PegaWorld iNspire 2022 Preview with Pega CTO Don Schuerman — What’s New, What’s Next in Transformative Tech – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Shelly Kramer | May 13, 2022

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I’m joined by Don Schuerman, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President for Pegasystems for a conversation about what’s new, and what’s next in transformative tech and a glimpse into what’s ahead at Pega’s PegaWorld iNspire 2022 event.

Don is a regular guest on the show, and I’ve been attending the PegaWorld event for many years now. I have to admit that it’s one of my all-time favorite events and one that I look forward to every year. I always walk away learning something new, discovering more innovative uses of technology, and hearing real world customer use case stories that I can put to use in my work on a daily basis.

Our conversation covered:

  • Insight into the key themes and some of the keynotes to be featured at PegaWorld.
  • Business resiliency and how organizations need to shift their thinking and use new tools and technologies to allow them to better face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
  • A conversation around some of the research we’re doing right now at Futurum, and what we’re seeing on the automation technology front.
  • A dive into of what Don and his team at Pega are doing in the areas of customer service, customer engagement, and intelligent automation to help customers become more resilient.
  • How AI and automation combine to deliver transformational service for customers – which is exactly what they want and need.
  • How 1:1 customer engagement using real time AI can help organizations make intelligent, personalized decisions fast.
  • How low code platforms can help unify workflows and provide better, faster outcomes.

You can watch our conversation here:

Or tune in by way of your favorite streaming platform here:

Whether you’re thinking about or researching about how AI-powered intelligent automation might help meet your business goals, or are already using some forms of automation but thinking about integrating it more broadly throughout the organization, I encourage you to register for PegaWorld iNspire 2022 – it’s free, accessible on demand if you don’t catch it live, and well worth your time to check out.

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Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m your host, Shelly Kramer, principal analyst here at Futurum Research. Today, I am joined by a very dear friend, Don Schuerman who’s the CTO, and a Vice President for Pegasystems. Don, this is not your first time on this show and I am sure it will not be the last time. I always enjoy our conversation so much. Welcome, and I can’t wait to dive into our conversation today.

Don Schuerman: I love these chats as well, so thank you for having me.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. What we’re going to talk about today is, I will say, that for a very long time, Don, I have planned the month of June around Pega’s PegaWorld event. For me, it always comes at a time when my kids are just finally getting out of school, and for many years, the event was in Vegas. I would go to Vegas. I would actually go to Vegas, take my kids, leave my kids on their own, leave my kids on their own with Netflix in a hotel room, go to the PegaWorld event and then take them and fly to Phoenix and visit my dad.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. There you go.

Shelly Kramer: So June has been, there you go a month around which I planned in PegaWorld for a very long time. This year, PegaWorld is virtual, again virtual. It’s a two and a half hour virtual event, featuring keynotes and presentations from Pega’s senior leaders and some key customers. Again, as a veteran of many PegaWorld events, I can promise you that there’s so much great information. I find myself sometimes still referring back to things, conversations that I had or presentations that I saw, and that is really no BS. I always walk away from PegaWorld events with great insights and some intel about what’s now, what’s next, what’s really working. Before we get started, though, you have such an interesting background. I would like, if you wouldn’t mind for you to tell us a little bit about your career trajectory and then of course, a little bit about Pegasystems as well.

Don Schuerman: Sure. Yeah, I guess I do have an interesting path to get to where I am now. I joined Pega actually coming out of college almost 25 years ago. I had done a double major in physics and philosophy, and there weren’t a lot of jobs in 1997 for philosophers, but there were a lot of jobs for people who had done tech support, and the way I had made some spending money in college was I worked for the help desk. I would fix people’s laptops and machines when they broke. I had a background in tech support and was able to join the support team at Pega, and over the years, moved into implementation, moved into engineering.

Some people at Pega caught onto the fact that I had a side gig doing improv comedy, which is actually how I met my wife. So I’m very lucky that I spent years doing that and eventually turned that into spending more time in a customer-facing role. Helping co clients understand our technology, demonstrating our technology and then moving into what I do now, which is I spend about 50% of our time with our clients, really understanding from a CIO perspective where they’re going, what the technologies they’re using are, how are they making their investments in time that’s value? Then the other 50% of our time with our product and strategy teams, making sure that we’re actually putting the right things in place to meet the needs of our clients.

