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Pegaworld iNspire 2021 Preview: Don Schuerman on How a Low Code Revolution is Facilitating Rapid Digital Transformation – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Shelly Kramer | April 29, 2021

In this new episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, Interview Series, I’m joined once again by Don Schuerman, the CTO of Pegasystems.

As a preview of Pega’s upcoming Pegaworld iNspire 2021 event, which is being held this coming Tuesday, May 4th from 9am to 11:30am EDT, I wanted to corral Don and talk a little bit about what’s going on in the industry, what’s new and exciting at Pega, and what kinds of problems they are solving for their customers.

For starters, Don and I talked about low code and its proliferation within the industry as a whole. As someone who’s covered both the automation industry and Pega for a number of years, I first heard about low code functionality from the team at Pega — they were definitely forging an early path there. Today, it’s obvious that low code is not only catching on, but that’s a key driver facilitating the rapid digital transformation that organizations are working toward today

Don and I had a great conversation, covering:

  • What’s causing the dramatic shift for everyone to become a low code user or provider.
  • Some business use cases of low code, including real world client examples.
  • We explored Pega’s offering in the low code space and the impact the booming interest in low code is having on Pega’s business.
  • What customers saying about the use of low code and how whether they are full on embracing it, dipping their toes in the water, or thinking about next steps, they are seeing great results.
  • Why certain industries are more apt to be drawn to low code.
  • Why low code is attractive to enterprises today, as something that tech savvy employees understand and enjoy getting the opportunity to immerse themselves in, as well as for those who are interested in providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities for the workforce

Bottom line, if you’re thinking about the benefits of low code and how integrating process automation can change everything about your organization’s digital transformation journey, I encourage you to make time to register and attend the Pegaworld iNspire 2021 event next Tuesday from 9:00am to 11:30am EDT. You can learn more about the event and register for free here. And hopefully I’ll see you there.

Watch my interview with Don Schuerman here:

or grab the audio version here:

Lastly, if you’re interested in digital experience and providing best-in-class experiences tailored around the customer journey for your customers, check out my recent interview with Pega’s Jeff Nicholson, VP of CRM Product Marketing. If customer service is your focus, I think you’ll enjoy this conversation. You’ll find it here:

Pega’s Take on Digital Experience: What’s Ahead in a World Powered by Autonomous Customer Service

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Transcript:

Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series. I’m your host, Shelly Kramer. I am joined once again by my longtime friend, Don Schuerman from the CTO of Pegasystems. Hi, Don.

Don Schuerman: It is always great to chat with you.

Shelly Kramer: Always great. It seems like every time I turn around PegaWorld is coming up again. It happens so fast. But in advance of the upcoming PegaWorld Inspire event, which is being held this coming Tuesday, May 4th from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 Eastern Daylight Time, I wanted to corral Don and talk a little bit about what’s going on in the industry, what’s new and exciting at Pega, what kind of problems you guys are solving for your clients and just really kind of get a sense pre-event of what’s going on. You game for that?

Don Schuerman: Of course.

Shelly Kramer: I figured as much. For starters, let’s talk about low code and its proliferation within the industry as a whole. I know that you and the team at Pega, I’ve been attending the PegaWorld events in person for probably the last five years. I remember that your event was the first place I started hearing about low code, no code, that sort of thing. You’ve had an offering, a low code offering, for a long time, but it’s obvious that that’s catching on. What’s causing this dramatic shift? Obviously, I mean, it works, but talk to us a little bit about what’s causing this shift and why now everyone, whether you’re a user or a provider, is interested in low code?

Don Schuerman: I think part of it, as enterprises engage in the broader need of digital transformation, so we just did a big survey of about 1,300 technology leaders, well over half of them are doubling down, for example, on automation efforts as they come through the experience of the past year. Two thirds are doubling down on digital transformation efforts. We can argue that those are potentially all of the same thing.

