‘Understanding of robotics in enterprise automation space will expand’

Can you tell me about your role?

I have what I would consider an interesting job title. My joint job title is CTO, and I’m also vice president of product strategy and marketing. I run the product marketing team, which is not something a lot of CTO’s do.

I think part of that has to do with my background at Pega – I came out of our engineering organisation and spent a lot of time in our pre sales, global architecture and global engineering organisation, so I have a pretty deep understanding of the technology and a pretty deep relationship across our engineering and product management staff. At the same time, I’ve spent a lot of times on the front line of the markets – I know how we sell, I know how we position, I know how we compete.

I do think there are different types of CTOs: you have some CTOs who are very much engineering-driven and there some CTOs who are more like a public evangelist – they’re job is go out there and talk, and promote the company’s technology – and I think I do a little bit of that.

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My job is to make sure that from a technology perspective; we understand the market, what our competitors are doing, what the technologies emerging in the market are, what our customer needs in the market are and that we make sure we take that data, gather it, and pull it back into the company so that our product management and engineering teams have the right view and strategy to operate against. In turn, we can come back around and put our technology into market in a way that the market understands and ties directly back into benefits for our customers.

I view a lot of what I do as both listening to the market and our customers, then working with our product teams to build a strategy from that, and then communicating that strategy and that product direction back out to the market.

Have you seen your role change over time?

I think more and more clients are looking for us as a software company to not just be a technology provider, but also a trusted partner. What I mean by that is: clients don’t just want to buy product from us, they want; to buy a prescriptive model of here’s how you implement it, here’s how you drive some of the changes around the technology that are necessary in the organisation, here’s how you think about some of the business problems that you might be able to solve and apply technology to them.

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So, I think the thing that’s changed both in Pega and in my role is it’s not just about here’s the tech and here’s what it does, but here’s how we can think about your business challenges in your industry: how your organisation is currently built to handle those challenges and how you need to think about shifting your organisation (and the way you approach delivery, testing and development) in order to make sure the technology can deliver the value in terms of solving those problems.

Can you tell me about a significant challenge you have experienced in your role as CTO, or from the technical side?

We deal with continual challenges in the market. There are new technologies that continue to pop up, and I think the challenge for us is to think about how we take that technology and both simultaneously, engage the market hype and discussion and be a relevant part of the conversation.

But, my obligation to my customers is not to sell the market hype, my obligation is to help them understand how this technology can come in and solve a particular business problem. The challenge, opportunities and problems I struggle with are helping my clients understand why they need a certain technology.

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One of things we’ve been struggling with is this announcement surrounding blockchain, because fundamentally we’ve developed this prototype because we think there’s an opportunity for blockchain to address this very specific KYC (know your client) challenge. But, at the same time as a technologist, I’m still trying to get my head around where does blockchain really solve a problem and where does it just create a whole bunch of new ones.

You mentioned earlier that the biggest challenge with digital transformation is cultural, not technological. How can businesses overcome this cultural transition?

A lot of this is sometimes classic change management. So, just take the technology out of it and think about change management models, and most of it is around having simultaneous top down and bottom up approaches to the problem – so it’s important to make sure there’s both clear executive mandate and mission behind how the organisation needs to, wants to and can change to adapt to technology.

You also need to make sure you’ve got real buy-in bottom up from the stakeholders to actually operate in that mode. To me, successful changes happen in an organisation when there’s this alignment between the overall drive within the whole operation and the drive, and goals, of the executive and management teams.

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When we work with clients we’re really looking to make sure there’s a strong mission communication throughout, and you have buy-in from the bottom that can also work it’s way back up. That’s a starting point of it.

Don Schuerman played host during Pegaworld's keynote presentations
Don Schuerman played host during Pegaworld’s keynote presentations

How important is breaking down silos for business success?

One of the other fundamental things that I think we do as a business is help enterprises bust silos. A lot of times the first step to busting silos is putting people in a room together.

For any given project lets get business and IT in the room, and they’re going to build the app together – we’re going to collaborate, we’re going to listen to each others unique challenges and concerns. We’re only going to get better at working together if we actually get in a room together and solve a common problem.

If I have silos between channels then I need to build a design thinking model that approaches a customer journey from end-to-end, and I want to pull representatives across those different channel ownership groups into one conversation to design that journey.

A lot of the silo busting that we do concerns how do we facilitate that bringing together of everybody to have that conversation from end-to-end.

What is your big technology prediction for driving business value?

I’ll give you two predictions. What we understand of robotics in the enterprise automation space is going to expand. The hype right now around this surrounds these desktop screen scraping robots, and I think – more and more – people are going to realise the benefit of robotics is automation from end-to-end.

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What our definition of what a bot is will change – it isn’t just something that can type into a bunch of things on a desktop and automate that, but that bot might be something that can take in an email, apply NLP (natural language processing) and AI decision-making, and push that email back out again. It’s really about automating that end-to-end journey and that end-to-end experience. I think that definition of bots from the enterprise automation space is going to expand.

The other thing that we’re going to see is the continued continued convergence of the automation side of the game and the AI side of the game. Ultimately, if AI is really good at making decisions and robotics is really good at getting the things done, the best solution is one that can make decisions and then go do stuff.

So, I think that convergence is going to continue to increase. There’s going to be a lot of what I call ‘AI washing’, but I think the real benefit is the places where there is a true interlock of automation power with real-time intelligence powering it under the covers.

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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...