Shelly Kramer: Well, that’s the part I wanted to be sure that you shared, is your part about your improv career and the impact. Because I think it makes… I was actually a comms major in college. So while everyone else was doing finals and scribbling essays and tests and answers and things like that, I had to stand up in front of a group full of people, of varying sizes and show that I knew my stuff. So it does prepare you very well for whatever career. I actually thought I wanted to be an attorney, but it prepares you very well for a career that’s a customer-facing opportunity. So I like that a lot and you are very much and have been for a very long time, I think the face of Pega, and I think that you do a tremendous job on that front.

Don Schuerman: Thank you very much.

Shelly Kramer: Well, absolutely. Let’s talk about this year’s PegaWorld and what we can expect. Let’s talk a little bit about what some of the key themes are and some of the keynotes, and I know you won’t give all the good stuff away, but tempt us a little bit, if you would.

Don Schuerman: Sure. Pega, we’re in the business providing a low code platform for AI-powered decisioning and workflow automation. What we’re going to be focusing on at PegaWorld is one, the value of that kind of technology, but also highlighting client stories and how clients are using our technology and their own creativity to improve the way that they engage with their customers, the way they acquire and onboard new customers, the way they deliver service to their customers, the way they run the operations that support their customers and their products and the way they fix exceptions, when things go wrong in that customer experience.

There’s going to be a lot of focus on really managing that experience from end-to-end, the kind of technology and architecture that you need to get there, and how innovation in that technology can be really pragmatically applied to the real world challenges that organizations are dealing with right now.

Shelly Kramer: I think that’s really what people are looking for, right? Efficiencies, solutions that make sense things that don’t require tremendous… The low code, no code offerings, I think are table stakes today. Yeah, sounds like some good stuff. You’re of course giving a keynote presentation, what will you be covering?

Don Schuerman: I’m going to talk a little bit about… Some people have referred to this as the vibe shift that has gone on in the society right now. I think of it as a crisis of focus. I think a little bit of what has happened over the last couple of years is in our work lives, in our personal lives in technology, our focus has become a little fractured, right? There’s lots that we need to deal with. There’s lots of complexity out there, both in the world that we’re dealing with, but also in technology itself. What am I seeing that I’ll have allowed organizations to cut through some of that complexity and focus on the things that matter, which is ultimately, how do I use technology to provide better experiences to my customers, better experiences to my employees, better value to my business.

We’ll be looking at a survey that we did of IT leaders across the globe and sharing some insights of where we see the future of IT going and the kinds of skills that IT organizations are going to need to build, in order to take advantage of all this great tech, but actually turn it into true value for their organizations.

Shelly Kramer: Well, I think there’s a huge value prop there for that conversation, Don, because I don’t think it’s news to anybody that skilled tech talent is something that is in very short supply. From a CIO, from an IT leadership standpoint, learning, thinking about conversations about how to think about this next generation of skillsets that we need, how we can think about using automation to fill the gaps, when we don’t have the kind of skillsets that we have on our IT teams, I think those are really very real problems that people are looking for solutions for. That’ll be a great and timely conversation.

I want to move on a little bit and talk about resiliency in business. I think that one of the things I tend to talk about a lot is, the silver linings of navigating a global pandemic and it doesn’t make any sense to me to focus on the negative things. I’m an eternal optimist. I think about all the good things that we’ve experienced, that we’ve learned along the way, and I think that the importance of business resiliency as a fundamental part of your business and operational strategy has never been more important. I think really the pandemic opened a lot of company’s eyes on that front, and that’s a good thing. Right? I know that you’ve been helping your customers navigate this, the waters of business resiliency and how do we better position ourselves?

I know you think about this a lot, so how can organizations think? How can they shift their thinking? How can they think about how integrating new tools and technologies into their operations can help them, position them to be in a better position to face the challenges that are certain to come their way.

Don Schuerman: Yeah, and I think one of the things that we’ve been talking a lot about is what does resiliency really mean in today’s world? Right? Because I think sometimes in IT terms, we tend to think of resiliency around system and hardware availability, right? Do we have backup plans? Do we have the right architecture, so there are no single points of failure and are we able to support burst in scale or burst in resources needs? All of that still becomes incredibly important. Luckily I think that in cloud architectures and a lot of the automations available to us there, it’s easier now than ever to actually provide that kind of resiliency in your business. But I think there’s another kind of resiliency that we’ve learned about in the last two years and that’s adaptability, right?

