The Pandemic is a Catalyst a Lot of Businesses Needed — It’s Time for a Massive Rethink – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series, I’m joined by Don Schuerman, the CTO of Pega, a leader in software for customer engagement and intelligent automation, for a conversation about how the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps a catalyst that a lot of businesses needed right now. We explore how engaging in a massive rethink is likely the best path forward for companies of all sizes as we navigate pandemic times, and also take a quick preview of Pega’s upcoming Pegaworld iNspire virtual event being held from 9am to 11:30am EDT on June 2, 2020.

The Pandemic is a Catalyst — It’s Time for a Rethink

Times of crisis bring much uncertainty, but one thing is for sure — weathering a crisis ultimately helps us collectively see that massive change is inevitable. Specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen changes to the way we work, collaborate, interact, learn, transact, produce, manufacture, deliver, service — everything that we know in terms of business and life as usual has changed. That’s why I say that the pandemic is a catalyst and it’s time for a massive rethink.

In some instances, we are seeing companies of all sizes undergo digital transformation at the speed of light. While some say companies’ investments in DX are going to slow down, I think it’s safe to say that not everyone agrees. Don and his team at Pega, and me and the team at Futurum Research are all on the front lines of this digital transformation evolution and we can say with certainty that for our clients and partners, there’s no slowdown in sight.

Digital Transformation in the COVID-19 Age Presents Much Opportunity

We have discussed on this show before how rethinking and reworking existing business models is important as a strategic first step, and an important step before focusing on rebuilding and recovering. In our conversation today, Don and I explored that more fully. We also discussed the fact that digital transformation in the COVID-19 age is truly an opportunity for organizations to not just survive, but also to thrive. In fact, some might say that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Don shared his thoughts on how making time now to develop a smart digital transformation strategy can help address the urgent issues that organizations face today. It can also help them lay the foundation for the future, including building resiliency into organizations in ways it might not have existed before.

We talked about business architecture and what to consider when setting out to future-proof your business model, and the role that technology plays there, as well as why designing with a “digital first” mindset is more important now than ever before

We also discussed how solutions that serve short term needs — things like automation, case management, and low code app development — can ultimately serve as building blocks for more bigger, more comprehensive solutions down the line.

Don shared some examples of how Pega’s customers are using these kinds of technology solutions today to help sustain their business operations, and we explored the opportunities those present for the future. We also explored the role automation plays in building and facilitating resilient, business operations.

This was a fascinating conversation with a dynamic leader in the digital transformation space. I always enjoy talking with Don and hearing about what he and the team at Pega are up to and I suspect you will as well.

You can watch our interview here:

or grab the audio here:

Pandemic Times Are Scary Times, But They Might Well Result in Much Good

The exciting thing for me about conversations like this is that there’s no doubt that weathering a pandemic is scary, no matter what your business, industry, company size, or focus. But I also believe that if we do this right, and if we make time now to engage in a massive rethink, we will collectively be better positioned for success. Organizations can emerge post-pandemic as stronger, smarter, more technologically savvy organizations, with more efficient, more productive, more profitable operations, more resilient companies with more secure operations, and with happier, more loyal customers. I think that’s an upside worth investing in.

Want to know more? I hope so. Take a moment and go register (it’s free!) for Pega’s upcoming Pegaworld iNspire virtual event on June 2nd, from 9am to 11:30am EDT. You’ll get a chance to hear keynotes from Anna Gleiss, Siemens’ Global IT Head (Don’t Just Talk, Transform: Survive and Thrive in a Disrupted World), Rich Gilbert, Aflac’s Chief Digital Information Officer (One Digital Aflac: A Digital Transformation Journey), and Pega’s Founder and CEO, Alan Trefler (The Platform for your Platforms). You’ll hear use cases and insights from Vodafone, Anthem, Blue Shield of California, Unilever, Google, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC and others, and walk away with a myriad of valuable information that will undoubtedly help on your organization’s digital transformation journey, in pandemic times and beyond. Note that even if you can’t attend the Pegaworld iNspire event live on June 2nd, if you register, you’ll have access to all the content on demand. Now go, do that, right now! Register here.

