Back in 2017, Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners wrote a blog post that touched on the growth of operations titled, “Why ‘Ops’ Is Taking Over Startup Land.” In it, he details how operations-focused roles were being embedded by CEOs in “every function.” He concludes, meanwhile, with this:
“If you’re a startup executive and haven’t begun to operationalize your organization, you’re at risk of falling behind.”
Three years later, at the dawn of a new decade, the factors informing Bussgang’s thinking have only grown more formidable and incessant. For companies hoping to scale and even established enterprises looking to drive efficiency, operationalizing functions across departments is now a veritable business imperative — amounting, ultimately, to an investment in creating processes that optimize people & systems to achieve business outcomes.
Over the course of 2020, the relevance, potential, and growth of operations will continue to increase. But so, too, will the manner in which operations teams function and drive internal progress continue to evolve. Here are 5 of the most prominent examples of how operations will grow.
1) Companies will further integrate ops functions to drive cross-functional accountability and alignment.
This is something we already see happening in areas like Revenue Ops, where formerly siloed sales, marketing, and customer success teams work together to drive full-funnel accountability throughout the revenue machine. Executives have dismantled the barriers previously separating these functionalities because doing so results — among other things — in less wasted time, happier employees, and less churn. As Michael Lowe of Clari wrote earlier this year on Clari’s blog, “Today’s best…organizations use a common view of the business that allows them to unify and optimize the processes that fuel the revenue engine.”
Come 2021, however, all manner of disparate internal company departments will begin operating in a generally less siloed fashion.
Executives, in other words, will seek to operationalize and converge more mechanical company components than just the revenue engine. We’ll see more collaboration between traditionally “back-office” ops teams — through the emergence of Legal Ops, Finance Ops, and People Ops, for example — as well as between “front-to-back office” ops teams. This operational consolidation, as it were, is important because, as Yao Choong — Director of Business Ops at Intercom — writes, it “acts as a catalyst by bringing people together, creating a structure where everyone can be productive, and facilitating progress.”
Just as this has already been borne out in Rev Ops, so, too, will companies seek to exact the same impact by integrating functionality and systematizing collaboration across all departments.
2) Ops leaders will emerge as major tech decision-makers within companies.
One primary way that ops leaders will do this work of convergence and collaboration will be through the use of technology. As such, that ops-focused personnel will play an increasingly hands-on role in both deploying technology solutions and deciding what those tech solutions should be. This makes sense because the folks powering internal ops processes and systems understand most intimately what tech is needed in order both to function and integrate more seamlessly in their specific context. More importantly, they understand what exactly their people need in order to spend their time more effectively creating real value for the company.
And putting “people first” internally, as we’ll see, will prove another hallmark of this new ops-focused decade.
3) Ops leaders will increasingly employ no code / low code automation platforms to build custom technology solutions.
As operations teams continue earning strategic technological authority inside of companies, they will start targeting and using technology that truly and actually empowers employees — that allows ops teams to build their own technology to solve their unique needs.
After all, the primary way ops-focused tech solutions create real value for companies is by freeing employees to spend their time more effectively — by eliminating, for example, the mundane sort of clerical and manual work currently required of doing even simple things like filling out and sending invoices, updating CRMs, or collaborating more generally across functions. The most effective of these integrative tools are those that are customizable (because every company and process are different), easy to use, and, in being easy to use, actually accomplish this end of that offloading mundane, longtail, manual work. That means tools that don’t require — or require only very little — personal coding. That means low-code/no-code solutions.
As Suresh Sambandam writes in InfoWorld, low-code platforms allow “non-technical staff members to create their own applications” and “fill the special gaps that business users experience but for which there isn’t a standard fix.”
4) “Non-revenue” teams/departments will finally enjoy dedicated, operations-specific support.
This will be a natural and necessary byproduct of more holistic operations attention; to invest in operations invariably means supporting the people powering your internal processes and systems.
On the most basic level, in practice, this will look like Legal Ops personnel enjoying increased tech support for the low-code automation platforms they use to integrate and collaborate across their internal systems. Or members of the accounting team enjoying the same sort of support access with technology vendors that engineers or salespeople typically enjoy. But we’ll also see the rise of new, categorizable, ops-focused departments, like Legal Ops, Fin Ops, and of course Rev Ops.
The fact that companies are recognizing the importance of investing in the structures and systems powering their non-revenue teams shows that company leaders understand how vital they are. Which is a long time coming. For too long, back-office departments have been treated (incorrectly) by company executives as a kind of necessary evil. Now they’re being recognized for the value they bring (by way of increased efficiency, say), at least when invested in properly.
5) We will see an increased strategic focus on ops as a whole.
The reason is simple: company leaders understand now that to scale effectively, their internal processes must be efficient and their employees must be empowered to spend their time valuably. Investing in and focusing on operations is a means of accomplishing those ends. Investing in operations by way of low-code automation, meanwhile, serves to combat what has become perhaps the chief challenge company leaders presently face: pernicious, systemic inefficiency. That inefficiency is perpetuated by the siloed application environments in which most people and departments operate today, which is why empowering ops-focused leaders with both increased agency and much-needed integrative, collaborative tools is one of the primary solutions to the inefficiency problem. In this sense, increased investment in operations is not just a good idea — it’s necessary.
Finally, in the coming decade, a prioritization of ops will prove a smart, even prudent means of mitigating the danger of scaling turbulently or without real structure. As evidenced by the recent demise of companies like WeWork, whose internal systems and culture often resembled that of a fraternity house, a lack of operational structure and strategy can compromise the foundation and integrity of your company before it has a chance to reach its potential.
Thus the rise of ops as a strategic business imperative will in a way mirror the rise of customer success, back in the early days of the cloud revolution. Customer success grew in part out of a new need to combat churn. Over the course of 2020 and beyond, ops will grow as a means of combating inefficiency and the requirements of scale.
But so, too, will it grow as a means of necessary adaptation; the world is changing. And that, ultimately, is why investing in operations is so important, and it’s at least in part what VCs like Bussgang have in mind when they urge their portfolio companies to focus more strategically on ops. The forces compelling change can’t be stopped.