Pegasystems CEO talks blockchain hype to challenges with AI, and more


Blockchain technology has been, perhaps, the most talked about and hyped technology over the last year, with real use cases in short supply. A lot of the time this online ledger of growing list of records -called blocks – which are linked and secured using cryptography, does not get tied to business value.

“As the breathless hype around blockchain continues to escalate, many organisations are jumping on the bandwagon without first knowing what real business problems they want it to help solve,” said Trefler.

The financial services industry is one area (among many others: supply chain, healthcare etc.), however, where real merits of using the technology are apparent.

Yesterday, Pega announced it’s Blockchain Innovation Kit, which opens a path to blockchain for banking customer onboarding.

>See also: 5 ways blockchain technology is changing the world

There has been a “call for blockchain from customers,” Trefler told Information Age during a roundtable at Pegaworld. Banks are interested in ways to share data, and “private blockchain is a sensible way to share data,” he said.

Here, there is a real use case for how banks onboard their clients. Increasing financial regulation, greater levels fraud and a more complex due diligence process required to validate clients has become an arduous process, which is high cost and high risk. This is a key use for blockchain – helping banks or enterprise with onboarding.

Once onboarded one bank, it can share private key of all client info with other banks on the blockchain, providing that client gives the organisation their permission.

“As long as customer is in control of sharing, then it falls in line with regulation – single permissioned blockchain,” said Trefler.

This streamlines the whole process, and there is an appetite to do this, because banks don’t view KYC (know your client) as a competitive advantage.

Pega’s role is bi-directional in the chain, it supplies the info and updates it.

Alan Trefler, founder and CEO, Pegasystems on the second day of Pegaworld 2018
Alan Trefler, founder and CEO, Pegasystems on the second day of Pegaworld 2018

Challenges with AI

“The big problem with AI,” Trefler told reporters, “is that those people who come up with opinions on what the data is telling them [the data scientists], lack the ability to operationalise that. Tying data science to operations is hard to do, and businesses are struggling to do it.” And therefore, failing to utilise AI techniques on business operations.

“Royalty of data scientists trying to own the future of organisations,” is another problem Trefler identified.

>See also: A guide to artificial intelligence in enterprise: Is it right for your business?

“The problem with marketers they don’t realise they’re all dead – data scientists really believe that,” continued Trefler. The idea that “data science and analytics exist to the exclusion of human thought is wrong,” and this notion should be muted at organisations. Collaboration should exist between different functions, processes and people in organisations.

Another challenge with AI, highlighted during the roundtable discussion, was the problem of those who maintain AI doesn’t exist yet. In the truest sense of the word, free thinking artificial intelligence does not exist yet and will not for some time.

It is difficult to distinguish what represents AI in the current marketplace, because there are so many companies and solutions claiming to use the technology.

“It is difficult to draw distinctions in ways that are sensible,” said Trefler. But, “my broad definition of AI today is if [its use with] data facilitates the work of people and companies.”

The data game

As the conversation turned to GDPR, Trefler stated that marketing technology companies reliant on third party data will struggle with changing regulations and the dominance of Facebook and Google.

>See also: How to turn GDPR into an opportunity for your business

He noted that “Pega uses its clients first party data, which is easier to get, more reliable and has the least issues with privacy and regulation.”

The changing role of CEO?

“My role has always been about trying to have us a company understand what our customers need. The thought that their needs are evolving has led us to spend time and energy on different answers. But the process of being engaged with customers is something that has always been a requirement of my role as CEO and is a requirement of many roles within the company – to try and be in tune with customers,” Trefler said.

>See also: Why CEOs need to understand how software is built

“I don’t think the underlying role has changed. But, the way we actually respond has, with a new set of tools and design thinking process. Years ago our clients needs were also changing and we were trying to understand how to create smarter workflows, for example.”

“It’s a little harder now because there is so much stuff, and there’s so much chaos in the marketplace. The level of chaos is unprecedented, and it’s as worse as it has ever been,” concluded Trefler.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...