But the challenge is if you’re going to do all that, and if you’re going to put in place the systems, the application, the automated processes, you don’t have enough developers to go do all that coding for you, so you’ve got to broaden the set of people who can join in and help. You’ve also got this increasing group of people throughout the enterprise for whom technology is not a foreign thing. The phone is in their pocket. They play Minecraft with their kids and they know how to build the world in that.

There’s this opportunity to provide these people with the technology and to do it in a way that you provide them with the guard rails, the sort of safety measures that ensure the stuff that they build is sustainable and reusable and secure. But you now broaden the net of who can actually build apps, who can automate processes. We’re going to have Deutsche Gabon, the German railway company, talking about how they built this distributed approach departmental automation by setting up these low code factories in the different areas of their business.

Shelly Kramer: That’s really exciting. The other thing, in addition to a tech savvy workforce, you’ve got a portion of the workforce that needs re-skilling and up-skilling. It’s this tremendous opportunity to take people who are smart, who understand the company, who understand the customers, who understand the goals, and to say, “You know what? We’re going to add this capability to your job skillset and when you have a chance, ” I know I’ve had a chance to talk with some of those people in the past and when you see their eyes light up about how their job function has changed and what they feel like they’re able to contribute and you hear them say things like, “I never thought I could like write  code before and that just seems so fancy and here I am building automations,” that’s a game changer. It’s a life changer.

I think that enterprises are very much focused on re-skilling and up-skilling. I think that that’s an important component too. When you can have this tech savvy group of users who’ve literally grown up with these things in their hands, and who really understand technology and we can all work together within the workplace, I think that’s exciting and important.

Don Schuerman: Beyond the re-skilling and the opportunities that this creates is huge. At the same time, it’s the right thing for the business, because what you’re doing is you’re actually bringing the users, the stakeholders, directly into the conversation. These are the people who actually know the systems they’re using today. They know where the pain points are. They know where the process is broken. They know where they have to do all kinds of manual effort in order to fulfill a customer need.

Now you empower them with the tools to fix that, to make it better. You’re not only empowering and skilling up a set of people, you’re empowering the people on the ground who actually know where the problems are to go solve them themselves. And that’s a huge, a huge potential for organizations.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. That reminds me, we did a joint research project together that came out last year. One of the things that we found was that employees throughout the organization, and let me back up and say, what I thought was really cool about this research is that instead of only serving senior executives and C-suite leaders, we talked to people throughout the organization in this survey, and that happens very rarely.

What our research found, what our respondents told us is that they wanted to be involved in digital transformation, they just didn’t know how, and they weren’t being asked. They weren’t being tapped. They felt like they could bring solutions and they could bring, like you were saying, the real world understanding of what’s needed and how to get there and how to best serve customers and how to best fine tune their own processes or jobs or whatever. It totally makes sense. It really does make sense.

Don Schuerman: I think the other thing that’s really important, we talk about this sort of transformation. I think it’s also important that organizations think about the full spectrum of what you can do with low code, because you can use it for tactical things, small departmental things. That allows one motion. You kind of get these, what we call an app factory going on, these citizen developers, a nice set of guardrails that ensure the stuff that they do is sustainable and just kind of let them go and build what they need.

But I think low code also allows for this collaborative approach to much bigger transformational or sort of core processes in the business where this isn’t necessarily about taking IT completely out of the equation. It’s actually about bringing IT and business together in a room and doing a design thinking session and having everybody put hands on keyboards and start to prototype what the next version of a process is going to look like, the next version of a customer service experience is going to look like. You can take this low code approach and apply it both to these more departmental, more tactical things, but also some of the biggest transformations that you do in your business.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and we talk about digital transformation a lot, certainly around here. One of the things that we know that’s key to success with transformation is creating a culture, a culture of innovation, a culture of continuous learning, a culture of embracing change and being excited about that. I think that’s all part of the equation.

I mean, we’ve long talked about the fact that silos aren’t the answer and you’re right, this isn’t just IT’s job. When we quit treating automation and these kinds of things like this is just IT’s job. I’m going to go over here and focus on what it is I’m doing, I think are the results that we’re going to get as a result are going to be exponentially greater. I think that’s exciting.

