One morning, in the fall of 2018, Sumit Kohli was settling into his morning routine when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He swiveled his chair to find his boss clutching a ream of papers.
“I have your first project,” his boss said. “You need to find a new helpdesk platform and implement it before we open our Zurich headquarters in January.”
For Kohli, who was only a few weeks into his new role at Education First, it was a tough challenge — but one he was ready to tackle head-on.
In just four months, Kohli would overhaul the organization’s dated helpdesk, delivering a multi-functional and scalable alternative. But the most interesting thing about Kohli’s project is that it didn’t just touch IT. Other departments watched his work with envy, eventually leading Kohli to overhaul systems in adjacent departments like finance and office management.
But we’re getting ahead of the story. To understand the impact of this Changemaker, we have to go back a few years...
IT WAS FUNCTIONAL, BUT NOT GREAT
In 2008, Education First brought its IT operations in-house. To power their work, they rolled out a homegrown service desk. While it was functional, there were many drawbacks to this old setup.
“People opened the ticket and an anonymous email address provided help,” explains Kohli. “No one could put a face to the department.”
A couple of years into his tenure, Education First kickstarted a company-wide transformation. Part of the project was “finding a bridge between the business and the support team.”
Many IT employees moved into new roles where they assumed holistic ownership of assigned locations. Kohli, for example, became the single point of contact for around 20 sites in Europe. When services failed in the London office, employees knew who to reach — Kohli. With ownership over a cluster of sites, IT engineers shifted from a purely functional relationship to something more consultative.
“My role was like a business management or business relations role,” Kohli says.
“ I was a bridge between my sites and IT. I came to understand their concerns, needs, and challenges. I would provide feedback to the worldwide IT team to drive improvements.”
GETTING TRANSFORMATION STARTED
Step #1 — Set the vision
Before diving into the transformation process, Kohli paused to reflect on his why. Why was he overhauling Education First’s IT platform? His answer was simple:
“To have a single helpdesk platform for all support functions within Education First.”
He envisioned the company’s new helpdesk as the most important part of an engineer’s everyday life. It was where they would plan, execute, and analyze work. Having a single platform would also improve the end user experience. Kohli wanted one URL for everything. Whether someone needed to request a new laptop or report an issue with a server, they would know precisely where to go.
Kohli quickly realized that his goal was simple in theory, but devilishly complex in practice. Over the years, Education First had acquired several peripheral helpdesks, alongside its main homegrown platform. Instead of overhauling everything at once, he decided to proceed cautiously, using the upcoming headquarters launch as a test run.
Step #2 — Break down the scope
Kohli took his grand vision and broke it down into multiple smaller scopes. First, he’d roll out a new platform in Zurich. As luck would have it, the new headquarters was the perfect testing ground.
“It’s a multi-product office, so it represents everything we do,” he explains. “We thought it was the right place to launch the new platform, especially because it would gain internal attention and generate a lot of feedback.”
Kohli and his team launched their new Freshservice-powered helpdesk in January 2019. Aside from the usual teething problems, the launch went smoothly. When he had it running perfectly, he used the installation as a template for all other geographies and functions. He began expanding the scope, bringing on one part of the IT team after another.
This success attracted attention from an unlikely source: finance.
A couple of months into the project, Education First’s finance leader approached Kohli with a request. He was using Zendesk to manage service requests and had grown tired of the product. After seeing the success of Freshservice in Zurich, he wanted in on the action.
“It was music to our ears,” Kohli says. “We were so excited, especially because we didn't approach them. We were approached by them.”
Kohli agreed to help and in March 2019 launched the new finance helpdesk. That lit the touchpaper on a wider transformation. Word spread through the company, and soon Kohli was being bombarded with requests for similar support from non-IT departments.
Step #3 — Learn, adapt, and improve
The rapid acceleration in transformation pace and scope took Kohli by surprise. Eventually, he hit pause. With time to breathe, he reviewed all the different functions he had added to the helpdesk instance: IT, finance, office support, and more. He realized that it was too much. There were legal and data access challenges, not to mention issues with scaling.
Kohli brought in a Freshservice customer success manager to consult on the project. Together, they rearchitected the account and redesigned the helpdesk. Kohli’s demands were exacting. He needed space between each function to provide better privacy and security. But he wanted them all on the same helpdesk and insisted end users should be able to access help in five clicks or fewer.
They tapped an idea called Lighthouse, implementing each function as a tenant on the same platform. It solved the privacy and security issues but meant Kohli could keep every function in one place.
“We launched in May 2020, and since then it has worked very well,” Kohli says, reflecting on the redesign. “We received good feedback, but also some very helpful suggestions for improvements — features requests, cosmetic changes, and so on.”
NO LONGER A SILO
Reflecting on his success, Kohli says his transformation project achieved everything he hoped for. All of the organization’s IT functions (not to mention a host of other functions) are delivered through one platform. It’s the single portal for IT engineers and end users that he wanted. But to focus on the granular achievements risks missing a more fundamental achievement.