 

While it’s fair to say that IT plays a significant role in terms of enabling business outcomes, I’d like to add that business continuity planning is not just the responsibility of IT, but an enterprise-wide responsibility.

AB: So for companies who are planning to put a business continuity plan in place, what’s your two cents? Where do they start and how do they go about it and I think it’s fine to ask this question now because most companies are probably already inside, they’re there, they’re implementing their business continuity plans right now, but from a broad perspective, what would be your tips or tricks?

PR: Yeah, and it’s a question that’s so relevant in the crisis mode that we are all in right now. Let’s take a step back and see how most companies or practitioners would have developed their business continuity plan. 

To be honest, most people don’t think that a BCP is all that important. And the ones that are required to do it as part of their compliance-related initiatives, simply lookup Google for a template, download it, make some slight modifications and try to make it look like their actual BCP plan. Because in the past, all that people needed was a document to show that they have a business continuity plan. This is pretty much the current scenario for most businesses out there.

But what people may have forgotten in that aspect is the BCP plan is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The plan is unique to your organization. It’s unique to your employees. It’s unique to your customers and is suited to the type of business you are. So when you think about the BCP, you need to think about what is it that I need to do from a company perspective to ensure that I provide continuity for my employees, my customers, and my stakeholders. 

Another important aspect that we have to note is that the crisis that we are faced with right now is a medical disaster. It’s a virus that originated in one place, spread to the other parts of the world, and is now a pandemic. And this has now triggered a massive economic crisis wherein companies and countries are trying to figure out what is it going to do to the GDP. On the flip side, you still have access to running water, you still have supplies, and most of all, you still have internet connectivity. Imagine if this were a different type of disaster, let’s say, a tsunami or an earthquake. The impact on the infrastructure is colossal. We’d be left stranded without essential services like food, water, and electricity. You need to plan and ensure that you have the appropriate way to respond to the given type of situation.

One of the things which I’m sure many of you have been during this time is watching a lot of Netflix. I used my spare time to binge-watch the Designated Survivor. You know, there’s a reason why Tom Kirkman was kept away from Capitol Hill when the state of the union was going on, right? And that’s why there is continuity of government. So, from a federal government perspective, they look at ways by which they can ensure continuity of the government when a disaster strikes.

AB: So, I think business continuity is not just about technology?

PR: Absolutely! It’s not just about technology. It is about whether you have the right processes to enable your company to continue the business. And let me give you an example. Now, all of us have laptops and internet connectivity. So we are very, very good to go in from a BCP mode, but it doesn’t end there.

When you think from a business operations perspective, you’re still going to have vendors sending printed receipts to your office, which need to be scanned and fed to your system, so that you can continue paying them. And then some new employees are going to join the business. How do you onboard them? And employee exits. Protecting customer and company data, backups, etc etc. So these are all aspects which people may tend to overlook, which is what will get us into a secondary disaster situation once we unpack from the current situation.

AB: So, it sounds like you need to have a comprehensive understanding of what’s critical to running your business as well as the types of disasters that would potentially disrupt those critical people, processes, or tools.

PR: Absolutely. Look at whether the scope of the disaster is local, regional, or global. For example, the crisis that we are currently faced with started in China. Though the country went through mitigation strategies and recovery operations to contain the virus, it spread to some parts of Europe and then spread to parts of the United States, and now it’s pretty much all over the world. Right, so it was more a regional disaster initially, and before we knew, it escalated to become a global health emergency. 

Once you have this information, try to assess the scope of the affected services and available services. We still have access to a reliable network connection, computing devices, and shipping providers. Put them into a matrix to find out what has affected you, how would you respond to this particular issue, and what would you need to do to address business continuity.

AB: So how have you gone about ensuring business continuity at Freshworks?

PR: Right off the bat, Freshworks is a SaaS first company. Pretty much all infrastructure and business services that we provide to our employees are deployed using a cloud-first paradigm. So what does this mean?

It means you could actually be sitting on a beach in Hawaii and still access the same type of services as you would in the office. There is no need for employees to come into our physical facilities. 

From a preparedness perspective, we already had a business continuity plan in place even before the situation escalated to the current state. We also went into an optional work-from-home mode to test the waters to identify if there any gaps in the services provided by various functions like finance, HR, IT, Legal, etc.

We also looked at it from a supply chain perspective and started procuring computers and accessories that would be needed for our employees to continue working remotely. With our optional WFH mode, we got a bit of a head start, since we anticipated the worldwide impact.

AB: It’s also about how we knew what tools we needed to do the job when thinking about Freshworks. I mentioned two points. One is, as part of an onboarding we issued laptops, so it wasn’t about taking your desktop and carrying it home to work, you have a laptop. If you’re working, you can be in your office or you can be at home. The other thing I found interesting and maybe just, just a brief second before we wrap up is you have to be aware of where you are in the world. You know, we take it here. I mean, I’m in North America, in the US, we take internet bandwidth for granted. I know that we took some steps, even for our employees to make sure that we have that as well. Right?

PR: That’s right. And so as a measure we got internet dongles which provide backup internet for people that need secondary and more reliable internet connectivity in case the primary source is not available. Just think about it, Alan, even in the US, we had the ISP giants do a capacity planning based on a certain number of people connecting from home at the same time. But right now we see them putting their capacity to the test. 

AB: Alright, Prasad. This was great. If anybody has any questions about this will give you some contact information to follow up on business continuity. Thank you for joining us today and thank you for sharing some of your wisdom on business continuity.

PR: Thank you, Alan.

Check out our Covid-19 resource center to find more useful content on business continuity.

Blog cover by Saravana Kannan