Don Schuerman: It certainly is.

Shelly Kramer: Tell me more, a little bit more about Pega’s offering in the low code space.

Don Schuerman: We’ve had an offering that has for years been what we used to call before low code was even a term, we used to talk about it being model-driven or visual-driven. If I want to build a business process, I don’t need to code the business process. I draw the business process and our system under the covers writes the code for you. It actually generates the app that runs the business process and has your user screens and all of that.

That offering our core Pega platform has a design environment we call App Studio. That’s really designed to allow both business and IT users to come in and define the core elements of an application, especially an application that automates a process. As we’ve worked through clients deploying this, and as we’ve worked through the process to make this successful, we’ve learned a couple of things. We’ve tried to actually bake that into the technology, into the methodology.

The first is you’ve got to take a design thinking approach. The one thing you generally don’t want to do, especially if you’re thinking about your transformation or driving change, is you don’t want to use low code simply to repave the cow path. You don’t want to just rebuild your existing thing. How do I look at my process in a way that helps me redesign it? We very much guide you through thinking about your process as a series of high level stages and steps, and that allows you to step back and look often from an employee or even a customer perspective at how they experience that process and what the outcome they’re trying to get to is. That’s essential to a design thinking approach, this very outcome focused, very problem focused.

Once you nail down that process, what we often call a micro journey, a chunk of a process, the next two pieces to think about for that app are who are the personas, who are the people who are going to interact with that app, and how, where are they going to interact with it? Are they going to use the mobile app? Are they going to come in through a portal? Do they need to send an email and just get an update back? So capturing that.

Then finally capturing what’s the data that feeds it, and where does that data live? Does it live in a cloud service someplace? For a lot of our customers, that data still lives in a legacy database someplace, or God forbid, on a mainframe. We’re going to provide the tools to pull that in. If you can get the micro journey, the personas, the data and the interfaces you need captured, you’ve gone a long way to actually building yourself an app that can automate a process.

Shelly Kramer: And it makes sense. I mean really having the customer journey in mind every step of the way, Jeff Nicholson and I talked a lot about that in an interview that I did the other day. I mean, it makes a huge difference.

Talk to me a little bit about then how is this, okay, so you kind of been a pioneer in the low code space, no stranger to it. You keep fine tuning that and all of that, but how’s this impacting Pega’s business?

Don Schuerman: I think it’s been a huge impact on our business, both in terms of the way we engage with our clients and the kinds of problems we solve. I think what’s really important is I mentioned earlier that idea of that spectrum, of how do I start with something that might be relatively small and tactical, but then use that success to iterate up to something that is much larger and transformational.

You’re going to hear at PegaWorld stories of clients who have been able to start pretty small and then grow this into something pretty substantial. You’re going to hear, for example, from Pfizer, who is using this process automation technology to change the way that they roll out their testing for new drugs and new vaccines that they release, which is I think something timely, right.

Shelly Kramer: Timely.

Don Schuerman: Something that we’re all sort of thinking about. You’re going to hear from Mondelez, who is the brand behind of a lot of the sort of snack foods that we all eat.

Shelly Kramer: All the junk food I eat.

Don Schuerman: All the junk food that we love, how they are actually using this to stitch together all of the different pieces of their pretty complicated supply chain, but to make that a complete experience for their suppliers and employees.

This low code approach, I think has allowed us both to address the needs of more clients, but also really support that broad spectrum. Because the thing that we found is once you’ve automated one process or solved one micro journey for a client, there’s 30 more that we can go help them with. That’s a great opportunity for our clients, and frankly, that’s also a great opportunity for us as a software provider.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. I think that my experience with anything that involves change, and of course digital transformation is all about change, and whether you sell what you’re selling or anything else, it’s that when you can find these use case opportunities and you can go, “You know what, we can fix this, we can do this,” and then you have a use case and then you have 10 use cases, and then it starts to snowball and people start looking around and even doubters start looking around and going, “Wait a minute, look at all they have going on over there in this XYZ department and look how amazing this is working. I want a piece of that right now.” Then that’s really when you see people adopt at a much more rapid pace, and that’s when it becomes really exciting.

