PegaWorld 2017 lived up to expectations: cracking keynotes, packed track sessions and enough downtime to get around the exhibition. With around 4.5K attendees, this event has grown significantly since I last visited.
The CEO kicks off PegaWorld 2017
Pegasystems’ CEO Alan Trefler opened the conference, taking a swipe at key competitors such as Oracle and Salesforce. The mantra from Trefler’s keynote on day 1 was “we write software that writes your software; that tunes it. Software that perfects your software …software that gives you the next best action; software that is smart enough to integrate across your IVR, the web, contact centre, mobile and social channels and chatbots.” The CEO offered a pretty seductive architectural vision for connecting the ever-changing needs and preferences of customers with the underlying systems of record within the corporation. Rather than relying on customers switching to the appropriate channel to engage your systems, or relying on clever call centre agents to smooth over the cracks in the back office, Trefler spoke to the joys of a ‘middle-out’ architecture. Unsurprisingly, he extolled the benefits of a software architecture incorporating a brain (AI), connected to muscles (automated processes and user interfaces) and governed by decisions and policies all captured and encoded using Pega’s “situational layer cake”. Again with digs at competitors, there was a lot of talk of getting real—real benefits, real AI, real value, etc.
Virtually all sessions are available online
Delegates at PegaWorld 2017 heard of big change programmes done well on the main stage—Sprint, Scotia Bank, Transavia. I am looking forward to watching them through again. There was a raft of case studies in the tracks that explored everything from Roche: Hybrid COEs and Pega Cloud in a Regulated Industry, right through to How RBS Uses Decisioning and Analytics to Make Banking Personal for Today’s Customer. As far as I can tell, all the track sessions (and there are a lot of them … each one a case study) are available online here.
In the keynote Automation, AI and Customer Engagement SVP of Products Kerim Akgonul gave us a quick look into some of the new features in the product set. He built a quick app in Pega Express, and then used that same model to add a chatbot, and then enable it via Facebook, and then Alexa … without reconfiguring a thing. Really quite stunning. We also saw some pretty sublime blending of RPA with Case Management. Akgonul also brought on senior directors from Coca-Cola and GM to discuss how they are rethinking the way they engage their customers through physical infrastructure and products (Coke machines and GM cars – the latter via GM’s OnStar service).
Probably the best session for me was the opening keynote on Day 2—AI in Customer Engagement: Balancing Risk and Reward. VP of Decision Management & Analytics Dr. Rob Walker educated us all about AI and how it is starting to infuse into everything we do. Really quite insightful and fully engaging … and within a day, here I am already rewatching that session.
Incidentally, just toward the end of the keynotes on Day 2, CEO Trefler announced that Pega would provide all its online training courses free of charge for the rest of 2017. This is a big change, although multiple partners and customers did point out to us that this was something Pega should have done ages ago. Either way, the action was widely applauded.
Place Your Bets
Ultimately, at PegaWorld 2017 Pega delivered a persuasive array of reasons for “Going All In”—for placing all your process automation and customer engagement bets on its product set. Pega points to the need for a fully-integrated set of technologies – a foundation that you can use to surface rich and compelling customer engagement features to your organisation.
However, in the Texas Holdem version of poker, “All In” means betting everything you’ve got, and if you win, you take the pot. But it does imply a certain amount of risk. So let’s get “real” – buying into this vision of the future usually requires a significant investment and commitment from the get-go.
Allow me to switch analogies. You can think of Pega as a tool for mountain climbing. To scale the heights, you’ve got to establish an effective base camp and work out which mountain you are setting out to climb. There’s a growing industry of willing and able system integration partners and consultants that will act as guide and provide a team of Sherpas, helping you establish the right basis for overcoming your challenges. On the other hand, there are also notable examples of firms that started in the wrong place, had the wrong guides along and ultimately took the wrong path, only to later realise that they’ve climbed the wrong mountain. They’ve either had to come down and start again (i.e. throw away their investment), or they’ve decamped entirely. And that discussion has to sit alongside the software cost and the licensing model—Pega seem to have lots of licensing options, but none of them seem exactly cheap.
I suppose the point I am trying to make here is that the Pega vision of the future will not suit all budgets and all organisations. There is no “half-way house” on this journey. Yes, Pega Express has opened the aperture a little, making part of the platform a bit more accessible to business people, but this aspect is just a part of the overall architecture. It’s not as though you would swap out the decisioning piece or the process engine.
You either go all in, or not at all.