Most IT leaders think about how end users and engineers will feel using technology. But one leader, Prasad Ramakrishnan, took a rather unusual step to ensure all his colleagues’ experiences were represented.
Prasad is currently Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of Freshworks, leading the company’s IT vision, strategy, and execution. But this story isn’t about his stint at Freshworks.
This narrative takes us back a few years in his career, giving us a glimpse of a rather unique strategy, he employed to upend IT transformation at a leading SaaS pharmaceutical. Let’s dive straight in.
The company was built on Salesforce—literally. It’s first CRM product, used Salesforce as a platform. Internally, its marketing and sales both relied on Salesforce to generate interest and close revenue.
“If they could have built a bathroom on Salesforce, they would have,” laughs Prasad, the company’s former CIO. “They had some of the world's best architects and developers—all humongous experts on Salesforce.”
For some applications, that made sense. The company’s CRM product was industry-leading. Its internal sales and marketing teams loved their tools. But one implementation wasn’t quite so successful: IT service management (ITSM).
The IT team used a Salesforce application with an incident management module as its service desk. While it worked, it certainly wasn’t perfect.
“Salesforce is a great platform,” Ramakrishnan says. “There’s nothing wrong with the platform, but it’s not an ITSM platform.”
SURVEYING THE TECHNOLOGY LANDSCAPE
When Ramakrishnan joined the organization, the company had just completed its IPO and was gearing up for growth. Rapid expansion was nothing new for Ramakrishnan. He had worked in consulting roles during the Dot Com boom and had experienced first-hand all the stresses and strains that come with growth.
“The technology infrastructure always lags behind,” he explains. “The general and administrative (G&A) infrastructure—HR platforms, finance systems, and so on—always lags behind.”
As any company firmly locked in high-growth mode, this one was no different. Ramakrishnan spent his first few weeks surveying the landscape and analyzing the systems, services, and tools he had inherited. Next, he built a short-term roadmap, plotting out the top three fixes to move the needle.
First was the “order to cash” process. That’s the series of interlocking business processes running from receiving to fulfilling a customer’s requests for goods or services to accounts receivable. Ramakrishnan was happy with the existing system (NetSuite) and focused on optimization, tweaking, adjusting, and refining the tool to best support business needs.
Content with NetSuite’s performance, he turned to sales technology. The company was poised to launch a raft of new products into adjacent spaces and brand-new markets. Ramakrishnan delivered a battery of enhancements to the CRM, empowering the company to continue growing worldwide.
DRIVING DEMOCRATIC SELECTION
When running a software procurement project, most IT departments will use something called a scoring matrix. It’s a tool used to compare options on the same variables.
Visualize a table, says Ramakrishnan. On one axis are your options. On the other is your assessment criteria, each with a relative weighting. Our criteria, at the time, were: stability (20%), references (20%), price (20%), and features/functionality (40%).
In his search for a new ITSM tool, Ramakrishnan could assess the first three criteria himself. Customer references could be easily obtained. The price was a set figure. The stability was simply a combination of uptime and bug instances. But the latter was trickier
Assessing a tool’s features and functionality wasn’t as simple as looking at its marketing material and checking off boxes. Ramakrishnan wanted to know what it was like to use—both as an engineer and an end user. This is where he deployed his unusual democratic selection process.
He began by recruiting a cross-functional evaluation team. He wrote company-wide memos, explaining that they were going to replace the old system and inviting people to help select its replacement. He tapped his peers, too, asking other team leaders to nominate one or two people from their department to contribute.
“Pretty much everybody was an engineer,” he says. “We had a rich portfolio of people with a problem-solving mindset. Getting multiple people in on the process only made our eventual decision stronger.”
At their first meeting, the evaluation team numbered 75 employees—with representatives from every single department.
Next, Ramakrishnan devised specific feature and functionality assessment criteria: How easy was it to report a ticket? How easy was it to see the status of a ticket? How easy was it to escalate a ticket? How easy was it to route a ticket? There were dozens of criteria, covering general interactions, specific roles, and varying levels of seniority.
Criteria set, he let his evaluation group loose on test environments provided by a shortlist of vendors. He got the employees to play around, explore the system, and log tickets. They put each shortlisted option under the stresses and strains of real life. As they experienced each tool, they scored each criteria on a whiteboard from one (poor) to five (exceptional).
Ramakrishnan scraped all that data and dropped it into an Excel spreadsheet. Using a weighted average — features/functionality had the highest importance of any top-level criteria — he created scores for each of the shortlisted products. Combined with his earlier research, he created comparable scores for each product. The winner was Freshservice.
Importantly, this wasn’t a product he was dictating from on high. This was a product tried, tested, and selected as a group.
Our approach turned a scientific process into a transparent process, he says. There is no favoritism or bias. Everybody sees the scores on the whiteboard. While there were a few people who did not like the tool, they saw 75 other people in the evaluation group who did. It helped build consensus and buy-in.
EXPANDING HIS REMIT
If Ramakrishnan’s evaluation process was exacting and meticulous, his implementation was the same. He carefully migrated eight year’s worth of tickets and reams of asset data, ensuring there was no information lost or compromised during the implementation. Then, on a predetermined weekend, he switched day-to-day operations to Freshservice. New tickets stopped flowing to Salesforce and began arriving in Freshservice.
To gauge the impact of his transformation, Ramakrishnan ran a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey and compared the response to that of his first day.