Don Schuerman: We’re seeing frankly, the same thing on the partner side. We’re going to be talking specifically about some of our partner program stuff at PegaWorld. I think the partners that we work with, they see the huge implication of this technology for their clients and their ability to work with their clients to continue to roll out faster and broader change across those organizations.

I think the other thing, we’re technologists, I’m a CTO, so I tend to talk a lot about technology. I think technology is really important. You’re putting together that digital platform, the automation. We just released some new capability that we call Process AI that’s all about applying AI capability to automation, so to make your processes smarter and almost self-optimizing, but along with that, you actually have to get the digital skills right.

You talked about how change is so hard. Change to me is a digital skill. It’s a skill that an organization needs to grow. It’s a skill that organizations need to sort of train into their people, that fluidity, that comfort with sort of iteration. I think one of the positive things that’s come out of the last year is I’ve seen a lot of organizations really learn what agile truly means. When you put the pressure of urgency behind things, traditional project approaches go out the window and you then just start trying things and iterating. You roll out an app in five days because you don’t have a choice but to roll it out in five days. And wow, we can do that. Isn’t that great? By the way, if there’s stuff that we missed, awesome.

Shelly Kramer: We get it.

Don Schuerman: We’ll get it the next time. Or we may learn we never really even needed it that much to begin with. But that breaking through that sort of fear of beginning to move fast and fail early so that you can learn, hopefully we can continue a little bit of the energy of that urgency, as hopefully we move on to whatever the after looks like.

Hopefully all of us are going to continue to stay healthy. I know a lot of our partners and colleagues and clients in India are still [crosstalk].

Shelly Kramer: Scary times.

Don Schuerman: Scary times, but I hope they all stay safe. But I do think there is, I do think we can continue to drive that sort of agility to the business.

Shelly Kramer: I think that I’ve been telling people for at least the last decade, when I’m talking with anybody about joining our team, one of the first things that I say is, “If you don’t love change, you will hate working for me. You will hate working with our organization because everything we do is focused on change.” I realize I’m very respectful of the fact that change is scary. Change is scary for the enterprise, change is scary for individuals. I think that that’s what startups generally speaking have done so well is in many instances, a startup has an idea and launches and before you know, it, they pivot and they’re doing something completely different. So really understanding that failure is not a bad thing, failing fast, tweaking, changing, being agile. I mean, those are all really, really good things.

I think that, as you said, it’s as exciting to feel like the enterprise is learning that and that it isn’t such a scary thing. I think that’s going to be good for everybody. The reality of our world is you and I are immersed in the technology space so we’re each beating the same drum, but the reality of it is the pace of technological change is not going to slow down.

Don Schuerman: It’s not.

Shelly Kramer: It is only going to speed up.

Don Schuerman: That’s right. You talked earlier about the power of low code to help people with re-skilling. That to me is a form of this kind of change, and I think the career paths of the future will be far more fluid. You will be a frontline business operations person, and then maybe you’ll grab some low code skills, and maybe for a while you’ll drive a low code agile team that’s deploying an app and then you’ll be responsible for driving the continuing ongoing nature of that app. Then maybe you’ll pick up some process improvement skills.

But that fluidity of I’m constantly learning new things and my role is constantly evolving as both the needs of the company and what the technology enables change, I think that’s something just from a career perspective that we all need to grow increasingly comfortable with, because I think it’s the world that we’re going to be living in.

Shelly Kramer: By the way, isn’t that a much more interesting, fulfilling, challenging career than the alternative? You know what I’m saying? I talked to my kids, I have 15 year old twins that are freshmen in high school. We’re having career, future talks in the early stages. One of the things that I’m making sure that I tell them is, think about the … You want to get up every day doing something you love, that you absolutely can’t wait to get started on because you’re going to spend your lifetime working. It’s kind of a hard concept when you’re 15 to understand that. But I do think that that is really doing things and that allow you to learn and grow and continuous learning.