A large part of being a resilient business is being an adaptable business. The understanding that, at its core digital transformation was never about getting to some finish line and checking off the box that we had now been digitally transformed. Digital transformation was about building an organization and a technology stack and a set of skills and capabilities that allowed a business to constantly change, and constantly adapt. One of the things that we’ll talk a lot about at PegaWorld, we’ll see some examples from some clients is how do you build that adaptability? And what are approaches that you can take to do it? You’ll hear from folks like Ford who talked about using low code and building this idea of a low code app factory, so that there was creativity and speed and innovation in the business, but it was happening in such way that it was able to sustain IT guardrails and governance and the security that they needed in their systems.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: That kind of mix of being able to add huge amounts of adaptability and freedom to innovate into the business, while ensuring that there is stability, there is structure, there is predictability where possible, or at least some degree of governance in what’s going on. I think that is the kind of mix that organizations are going to need to find if they want to be resilient, not just now, but far into the future.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that for us, of course, we’ve talked forever about the fact that digital transformation is a journey. It’s one that never ends, and it’s one that will also never slow down. I mean, we are seeing change at such a rapid pace and that is only going to speed up. We’re not ever going to go back to where we were, and I think that is a… For us, for our company, we have a pretty small organization. We have a team of about 30, but that’s always been the secret to our success, is that we’ve always been change agents. We’ve always really embraced everything having to do with something new, something interesting, something different. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. Let’s implement, let’s measure, let’s tweak. All of that sort of thing.

That’s the key to business success. I don’t care if you have 30 employees or 30,000 employees. That’s the key to business success today is that mindset, like you said, that change in adaptability. Change is a given and the rapid pace of change and the speeding up of that pace are also givens. So it really is all about embracing. I think it’s about your culture. It’s about making sure that… One thing I tell anybody that I’m interviewing about joining our team, one of the first things I tell them is if you don’t like change, you will hate working for me.

Don Schuerman: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: You will not enjoy working for me and you will not enjoy working with our company because everything we do is about change and that excites us. I think that, there’s… You and I have talked about this before, successful digital transformation is as much about culture, if not more than it is about technology solutions. It’s about creating a culture of innovation, of curiosity, of continuous learning of adaptability of change and having people who are as excited about, and as passionate about that as you are. That, by the way is no easy thing.

Don Schuerman: No. No, it’s not. As a company, our tagline for years has been build for change. Right? What we try to do in our technology, what we also try to do in the way that we work with our clients is help them do that. Right? As you say, that’s technology, right? So it takes a great low code platform, which I think we have a pretty good one. But, it also takes how do you build the right skillsets? Right? So one of the things that we’ve announced in the run up to PegaWorld, and we’ll be talking about at PegaWorld is not just the technology, but some of the services that we’re bringing forward and some of the new enablement that we’re bringing forward to help an IT team build the set of skills that it needs to make low code successful at a business, right? To make this kind of adaptability really real. I think it’s that mix of getting the right technology, but also getting the right people and the right skills.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: I love what you said about, if you don’t like change, you might want to go work somewhere else. You might. I think we’ve now firmly established that concept applies to IT in general. Right?

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Don Schuerman: If you don’t like change and that doesn’t actually excite you then to be quite honest, you might be in the wrong industry right now.

Shelly Kramer: Well, you know what, Don? I think it applies to IT, it applies to marketing, it applies to sales. It applies to customer service. I mean, it applies to every single… It applies to business leadership. You and I had a conversation before we started this show about the challenges coming out of a pandemic that leaders face in terms of, back to work and all that sort of thing. It really is, you have to be fluid, you have to be flexible. You have to be always communicating and always realizing that there’s not a one size fits all solution for every organization along the way. But I do believe that the one truism and I know that you… I mean, we’ve just been talking about this, is that change is a given, change is an innate part of business today and embracing change and planning for change and hiring people who are excited about change.

I think all of those things go hand-in-hand. I want to talk a little bit. We are in the middle of a research project and on automation and the state of automation today, and we haven’t yet finished our survey and we haven’t of course, yet published our findings. But what we’re seeing so far is that the use of automation technology is on the rise. I think that you’re probably seeing that as well. I would love to hear a little bit about your thoughts on that front.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. I think the use of automation technology is definitely on the rise and I think it’s popping up. Discreet forms of automation are popping up almost everywhere. Right? I now, if I go into a Zoom or a WebEx, WebEx can automatically transcribe the call for me. Right?

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: There’s a little bit of automation technology that even two, three years ago we didn’t have.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: I think we see automation technologies in the latest version of our iPhone that pops up and allows me to stitch apps together and make little programs or make automations or my ability to… When I take my weekly COVID test to just ask my watch to set a timer for me. Again, automatically, right? These are all little snippets of automation technology. Where I think we’re going to be focused, or I know we’re going to be focused on at PegaWorld is the intersection of two specific technologies around AI-driven decisioning and workflow automation and how that can come together to drive new opportunities for not just automation but optimization.

