This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on July 12, 2021 - July 18, 2021
Here is a traditional tale with a tactful twist: An American professor of project management takes a “red-eye” trans-Atlantic flight to Heathrow, London. He is unable to get any sleep in economy class on the full flight. The London weather is damp and cold, which increases his irritability by the time he gets to the hotel. He cannot wait to check in, get to his room and have a hot shower. “Where’s the damn elevator?” he asks.
“The lift is to your left, next to the restaurant,” the check-in clerk, a dull and dour man, informs him. The American professor turns red. “It’s called an elevator! An American invented it. We invented it!”
“That may be true,” the British clerk replies without batting an eyelid. “But we invented the language.”
Our world is full of jargon, acronyms, management-speak and conjoined verbiage that are bound to keep you guessing. “Jargon masks real meaning,” Forbes magazine quoted Jennifer Chatman, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business as saying. “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly, about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”
The two sectors with their own set of jargon that almost masquerades as English are healthcare and management. With healthcare, the jargon is a matter of necessity since every bone, tissue, ailment and procedure must be distinctly identified for healing or saving lives. But management jargon is by design and has borrowed — and created — a set of terms that tend to hide their real meaning. Here are some gems: “bleeding edge”, “boil the ocean”, “give 110%”, “secret sauce”, “tech agnostic”, “operationalise”, “deep-dive” and “touch base”.
The information and communication technologies (ICT) world also excels in creating new words and phrases. “Operations” is a powerful word in any context; adding a suffix makes it just more so. We first had DevOps, which combines software “dev”, or development, with IT “ops”, or operations. Then came SecDevOps, which is a process of integrating secure development best practices and methodologies into operations. Now comes RevOps, which aligns sales, marketing and customer engagement across the customer lifecycle. But what does that really mean?
“RevOps is not a function but rather a way to better align the organisation,” says Gartner. “RevOps is the operating model for driving efficient, predictable revenue. Organisations are always looking for revenue growth; that need increases following a period in which sales are flat or negative. Sales and marketing teams scale their efforts to accelerate growth through a series of specific actions, including adopting lean, agile, go-to-market functions, moving to a data-driven decision framework, and building a resilient, forward-looking organisation.”
How real is RevOps? By 2025, 75% of the highest growth companies in the world will deploy a RevOps model. “CEOs and chief sales officers recognise that functional silos handing off clients from one function to the other and using different technologies, people and processes are a barrier to revenue growth,” says Doug Bushée, a Gartner senior director. “Leading organisations are beginning to align sales, marketing and customer success technology, data and KPIs [key performance indicators] to provide an end-to-end view of the revenue-generating engine. Leaders should provide enablement support not only to the frontline sales force, but also to other revenue generation roles found in marketing, sales and customer success.”
Why RevOps now? According to PwC, deal desks can reduce sales cycle times by 25% to 40% and enhance sales productivity by 15% to 20% by eliminating unnecessary overhead activities and creating a single source for contracts. This can result in more accurate forecasts. The inverse can be true too — an overstretched or underprepared deal desk can quickly become a scapegoat for sluggish deal velocity, become a time blocker for multiple departments, and lead to an overall reduction of the customer’s buying experience.
How hot is RevOps? “RevOps is one of the fastest-growing titles in tech,” Taft Love, co-founder of Iceberg RevOps, wrote in a blog post published in July 2019. “Even more telling, a LinkedIn search for RevOps roles yielded more than 22,000 open jobs. RevOps is responsible for processes, systems and data that client functions use every day. While much of this work revolves around tools implementation and administration, it also involves process design and documentation. Unlike traditional ops teams, RevOps is intentionally separated from the teams they serve. Instead, RevOps reports into the organisation’s senior leadership — generally to the chief revenue officer or chief operating officer.”
What about Asia? The RevOps evolution has not caught on in most Asian enterprises yet, but it soon may. That is because the pandemic has put pressure on boosting revenue without physical contact or travel. “The top 200 Asian IT services companies earned about 43% of their revenue from outside the region in 2019,” McKinsey notes. “Asia represents one of the fastest-growing markets for some offerings. In Southeast Asia alone, spending on cloud computing, for instance, is expected to hit US$76 billion by 2023.”
In the Covid-19 era, three attributes appear to be vital to corporate success. “The first is speed. The pace of tech innovation and adoption by Asian companies and consumers is fast and unmatched by other regions,” McKinsey says. “The second is collaboration. There is a strong case for companies working in partnership within their ecosystems. The third is resilience. The pandemic demonstrated the fragility of supply chains; making them more resilient in a multipolar world in innovative technologies and geographies is a priority if companies and investors access the full variety of opportunities. Asia already has strengths in all three on which it can build.”
Malaysia’s economy is projected to rebound to 6% in 2021 and stabilise around 5.7% in 2022, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). However, Malaysia’s GDP contracted by 5.6% year-on-year in 2020 as the economy reeled from the impact of the pandemic and a continued fall in oil prices. ADB said Covid-19 led to Malaysia’s private consumption contracting 2.5% in 2020, owing to job and income losses.
ADB noted that a vital challenge was small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector that were not boosting tech spend and upgrading processes. Manufacturing is a significant component of Malaysia’s economy and contributes about 23% to its GDP. Up to 98% of companies in the manufacturing sector are SMEs, mostly Malaysia-focused but with excellent export potential.
Malaysia’s manufacturing sector employs 17% of its workforce, eclipsed only by the services sector at 62%. That is natural, given that services need a vast human component while manufacturing requires a major capital outlay. In 2018, the World Economic Forum and management consultancy AT Kearney ranked 100 countries on their ability to manufacture for the future. The rankings factored in technology, human capital, global trade and networks and reliable institutional frameworks. Malaysia and China were the only two non-high-income states in the “Leader” quadrant. Covid-19 has put a spanner in the works.
RevOps could be one solution that Malaysian enterprises could seriously consider adopting because investments in manufacturing continue to flow in. For example, in the first half of 2019, Malaysia saw RM53.9 billion in gross investments, including RM25.4 billion in the manufacturing sector — up 127% y-o-y — leading to the creation of 23,000 jobs. Malaysian enterprises could thus leverage RevOps to their advantage.
Another is to partner with tech companies in ABC (AI, big data and cloud computing). Artificial intelligence (AI) holds much promise. In Malaysia, Mimos Bhd, the national applied R&D centre under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, leads in AI. According to RHA Media, the others are Fusionex, Symprio, Atilze Digital, Crayon, Appier, Genaxis, Wise AI, SAS and Avanade Malaysia.
Since we started this column with an anecdote about a US professor, let us end it with one about a British academic. A reputed British professor of literature walks briskly to the bellboy of the five-star hotel to compliment him on the smartness of his uniform. After he walks away, a manager, who notices the incident, pulls the bellboy aside. “What did the professor want?” The bell-boy scratches his head. “I don’t know. Guess he couldn’t speak English.”
Raju Chellam is vice-president of new technologies at Fusionex International, Asia’s leading big data analytics company
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