Other insights from Futurum Research:

3 Simple Digital Transformation Principles that Will Help Your Business Adapt to the Coronavirus Crisis

Digital Transformation For Good Shines as We Fight COVID-19

The Human and Machine Workforce Leading Digital Transformation

This podcast is part of a special series focused around what leaders and companies are doing to help employees and customers deal with COVID-19. Be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on amazing insights.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast 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.

Image Credit:


Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. Today, we’re going to talk about the pandemic and how it’s a catalyst that perhaps a lot of businesses needed, and that it’s time for a massive rethink. Joining me in that adventure today is my friend Don Schuerman from Pegasystems. And before we dive into … Hi, Don, welcome. It’s great to have you.

Don Schuerman: Hi, Shelly. How are you? Nice to be here.

Shelly Kramer: Great. Thank you. I’m glad that we match. Thank you so much for making that happen. So, crisis brings uncertainty. And one thing that we know for sure, even though we’re just a few steps into weathering this crisis, it really means that massive change is inevitable. And it doesn’t matter what crisis we’re talking about. Anything that we’ve weathered, we’ve seen change as a result. So specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen changes to the way we work, the way we collaborate, the way we interact, the way we learn, the way our kids learn, how we transact, how we produce, how we deliver, how we provide customer service.

Everything that we know in terms of business as usual has changed and I think that we’re seeing digital transformation at the speed of light. And while some companies, I’ve seen some opinions that companies’ investments in digital transformation are going to slow down. I think it’s safe to say that not everyone agrees. And I know that I don’t agree and I’m pretty sure that you don’t agree either, Don. So what do you think on that front?

Don Schuerman: Yeah, I think part of it is that some of the things that I’ve seen that I’ve talked about the measure of digital transformation are really looking not at how the company is transforming, but how much cloud services they’re buying and whether they’re buying two year contracts or three month contracts of cloud services. I think digital transformation is much bigger than that. To your point, I actually think this whole crisis has been almost a forcing factor and dam breaking in a lot of aspects of digital transformation.

I was on a conversation with the CIO of a major media company in the US and the way he put it was, we’re all agile now. We’ve been talking for years about doing agile and having agile business processes and fail fast and all this kind of stuff. And all of a sudden, we just found ourselves in a world where that is the only way we can act. The only way we can solve the problems that we’re dealing with is we put a team of people in a room, we say you have three days to solve this problem, go solve it. All of those sort of practices that we have said have to be the culture of digital transformation, we’ve almost been forced to adapt over the past couple of weeks.

Shelly Kramer: What I think is really cool about that, as a technology company, is that a lot of times companies talk the talk. You have to be agile, you have to fail fast, you have to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Anything to sell something. But what has had to happen is that technology companies, your technology company, every technology company on the planet has all of a sudden had to walk the walk. And I think there’s been probably some great lessons learned along the way. But one of the things that we talk a lot around here about is the importance of rethinking and reworking, and how that’s so much more important than thinking about we’ve got to rebuild and we’ve got to recover.

Because this is our opportunity, and it’s so important, this is our opportunity to think about and to break apart everything we know about business as usual and how we have designed our systems and how those systems serve us, our employees, our customers. And so I think that rebuilding or reworking and rethinking is really a critical step. What are your thoughts on that? You’re a CTO, so you’re all about architecture.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. We spend a lot of time talking to our clients about business architecture. Because I think that this whole digital transformation, it’s not just about technology. It’s not just about, hey, we’ve got microservices or hey, we ported everything over to AWS with a Kubernetes containerized backend, woo-hoo. That’s not the solution. The need is how technology and business, your business model, your organizational culture come together. So we talk a lot about business architecture and the way we tell people to approach the business architecture, the best success that we’ve seen is when you think about this not from the top down, not from what channels do I need to implement, not do I need a chat bot, do we need a new mobile app, etc.