Right? So one of the areas that’s going to be something we talk about at PegaWorld is the idea of process mining and in the process space, over the last couple years, process mining process discovery has become an interesting topic, what we’re really interested in is, that’s all about collecting a bunch of data of how work is being done. How now can I take that data and use it in real time, apply what we’ve been calling process AI to that data, so that I can find new places in my process to automate. I can recommend new steps. I can guide my user to, hey, maybe you don’t need to do this because I’m going to predict that you can skip this step likely anyway, right? That ability to begin to predict where a process is going and gently nudge a user in some case automate the path to that outcome, that’s where I see there’s real power, especially as we think about automation, not just from a, how can I make my employee experience a little bit better? But, how can I actually get my customers to the outcomes that they want faster?

Shelly Kramer: Right. Makes perfect sense. One of the things that I know to be true, at least based on our experience is that a lot of times we find that organizations implement automation, right? We look for the low-hanging fluid fruit, and we have X number of automations in place. 10, 30, whatever.

Don Schuerman: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: A lot of times we stop there because we just don’t know what other opportunities exist. I think that’s really exciting, when you have the ability to predict, to help predict what other use cases there are. I think that takes some of the thinking out of it. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I think that we’re busy. You just mentioned earlier what a challenge focusing is, right? For all of us. I think that we don’t know what we don’t know. So to be able to have technology that can help drive that, ooh, hey, maybe we can do this too. I think that’s exciting, but I think it’s also something that’s really pretty sorely needed.

Don Schuerman: Well, and yeah. I also think that it’s important to understand, at least, as the way I look at the world is, I think sometimes we focus all on the things that can be completely automated. When we’ve automated all these things that can be completely automated, we feel like we’re done. Right? The way I think about this journey is the way we think about self-driving cars, right? I think if you talk to people who are really in that space for a variety of reasons, some technical, some regulatory, some infrastructure, we’re probably many years, a decade away from a truly self-driving car from end-to-end.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: But I get in my car today and that car is providing autonomous support to me as a driver, it’s providing regulated cruise control. It will automatically stop if it detects something behind me. It will let me know when I’m going out of a lane. Right? I think there are these huge opportunities for us to apply automation and especially AI-powered automation in the service of guiding the work that users are still going to do, but nudging them towards the best and most effective way to do it.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: And providing that autonomous support. Not that you can fully take your hand off the steering wheel, but hey, you know what? I’m going to be there to catch you. Right?

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: And I’m going to give you some guidance and support, and I’m going to make certain things easier for you.

Shelly Kramer: I love that example because I think a lot of times, for people who haven’t yet fully dived into the automation pool, right? I think that’s such a great example, because, I have the same situation with my car and I laugh. I use it as an example too, on the regular. But, I couldn’t crash into something if I wanted to.

Don Schuerman: Right.

Shelly Kramer: I mean, my car will shut itself down if I’m backing, if I’m going forward. It doesn’t matter. My car will shut itself down. Again, the lane alerts and everything else, or the message about your car’s ready for a software update. “You want to do that now?” That sort of thing. But, when you can think about an example like that, so many of us are driving cars that are enabled by technology, automation technology in any… Similar to automation technology. You can extrapolate that out and think, oh my gosh, think about how accustomed I have been. I have gotten to the benefits that my car provides. Right?

Don Schuerman: Right.

Shelly Kramer: Then again, when you extrapolate that out to the business environment, it never occurred to me when I bought this car, how cool it would be, that it won’t let me crash into anything. Right? So, think about that in a business setting, there are so many opportunities there, where technology can enable so much in terms of better service, better, quicker and more efficient processes and happier employees, all of these things. So I think that’s a great example that people can really connect with.

Don Schuerman: Well, and you don’t need… I think the other thing is, you don’t need to get all the way to a completely self-driving car to get value.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: Right?

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Don Schuerman: The value comes along the chain, the value comes from how can I inject a little bit more intelligence? How can I inject a little bit more guidance? How can I put a little bit more safety rail in place? Right? That’s going to make both the experience better. It’s going to make it safer. It’s going to make it more streamlined for everybody involved. I think that’s really important because, I think sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed by this end state of where we got to into this perfect automated state. It’s like, “No, we got to just little bit at a time.” There’s huge amounts of value to deliver.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, absolutely. So we touched on business resiliency a couple of minutes ago, but I know there’s some specific things that Pega is doing in the areas of customer service, customer engagement and intelligent automation that are specifically designed to help customers become more resilient. Will you touch base on those a little bit for me?

