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Andrei Grigore for FINN

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Automating IT Support for a global organization

Anyone who had to deal either directly or tangentially with IT administration activities, has most likely tried multiple strategies to minimize the amount of time that the IT Administration team spends on recurring support requests. The number of strategies narrows down substantially, since it’s especially challenging for the IT Administration team to reduce the overhead generated by these requests without compromising on the end-user experience. As much as we try to prevent these recurring support requests from being generated in the first place, we have to accept in the end that they will keep coming, and there are few options to reduce them after a certain point.

If you have had any of these thoughts, you’ve probably come across the following options:

  • Scale the team to face the ever-growing support requests
  • Automate
  • A combination of scaling-up the team and automation

All of which are great, but they can easily get out of hand in regards to the amount of resources being spent. Recruiting costs are likely to be predictable: you know that you need so many more people, you roughly know the budget for each role, and you can make a plan. But you will soon meet resistance in the number of new open roles for your IT Administration team.

Once you’ve hit the limits of scaling up the team, you’d then turn towards the huge library of tools available on the Internet that can help your team out in automating these requests. Automation tools would actually solve the problem, were it not that the offerings at the moment are hugely segmented and expensive. You’d likely need a large number of tools to cover all your important use cases, and you’ll soon have to obtain approvals to spend large amounts of money in order to make automation even possible. At that moment, the arguments in favor of automation will not easily hold.

Here at FINN we actually managed to solve this challenge, and have a great success story that we’re happy to share with you. It accounts for four major wins:

  • We successfully support 400+ employees world-wide with an IT Administration team of just 2 FTEs and 1 intern.
  • We take advantage of the tools already used at FINN. We didn’t have to purchase one single extra license.
  • We keep the IT Administration team happy, with the lowest number of recurring requests we have ever had to deal with at this scale.
  • We keep the end-user happy, with the best possible support experience.

Everything starts with our great engineering principles, that all engineers here at FINN keep at heart:

  • API-first by nature: whenever you build something, take APIs as a natural starting point
  • KISSes for efficiency: keep things simple, to be more efficient.
  • Do it, do it, automate it: once you find yourself doing things more than once, you automate it

With this in mind, we had a close look at what key tools are currently in use at FINN on a daily basis by multiple teams and departments. What we soon realized was that we have a couple of major ones that everyone is using daily: our Google workspace, Slack, and Make. As a second step we started doing close market research, in order to understand what the simplest way would be to implement a support platform for our colleagues that also integrates with these three major tools. To be honest, we weren’t happy with what we found. We’ve stumbled upon various Service Desk platforms, shiny automation SaaS, and so many tools that integrate with other tools. Our envisaged solutions were either too complex, or they had a lot of overlapping functionality with existing tools, and in most cases they were also pricey. They were pricey, because we were trying to solve a problem by implementing a totally different ecosystem. This is the modern approach, right? You have a problem, you find a new solution for it. Well, not this time. Let’s make this so-called ‘modern’ option obsolete, and choose something more sustainable instead! What about solving a problem with some of the tools that you already have? And do so better than any of the totally new ecosystems would?

So we went back to the drawing board. And suddenly it dawned on us: we have Slack! Everyone at FINN is using Slack. Everyone is familiar with it. Everyone (mostly) loves it. Why implement a totally different support platform that nobody is familiar with, when it’s only going to be used when absolutely necessary – if at all? Because the majority of support requests are going to be coming through Slack anyway. People don’t have time to deal with complexity. And so, how about building that support platform entirely within Slack? If we built the support platform entirely within Slack, then IT Admins won’t be annoyed that people are not using the right platform. Plus, others won’t be annoyed by having to use yet a different platform. Everybody’s happy!

The reality is: you can build very nice apps in Slack. And we’ve done just that. We call it ‘IT Requests’ and we have filled it with 1-min automations (just for the sake of simplicity, because in reality they are 3 seconds automations). With one click of a button, we can solve all possible support requests that we can think of for our main platform, Google Workspace: password resets, MFA resets, group membership adjustments, new account creations (for both employees, and non-humans), adding new aliases, or even restoring suspended or deleted accounts. And we’re adding more functionality by the day.

Overview of support options in the IT Requests app at a certain point in the past :)

Overview of support options in the IT Requests app at a certain point in the past :)

Further, our automated support is available not just for Google, but for every single tool that we use at FINN: Kandji, Airtable, HubSpot, Miro, Atlassian, just to name a few. We are even able to unlock additional functionality for admins and managers. Of course, if you can’t solve your request with the one-click options available from the app, you can open a support ticket. But the difference is: you can do so from the same app within Slack, making it totally uncomplicated.

Overall Slack is just one piece of the puzzle. Slack just provides the front-end that users interact with. None of it would have been possible without Make. In Make we have implemented the backend. The entire logic, the functionality, the very core of automation is handled by Make. Everything is relatively easy and done with a no-code approach. It pretty much unlocks the full power of API functionality across all tools that we use here at FINN.

Timewise, providing this solution worked super fast: everything was ready within a single quarter. So pretty much in no-time, and using limited resources, we’ve set up a totally new and user-friendly support platform, with unlimited scaling potential. Should we ever need a higher degree of complexity in the backend, we can always implement AWS Lambda functions, and we can evolve the IT Requests Slack App UI beyond our wildest imagination, without the end-user ever having to learn anything new. Hence, for the end-user IT support can only get easier. The same holds for the IT Admin team just as well. And the beauty of it: this automated support system is available 24/7—unlike our Munich-based engineers :)

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