Because that tends to lead to real siloed thinking and exactly the kind of disconnected customer experiences that people hate. It also leads to a lot of excess costs because you end up doing things multiple times. But we also tell people the way you want to think about this is not about the system level either. It’s not about re-platforming. It’s not about moving everything to cloud. There are great reasons to do that, but that in and of itself isn’t the transformation. The transformation happens from the center out. It happens when you start at the center.

What’s my customer journey? What’s the outcome they’re trying to achieve and how do I get them there as easily and efficiently as possible? And if I rethink that and sometimes if you take that journey and break it down into what we’ve been calling micro journeys, the part of the customer journey that’s tied to a very specific outcome. So an example being the Bavarian government was being legislatively obligated to provide small loans to businesses. So there is a micro journey thereof I’m a small business owner, I need a loan, I want to apply for it and get it.

So how do we help the Bavarian government take that micro journey, getting a small business loan, getting it into their systems. We did that now in about 72 hours with them. Because again, we’re now all forced, as you say, to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And then connect back into their systems, connect that up into their web channel and their contact centers and all the people who need to be involved with it.

But that transformational business architecture starts by focusing on the center. What is the outcome that the customer is trying to achieve and how do we get them there as easily as possible?

Shelly Kramer: This reminds me, actually, I just used that example in a webcast that a colleague and I did focusing on financial services transformation. So, I’m familiar with that story, chance to, this opportunity rather to remind our audience that these kind of examples and these kinds of stories that Don is sharing and that we’re talking about are going to be the things that are going to be the area of focus for the PegaWorld event. It’s a virtual event that’s happening on June 2nd. We will provide link to register for some more information in the show notes for this show.

But if you’re looking for real world examples of how you can use some really smart technology solutions to solve these micro journeys, these problems, and of course much bigger problems as well, definitely put the PegaWorld event on your calendar for June 2nd. So there’s my pitch for that, Don.

Don Schuerman: Thank you very much. And the thing that I will say in the spirit of, again, walking the walk rather than try and take like a two, three day physical event and shove it up online, because I don’t want to sit through three days of keynotes watching them on my live screen. We actually took the whole PegaWorld event and compressed it down to two and a half hours because we think in this format, that’s the way that people want to engage. So it’s great content, but it’s also very bite sized. It’s very snackable. I think it’ll be a really exciting kind of worthwhile couple hours for folks.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that’s a really smart transition. I have sat through way more super long events than I’d like to think about at this time. So I know also the sessions, the topics that you cover will be available on demand. So it’ll be easy to maybe not be able to catch a 100%, but to be able to go back and get that. So I will say that I have been an attendee of your events for probably the last four years now, and I really enjoy them a lot. I always learn a lot. So if people haven’t been yet, definitely make time to register.

So one of the things I also wanted to talk about is we hear a lot about the importance of designing for a digital first mindset. Help us understand what that means.

Don Schuerman: I think part of what organizations need to do is sort of not apply a veneer of digital on their business. I think there was a phase of the digital transformation that was sort of like, well, we’re going to do everything we did before, but there’s a mobile app for it now. Or hey, our processes are going to be exactly the same, but we’ve got a chat bot. Isn’t that cool and tada, we’re digital. And to me, that’s a veneer. And the digital first mindset really involves, I think, thinking about a couple of aspects of the experience that you want to deliver.

How do you make it truly client centric? So how do you make it about the customer and put them first and in a way that’s empathetic, in a way that is personalized to them, etc.? How do you make it easy to engage? How do you make it so that it’s not hard for the customer to get to you and when they get to you, they’re engaging with you on topics that are relevant to them? How do you make it frictionless? How do you go and look at your processes and really think about where are the points that it’s hard, either from my employee, for my customer and just file those down, so it’s smooth and easy all the way through.

In other words, you can’t be dependent on the customer to get all of the work done for you. If you think about, for example, traditional lending processes in a bank, there is a lot of burden placed on the customer to go find this document and pull out this piece of material and go spend me this paycheck from five years ago. And let me know what your former college roommate’s ex-girlfriend thinks about your credit history and like pull all that together, as opposed to you be accountable for doing that for your client.

