CONTRIBUTOR
General Manager and Editorial Director,
Techstrong Group

Synopsis

In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video, Mike Vizard talks to Don Schuerman about how low-code development platforms are accelerating the pace of digital business innovation.

 

Transcript

Mike Vizard: Hey, folks, welcome to the latest Digital CxO Leadership Insight Series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Don Schuerman, who is the CTO for Pega, and we are talking about all things low-code. Don, welcome to the show.

Don Schuerman: Nice to be here.

Mike Vizard: We have seen an explosion of low-code, and a lot of it is driving these digital business transformation initiatives. I guess my first question is, do we have too much of a good thing going on here, now? And who’s actually writing all this low-code?

Don Schuerman: Well, I don’t know if it’s too much of a good thing, but from a lot of the IT leaders that I talk to, right, there is a concern that we could replicate some of the mistakes of the past, right? This isn’t the first time that we’ve taken the idea of, like, handing a 4GL off to some business users and letting them go build stuff. And I’ve replaced enough Lotus Notes and PowerBuilder apps in my career to not want to create the next generation of those. So, I think there is an opportunity, as low-code becomes more broadly used across the enterprise. To step back and think about how we do it in a well-governed and sustainable way, to ensure that we’re not just spitting up rogue IT, but we’re actually empowering business users to operate in cooperation with IT, to build applications that’ll be scalable, secure, and hopefully sustainable and running well into the future.

Mike Vizard: You’ve come to the point immediately, because what I hear from a lot of folks is, you know, “We like the idea of citizen developers, but in practice, a lot of the applications are, shall we say, ugly? And they don’t scale very well, and worse yet, they’re even less secure than the applications built by professional developers. But other than that, things are great.” So, the question I have to you is, how do we kind of have our cake and eat it, too, here? Can we figure out a way to put some guardrails in place for these folks, but not always lean back on a professional developer?

Don Schuerman: So, we’ve advocated, with our clients, this idea of what we call a low-code factory. And we chose the word “factory” because we think it’s really important that you have predictability about, when an app comes into the factory, what comes out of the other end is secure, is repeatable, is of high quality, is integrated into your dev ops pipeline, so that you can test it as things evolve in the future. So, as part of that factory, you know, we’ve realized this is a pretty classic people, process, technology problem, right? So there are things that we’ve done in the core technology in Pega’s low-code platform, to do things like test your apps against guardrails. So actually have a 0 to 100 guardrail score that tells you how high-quality your app is, and make recommendations to change the quality of it.

And those guardrails include things like performance-testing the app, and ensuring the app is secure, and ensuring the app will be maintainable into the future. But it’s also a little bit of a people challenge. So, one of the things that we’ve been introducing, over the last week or so, are some new tools that actually help enterprises get the people and the organization and the process portions of this standup. So, right, training for citizen developers, who get them thinking about how to use these low-code tools in a way that takes advantage of reusable assets that might’ve been built by IT. Or we’ve recently launched a service offering where we actually go in partnership with the IT organizations at our clients, to actually build up this idea of this low-code factory.

How do you staff it? How do you create this idea of coaches, in the IT department, who aren’t gonna build the apps themselves, but are gonna help and guide and mentor these business users or citizen developers who are building some of these low-code apps?

Mike Vizard: It seems to me like, in the course of the last three years or so, professional developers are, shall we say, less snobby about low-code. For a long time, they were, like, “It’s procedural code or nothing.” But has that created the opportunity for them to more easily collaborate with business users in building applications, and it’s becoming more of a team sport?

Don Schuerman: I think so. You know, Gartner likes to use the word “fusion teams” to describe these sort of cross-functional teams that come together to build an app. And, you know, I think a good fusion team has got IT professionals – look, if you’re gonna build an app of any significance in the business, it’s gonna integrate into your data, it’s gonna connect to security infrastructure, and authorization, and single sign-on. It’s gonna use some existing database or platforms. It might even be more advanced things like, you know, connect to event streams, or use AI. So I think there’s always gonna be a role for professional developers data science, in helping sort of lay that foundation. But what low-code brings to the table is a way for the business developer and the citizen developer, the people who actually really know the process, the actual business outcome that this app is trying to deliver, the rules that need to be implemented in order to ensure that we’re fulfilling whatever regulatory obligations we might have with this application. By bringing those people into the fold and letting them directly put those rules through forms or tables or drag-and-drop elements into the system, I think not only do you get apps faster, but you get things that actually better reflect what the business needs.

Mike Vizard: Do you think people have enough appreciation for how those apps may need to be more extensible than they think? Because, initially, a process is defined by x and y, but over time, you know, z comes along, and then there’s a few other letters of the alphabet that get thrown into a process, and it’s sometimes hard to extend the platform if you didn’t think about that upfront. So is that part of the equation?

Don Schuerman: Yeah, that’s why I think getting the architecture of this factory right is so important. Because I’ve seen lots of occurrences where an app that an organization originally thought was gonna support 20 or 50 or maybe at most 100 users, when you actually go look at the use case, has applicability across a wider range of the business. Or I build an app for one line of business and realize that another line of business needs almost the same app, with just a few small variations or tweaks. So, we’ve encouraged organizations, and again, we’ve built into some of the technology of Pega, a way to think about that app as a series of layers, where you have common reusable stuff at the bottom of the app, what’s common in my lending process. But then, the ability to, as you need new things, or as you say, like, “Oh, this lending app is great. I now wanna use it over on the commercial side of my business,” to be able to drop in on a layer on top, “Well, here are the places where it needs to change a little bit.”

