How Does Going Remote Affect Your Digital Transformation Journey

This is part 4 of a 4-part series where 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 support page. 

 

Here’s a transcript of the above conversation (Note: The interview transcript below has been edited for clarity)

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.

Today we’re going to talk about digital transformation, a buzzword that if I went to 100 IT Executives, I’m sure I’d get 150 different answers. Right, Prasad?

Yeah. So, in my mind, digital transformation, you know, whenever you’re talking about anything, It’s people, processes, and tools. I think that you have to add to it that it’s really about agility and adaptability.

So when you think about digital transformation and particularly as it relates to Freshworks. Why don’t you talk about just what you think about and perhaps what other organizations think about.

Prasad Ramakrishnan: I think that’s a great topic for us.

Most people think digital transformation is all about technology. And that’s partly because of the word digital in digital transformation. So most people think it’s got only to do with computers or the computerization of all services.

But like you rightly pointed out, digital transformation is about the people, the processes and the technology all aligning to take the company to the next level. 

So let’s look at it from a people angle. If the company doesn’t have a culture for digital transformation, if they are not committed to a digital journey for achieving the outcomes they want to achieve, then you’re going to have the company’s leadership going in one direction and the technology going in a different direction. And you’re going to have a lot of false starts and end up with a lot of reinvestment in doing so.

One is alignment from the top and alignment from a company culture perspective as these are extremely critical as you define your digital transformation initiatives.

AB: Now, I was just gonna say, if you want a litmus test for how well your organization is from a people perspective, did people panic, during this particular crisis that we’re going through? 

I mean, we’re all looking at almost every company in the world currently going through some business continuity plan.

They’re executing the business continuity plans, and the question is, how well did your people respond to it? I’m not talking about the IT people, because expect them to do it because they know what they’re supposed to do. But how well do your entire organization respond?

PR: And that’s a great point! And it comes back to the culture of the company. Is it something that’s permeating every single employee in the company? Are they committed to the tenets of digital transformation? Are they able to now work in different modes of operation?

Because when you talk about digital transformation, it’s not a one size fits all. And it’s not like one book with the seven things you need to do and you can claim that you are digitally transformed. No,it is about a journey and companies need to make sure that they constantly keep their employees in mind. Are they able to adapt to the new normal? And that’s where it comes back to culture.

 

AB: And so from them, we get people, we get processes.

PR: Yeah, so I think from a process perspective.

Remember, that, at the end of the day, technology is more an enabler for people, as well as for the processes. If you take an example, and the term I like to use for that is “metrics that matter”.

Most of the systems that you interact with are systems where you collect a lot of information, you collect information about payables and transactions, you collect information about HR, the sales reps, they’re entering information about the deals that they’re working on.

The marketing department, they are entering information about the leads that they are generating from the various events, qualifying the lead, scoring the leads and all that. 

At the end of the day, the reason for doing all of these transactions is to get insights into how the business is doing, which is where metrics come in: when senior management looks at how the company is performing, they look at how many leads did I generate this week versus last last week. They’re not interested in the specifics of the process, they’re interested in trends, they’re looking at patterns so that they know that the business is doing well right now. 

The reason I use the term “metrics that matter” is what you see is most people having what’s called a bad habit of having excessive metrics, where they like to see reams and reams of paper at their desk first thing in the morning when they come into the office. They cannot read all those reams of paper. They would love to see a bunch of emails in their inbox, giving them metrics of how the business is going. 

But, think about it. You are going to be able to only focus on three or four of these metrics, not hundreds of them.

It comes back to the culture of the company when you’re talking about digital transformation. You want to make sure that your processes also align with the way you look at metrics. The way you measure how the business is doing.

 

AB: Is that also about adjusting your metrics? I can’t imagine that any organization has the same metrics today that they had six months ago.

PR: Right! I would even say it’s not just about the organization having the same metrics. Peter Drucker said it right: “You get what you measure”. Metrics should be used and measures should be used to look at how the business is doing and what transformation you want to make from a business perspective, what are you trying to influence. 

If I come in tell you, Alan, that I’m only going to measure you on the number of leads that you bring in, all you will do is just bring the leads and not focus on quality leads. 

If I just measured you in terms of how many tickets you’re closing you’ll just go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, let me go close these tickets. Whereas if the measure would have been: How many have you closed to the customer’s satisfaction, then you’re making it into a positive outcome, rather than just making you click on the tickets and close it when the issue may not have been resolved. It may lead to bad behavior if it is not used properly.

 

AB: Let’s talk about communication.