I’m going to make that easy for you, and I’m going to get you to the result that you want as easily and quickly as possible.

Shelly Kramer: And so really one of the things I think about when I have conversations like this is when I’m engaged in that process that I find arduous, I often step back and say the wrong people are developing these processes. People are not saying, let me experience this as a customer would. Let me see. It’s kind of like when you’re writing a speech or a presentation. And you can write it and it all sounds really great and then you get up and you start to practice or you start and you went, oh my God, that doesn’t work at all. And it’s the same thing with these processes.

And so when you can put the customer first, it really does change everything.

Don Schuerman: One thing I have to say about it, Shelly, is and I don’t necessarily know if it’s the wrong people because I believe that people inherently, I don’t think anybody’s walking around businesses saying I’d like to make things really tough for my customer. That’s what I’d like. But, I think people in general want to do that. I think what the challenge is the nature of how organizations have built up. We’ve incentivized people to work inside of silos, to optimize a silo of a process, as opposed to optimizing the process from end to end for the client experience.

I think it’s as much about empowering people and enabling them to take that kind of different approach and incentivizing them to think end to end and think about frictionless and think about making things that work across channels.

Shelly Kramer: I agree. And it’s not the wrong people. It’s maybe the wrong kind of thinking that’s being applied. But my point about people is that I’m a senior leader. I don’t develop processes or anything else. My team, who’s much smarter than I am, does that. And what I do is go through and pick holes in them. And I think that sometimes the part of the equation that is not happening in many instances is that people aren’t going through processes that their teams develop and actually experiencing things themselves so they really understand what a …. It’s easy to look at a process and think, oh, that makes perfect sense.

Just like my speech looked really good on paper, but sometimes it’s that extra step, I think, of really doing a deeper dive and understanding really every part of that customer journey. That’s really important. So let’s talk a little bit about automation and you talked a little bit about the app that you all developed for the Bavarian government. The part that you didn’t mention is that you helped them be able to develop an app that they could use and then you took what you figured out there and you developed a platform. What’s it called?

There’s a name for it that you’ve made this available for free.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. We’ve built a series of what we call COVID response solutions. So we’ve gone into each of the industries we work with. We work with governmental agencies like we did in Bavaria. We’ve also worked with financial agencies. We work with a number of agencies across the healthcare spectrum, communications, insurance, manufacturing. And as we’ve talked to those clients, many of these are ideas that our clients have brought to us. One of the largest healthcare providers in the country came to us with this idea of, hey, you guys have this platform.

It’s really good at automating things and managing work. We think we can use it to automate tracking our 200,000 employees and see if there’s risk of any of them developing COVID symptoms and how we can manage them coming in and out. We worked with them to develop and deploy that. And then part of our work with them was to say, okay, we’re going to take this what we’ve built and make it now available more broadly to our, not just healthcare, but cross clients, because that’s a need that everybody has. So we’ve developed, I believe, there are 18 solutions that are industry specific that we’ve deployed.

And as you say, these are all things that run on top of our core platform, our core automation capability and case management capability, but they allow those clients to address those immediate needs. Because one of the things that I think is really important right now is clients have got really to operate in two modes. There are immediate things that need to get fixed. There are immediate pressing needs. You have a volume of customer requests that you haven’t had recently that you need to start working through that backlog of.

You have new HR needs around managing remote employees and tracking employee health, probably in a way that you didn’t have to before and those are really immediate. But at the same time, the organizations, the leaders that I’m talking to that really, I think, get it are also thinking about as I tackle those immediate needs, what’s my plan to drive the more pervasive transformation. Because not to overuse a phrase that I think has become a little bit overused, but there is a new normal coming. And that new normal is going to look like frequent change.