I’m such a geek. If I had a job that just allowed me to sit all day and learn new stuff, I would never be happier. Unfortunately, I have clients that want my attention and things like that. But anyway, I think you’re absolutely spot on. Let’s talk just quickly about industries that might be more apt to be drawn to low code. What are you seeing?

Don Schuerman: A couple places where we’re seeing a lot, I mean, financial services, we’re seeing a lot of growth in the low code space there. Again, very processed-centric business, lots of very customer focused processes, whether you’re talking about onboarding new customers, doing servicing, supporting change. We see a lot there.

Healthcare is a place again who ought to change right now in that industry, as we think about what does it look like to serve our healthcare members in a different way, to take a much more holistic view of their experience? We see a lot thriving there.

Even government, what’s interesting is we were able to work, for example, with the US Census and they use the same low code platform that they is using to roll out departmental things. They use the same low code platform to capture the hundreds of millions of census responses that we just completed.

Everybody’s got this need to move fast to respond to things differently. I think any industry that’s seeing rapid change and for our technology, any industry that really needs to think about not just their apps, but the processes that those apps drive and ultimately automate, that’s good candidates for this technology.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and I think too, some of the success stories are so fascinating, where we’re seeing that processes that used to take two weeks from inception to completion can be done sometimes in a matter of hours. I mean, it’s amazing.

When you think about that, and I know in the early days of the pandemic, you and I talked, and I talked with several other members of the Pega team, about use cases then, and it was a time when there was much stress on the part of companies and on the part of consumers and people needed fast results from financial institutions or fast information from healthcare institutions. Being able to use low code solutions and being able to use automation to solve those problems quickly made a huge difference. I think that that’s really where it’s exciting because what that translates to is happier customers, happier employers, and a very definitive impact on the bottom line in terms of costs.

Don Schuerman: Well, what I love about automation, especially right now, is you have this really power powerful double benefit. Automation has always been about efficiency. Can I do things cheaper? Can I remove cost?

But I think people also really realizing that automation is about simplification. Automation is about making things easier, making it easier for your employee to get something done, making it easier for your customers to get to the outcome that they want. You have that dual benefit of I’m making it more efficient for my business, but I’m making it easier for my customer so it’s a better experience for them. I’m doing the right thing for the customer and the right thing for my business and taking that end-to-end view of a process, especially from a customer’s point of view, and using low code and automation technology to make it better. I mean, that’s a win-win for every stakeholder.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. I’m sensing a theme that I’m going to see at PegaWorld, which is all about doing the right thing for the customer. You know what? Nobody told me that. I’m just going to say that I had a conversation with Jeff Nicholson and I’m having a conversation with you, and that phrase has come up so I’m going to be looking forward to hearing more about that.

As we wrap up our conversation, Don, just tell me, is there something, tell me what you think the most interesting thing for people to look out for with regard to the upcoming PegaWorld inspire event is? By the way, again, that event is this coming Tuesday, May 4th, from 9:00 to 11:30 Eastern time.

Don Schuerman: Tuesday, May the fourth, May the fourth be with you. It’s the Star Wars PegaWorld. But I think there’re two things that I’m really looking to.

One first and foremost, our clients take center stage at PegaWorld. You’re going to get to hear from, I mentioned Pfizer, Wells Fargo, this wonderful British charity called Step Change. Just great real lessons from the front of how people are using technology to make things better for customers.

I’m also really looking forward to, I’m running a session at the talent of PegaWorld where we’re going to kind of look ahead into the future. We’re going to look at some things like hyper automation and AI governance and extended reality, and have an interactive conversation about what these technologies really can mean to the enterprise in terms of business value. I’m really looking forward to sort of looking ahead, but connecting some of those dots for people.

Shelly Kramer: I think that’s really going to be exciting and I will make sure and attend that event as well at the end of PegaWorld. With that, to our audience, thank you for hanging out with us today. Don, it’s always a pleasure and I’m looking forward to Tuesday.

Don Schuerman: Excellent. We’ll see you there.

Shelly Kramer: All right. Bye-bye.