A digital native today is probably communicating on, you know, 8 to 10 or maybe a dozen different channels, just from a consumer point of view.

How does it impact organizations in terms of the agility and adaptability for communications, particularly now that you know where we are right now?

People communicate through chat channels, video channels and there’s a whole lot more. That is probably required to do their jobs, your remote organization. And that’s part of being able to be adaptable or have that agility.

Our standards change.

PR: Exactly. And then this is the new normal, in normal times, that would have been just you working from home, you would have the privacy of your home and be able to do the calls. But now, like in my case, it’s me, my daughter, my wife, my son, they’re all in their own business calls or in their own school calls. 

So I think that’s where the adaptability of the technology, adaptability from the People perspective. Were you able to adjust to this new normal? Are you able to adapt and make sure that you’re setting the boundaries around which you’re able to operate and be more successful with your stakeholders with your partners with your employees with your customers and so on?

So I think this is the third aspect of digital transformation. We covered the people and the process. Technology plays a very critical role in the company.

Technologies which enable business collaboration is something which is purely in the hands of the company. That’s where we, Freshworks, have done a phenomenal job. If you look at it, we have multiple modes by which we enable communication among our employees. We have our world class ITSM product using which employees can just send an email and the ticket gets routed to the appropriate person, whether they be in Finance or HR or Travel or IT or Legal, it gets routed to the appropriate person.

We have enabled video conferencing so that people can talk without friction to their colleagues and have collaborative sessions and video sharing sessions. In fact, an important statistic here is, when we did our company All Hands just last week, we got close to 2400 people all collaborating and available on the session at the same time across time zones.

This comes back to: 1. Is the company ready to do it?; and 2. Are the employees ready to accept it and try even that type of environment? So, all these three things are interconnected.

 

AB: Yeah, I think the winners or losers are going to be chosen that way. One topic I want to get in with you because this is something that I’ve always considered, you know, get my background is IT too.

There’s the business continuity which is – we’re failing over but then there’s another aspect of it which is resilience

I go back to when I was a DBA, you know, if you have two servers and one failed, then you have another one. You’re still running. You know that you don’t have to fail over. There’s no business continuity. It’s just redundancy.

Resilience, a perfect example I use of this, goes back a while to my first day at Freshworks. It was June of 2013 and I’m sitting in our CEOs office in Chennai and the power goes out and back then, it was pretty common for the power to go out

Nobody blinked.

Nobody blinked and I thought about it for a second. 

The only thing that was there was the router. So the internet connection was on a UPS and everybody had laptops.

So they kept working and then the power came back on and it happened two or three times that day. Nobody blinked.

That’s resiliency.  

Just as an example, that to me was, was striking. Can you talk a little bit about just, you know, the idea of building resiliency, which could probably help you offset some of the pain of business continuity.

PR: Yep. And I think that’s a great example. The reason why nobody blinked was when the power went out as you rightly pointed out, everybody had a computing device which could go for four to eight hours depending on the model of laptop that they had.

But behind the scenes, to your point, enabling and making sure that the services that they need access to was not on prem solutions. From a strategy perspective being cloud first and SaaS first enabled us to continue the services as long as we had sufficient backups primary and secondary backups, which could go for 12 to 14 hours if needed right where the UPS could still be running.

Being a product company, we have the best possible infrastructure to enable us to be productive as employees and us to be productive for our customers. So we have built in multiple failsafes mechanisms here.

 

AB: Yeah, so that that’s great advice and great insight, you know, as we think about our business continuity plans. I’m sure that everybody at some point in the next six months will be updating their business continuity plans.

As they also try to come out of their business continuity or whatever that means. And maybe that’s a whole topic for another session.

But also what kind of resiliency, can we build into our organization from a people point of view, from a process point of view, from a tools point of view so that the impact of a disaster or a crisis is less so. And that we don’t necessarily have to have a new normal or change things too much.

PR: I think employee communication and employee training is key to building resiliency. Training and communication and amplifying our infrastructure and our approach to resiliency goes a long way. 

 

AB: Yeah, you know it’s like insurance. Nobody really likes to have it and they don’t want to spend the money on it, but at the same time, what’s the cost of not doing it in our global environment. So even local small businesses. They’re not just local and the impact is much greater. 

Thank you so much for your insights today.

We’ve been having conversations around business continuity digital transformation and how organizations are responding to the current crisis. Please check out the other videos in the series and join us for more conversations. Thanks.

PR: Thank you and have a great day.

We’d love to hear your feedback on this. Do let us know in the comments below.

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

Blog cover by Saravana Kannan