Don Schuerman: Sure. These are all things that, again, we’re going to highlight at PegaWorld.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: In the customer service base, right? A great example of that automated cruise control or accident avoidance, right? Is something that we’ve called voice and messaging AI. So how do we use AI to detect what’s happening in a message or detect what a customer is saying to a customer service agent? And not from a chat bot fully automated system. Because, I actually think that a lot of times people don’t want that. They want, often make a true human being on the phone.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: But how do we use that information in real time to guide the human being and make them more effective to recommend things that the customer is saying they might need to auto-populate forms. So the agent doesn’t have to type the voice AI is doing it for them. So we’re going to be looking at how we can use that to improve both the agent experience, and then on behalf of that, the customer experience. We’ll also be talking a lot about how, as you automate your workflows and manage your workflows, how do you plug them into all the different self-service channels that you have, so that you are delivering this consistent and streamlined experience to your customers across servicing.

In the customer engagement space, we’re a pioneer in the idea of doing realtime one-to-one decision, using AI to figure out in realtime, the next best action to take with a customer and how to do that at scale. You’re going to hear a lot of PegaWorld about how that begins to plug into things like customer data platforms and some of the real time event-driven architectures that organizations have. So that they’re not only delivering the next best action when a customer reaches out to them, but they’re proactively pushing next best actions to customers, not in a spam campaign way.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Don Schuerman: But in a very personalized, real, in the moment for that customer way. Then for intelligent automation, and we talked a lot about, a little bit about low code, about the idea of building a sustainable low code factory inside an organization. We’ll be talking about that, and we’ll also be talking about how technologies like AI and process mining can come together to find new ways to optimize and improve your workflows so that you can either add, add optimization or at the very least streamline and deliver a better experience to employees and customers.

Shelly Kramer: Right. You know what? At the end of the day, that’s really all it’s about.

Don Schuerman: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: It’s about delivering better for customers and every interaction being an enjoyable interaction. A lot of times when we’re talking about contact centers or things like… People are not having their best day, they want information, they want a solution.

Don Schuerman: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: So when we can deliver for them in quick, efficient, seamless, enjoyable ways, everybody wins. That comes back to also the people on the front lines who are delivering that service or working on processes throughout the organization. When work is enjoyable, when you’re able to take care of problems, solve challenges, all of that sort of things. There’s nothing better than getting up in the morning and loving going to work. Wherever it is you work and wherever it is you go and feeling like what I’m doing is making a difference. I think that, that’s really what it’s all about.

Well, Don, I am very much looking forward to PegaWorld and I am going to put in our show notes, a link to register for PegaWorld. It is a free event. Everyone is welcome. I can promise you if you’ve never attended a PegaWorld event before, you will get great insights, great information, fantastic real world customer use case stories from many of Pega’s customers. Those are the key takeaways that I always walk away from. Like I said, I mean, I remember conversations and things that I learned at PegaWorld over the years, and you do a tremendous job of putting on this event. So I’m looking forward to doing-

Don Schuerman: Well, and our clients do a tremendous job as well. So you get to hear from folks like T-Mobile, from from Lloyd’s Bank. That to me is where I think, some of this stuff really hits the road, as customers tell their own experiences with this.

Shelly Kramer: I love it.

Don Schuerman: We also try to keep the event really nice and condensed and short. We know that everybody’s time is valuable. We know that we all have got a little bit of virtual event fatigue at this point. So we want to make sure that this is interactive, that this is fun, and that you come away with a lot of information in a very short time.

Shelly Kramer: I will tell you that you were one of the early folks. We started being immersed in a global pandemic in about March of 2020, and you were able to quickly pull off the PegaWorld event, a virtual event. As a tech analyst, I’ve sat through a lot of virtual events over the course of the last couple of years. But even from that very first event, yours was so different. It was entertaining. It was visually engaging. It was a wonderful event. If you don’t hear the words virtual event and go, “Ugh, another virtual event.” Because I can promise you, it will be amazing. So Don, with that, thank you so much for being on the show again, and for talking a little bit about what we can look forward to, at PegaWorld. As I said, I will be there with bells on and look forward to it and we’ll put a link again to register in the show notes and we hope to see you there.

Don Schuerman: All right. Well, it’s always a pleasure, Shelly. Thank you.

About the Author

A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, Shelly has worked with some of the world’s largest brands to lead them into the digital space, embrace disruption, understand the reality of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of Digital Transformation. Read Full Bio.