My guess is we’re going to have some cycles of this and you need to build not just the solution for now, but you need to put in place that business architecture and that infrastructure that allows you to leave this stronger than before, better connected to your customers, more agile, more automated and efficient in your business. So making sure that we can drive those immediate needs, but we’re doing it on an architecture and a platform that is sustainable into the far deeper sort of truly digital on the inside thinking that organizations need to do.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right there. And I think that for a lot of companies who’ve maybe just to scratch the surface of the role that automation can play in building resilient businesses and delivering efficiencies and making jobs more enjoyable, so many things, I think we’re going to see a lot more of that moving forward. So I think that we’re going to wrap up our conversation here. The good thing I think about all of this. One thing is that I’m very grateful to be wired for change. I realize that not everybody is, but for some odd reason, and I have a feeling you’re much the same way.

For some odd reason, I am just a person who adapts quickly, who likes change, who’s always looking for sort of something new and something different. And I think that that’s going to be really important moving forward because there is no going back. And we talk about a new normal, it’s just what is. And the cool thing is I think that once you dive in and you embrace rapid transformation and you see what’s possible when you’ve built and you’re working in an agile efficient way and you’re using technologies like automation and host of other things, there’s no going back to the way it was before and you wouldn’t want to.

So I think that to me, I started this conversation by saying that pandemic is a catalyst that a lot of businesses needed. Whether we knew we needed it or not, I think that we’re going to see a lot of transformation happen in a good way moving forward, and I’m very much looking forward to watching that happen. And I know you are as well, Don.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. I mean, yeah, I work for a company whose tagline is built for change. So I think we’re definitely wired in that way as well. The thing also, even before this crisis took place, one of the things that I was talking to customers a lot about is there is no end point to digital transformation. There’s not a like, we’re done, we did that, we’re through it. Digital transformation is about accepting the fact that your organization needs to enter a constant state of evolution and change. And I think for all the fear and adversity that we’ve been going through, there is this realization and understanding that that continuous change is now something we’re just going to have to live with.

And for some people, that’s exciting. For others, that’s still a little bit scary, but I think we over time are going to adapt to that as the way in which we live. And I think we’re going to be stronger people, stronger businesses because of that.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and I think too, that maybe touches on our role as technologists, as analysts in this space because our job is to work with customers who perhaps aren’t comfortable with change and to help sort of lead them into that process and to make that less disruptive and scary along the way. And so there really is, I mean, to me, that’s a really cool part of what it is I get to do all day every day. And I would guess you’re probably a little bit the same, so.

Don Schuerman: Yeah. Much like you, I consider myself very lucky to get to do it, so.

Shelly Kramer: Exactly. Well, I will end this show by saying once again, please be sure and check out the PegaWorld virtual event that will be held on June 2nd. I will include links to find more information and to register for that event. I can promise you, it will be interesting and you will learn a lot and you will walk away with things that you’d like to apply in your business and you’ll get to hang out with a bunch of really cool, really smart people. So Don, thank you very much for joining me today and I look forward to seeing you at PegaWorld in just a couple of weeks.

Don Schuerman: All right. Thanks everybody. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay sane.

Thank you for joining us on this week’s Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series. Please be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes and stay with us each and every week as we bring more interviews and more shows from our weekly Futurum Tech Podcast.


Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


Latest Insights:

The Futurum Group's Camberley Bates and Pure Storage’s John Colgrove dive into his vision for Pure and what we can expect in the next generation of data storage.
Amazon’s Newest Fire TV Features Open the Door to Generative AI’s UX Capabilities for Alexa-Enabled Products
Olivier Blanchard, Research Director at The Futurum Group, shares his insights on Amazon’s newest Fire TV features, and particularly how its Alexa-enabled ecosystem may be the perfect UX on-ramp for generative AI.
Understanding the Future of UX Through the Newest AI-Enabled Features in Amazon’s Echo Product Line
Olivier Blanchard, Research Director at The Futurum Group, shares his insights on what the newest AI-enabled features in Amazon’s Echo products suggest about the future of Alexa-powered UX.
Oracle Is Expanding Its Cloud Services on Azure and AWS and Launching Oracle Alloy for Specialized Partner Offerings
The Futurum Group’s Guy Currier and Steven Dickens look at the latest announcements from Oracle CloudWorld, including Oracle Alloy, which enables global partners to create specialized cloud services, signifying a collaborative future.