Or, “Here are the places where I need to extend it a little bit, to meet hose other capabilities.” But I’m not copying my core app, I’m just reusing it. I’m actually reusing, under the cover, some inheritance to make that happen. But it allows me to continue to grow and expand my use case, even as my use case maybe moves beyond what I originally thought when I was building this app.

Mike Vizard: How smart can the code-writing process get, as we go forward? We hear a lot about AI, these days. Eventually, am I gonna get to the point where I can just describe what I want and somebody will write something automatically? Or –

Don Schuerman: Yeah, I mean, I think so. We’ve started, you know, playing and prototyping with some AI tools, right, where, you know, if I can basically – I mean, already right now, you build a process in Pega by just saying, “Here’s step one, here’s step two,” and I drop some of the sub steps underneath it. You know, it’s not that far to jump to actually just speaking into something like an Alexa or a voice control mechanism that says, “Build me a process that has three steps. The first step is x, the second step is y, the third step is z.” So I think this stuff is getting smarter. The other thing that’s getting, I think, where some of the real power is, is democratizing the application of AI within some of these applications.

So, you know, we’ve introduced capabilities where, without requiring massive amounts of data science, I can predict when a process is gonna miss a service level agreement or a timeframe, and automatically trigger an escalation. Or allow a business user to say, “What happens when we’re predicting that a process is gonna miss a timeframe? Who do you wanna send it to? How do you wanna escalate it? What do you wanna move – what stage do you wanna move it to, in order to prevent that missed deadline from happening?” So, that ability to add intelligence into some of these apps, again, without requiring an army of data scientists to make it possible, I think, is also pretty important and pretty powerful.

Mike Vizard: There is no shortage of low-code tools out there. What differentiates one from another, at this point?

Don Schuerman: So, I think a couple of things. I think, one, low-code has sort of been applied to almost everything, right? So I think it’s almost impossible to go to a software vendor website and not find the word “low-code” somewhere in their site, right? In much the same way that it’s almost impossible to go to a software vendor website and not find “AI” somewhere in their site, right? I think the – I think, one, a couple of things differentiate some low-code platforms. Some low-code platforms are built for smaller-scale stuff, to actually replace things like spreadsheets, and I think that’s great. You know, I think there’s a need for that, if you’ve got a spreadsheet that, you know, three, four, five people need to use, and you can make it smarter and you can make it better and you can add some automation to it, that’s awesome. And that has a place and some power.

But I also think there are some low-code tools that are built for actually creating apps that dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people may log in and use. And I think for organizations that are looking to, you know, be able to move on that full spectrum, from well-governed low-code apps for a couple dozen people all the way up to mission-critical applications that support thousands or even tens-of-thousands of users both inside and outside of the organization, I think, you know, there – you know, we like to believe that our tool is pretty differentiated in its ability to support that richness of that spectrum.

Mike Vizard: As you look forward, is there a need for more interoperability between the various low-code platforms? Because, I may be an organization that built something using a low-code app, but then I wanna partner with somebody who built something with a low-code app. So how do I kind of think about bringing all those things together in a way that doesn’t require everybody to standardize on one single low-code platform? I’m sure vendors would like that, but from a practical perspective, not everybody’s done the same thing.

Don Schuerman: So, you know, I think there are a couple pieces into that. I mean, one is, there are already existing industry standards, both at what I would consider the horizontal level, but also, increasingly, in specific industries. So, things like what’s called the BIAN standard in banking, which is a standard way of describing data and the operations in the banking space. And by following that, you can fit together a bunch of different banking apps that may have some low-code aspects of those platforms together. We’re also spending a lot of time on what we’ve called the process fabric, and, you know, one of the things that we believe is that organizations are gonna have low-code and they’re gonna have workflow in a lot of their applications, right?

There’s workflow in your ERP, there’s workflow in your CRM, there’s workflow in all – there’s workflow in your payment systems, right? So, how do you connect those workflows together into how do you build a sort of fabric of business processes, so that you can deliver holistic end-to-end experiences to your customers and to the employees who don’t wanna have to be tabbing between all these different apps? So, we’re looking at tools that help you connect up that process fabric, and one of the first things that we’ve put onto market is this idea of the universal worklist, that provides an open event-driven API that can collect tasks from a bunch of different low-code systems and put them into a single worklist, a single place. So that a user doesn’t have to be looking for their work across a bunch of different systems, but can come to a single place and see, prioritized across all different systems, what are the things that they need to be working on to have the most impact to the business or the most impact to their customers. So I think it’s tools like that, that will go a long way, and, you know, following and looking at the standards that are emerging, both around APIs, but also, I think, increasingly, around event-driven architectures, that are gonna allow these things to play nicely together.

Mike Vizard: So what’s your best advice to folks, as they kind of go down the path of low-code? It seems like most organizations are at least dabbling with it, and some are pretty far along, but as you kind of gauge with your customers, what’s the one thing that you wish they would all take a moment to appreciate?

Don Schuerman: So, my big advice to customers is, I think this is a huge opportunity for IT to step up. For, you know, IT to not let this be something that happens to them, but actually step forward and, you know, build out these low-code factories, these sustainable ways of doing low-code, and offer it to the business. And I think that also means a little bit of a shift in sort of the role that IT plays. You’re gonna move from being the coder for everything – trust me, there’s still gonna be plenty of coding, whether it’s low-code or, you know, traditional code, to go around, right? But for some things, you’re gonna move into more of a _____, where your job is to be a mentor to a businessperson, your job is to provide composable services and components to a businessperson, that they can build. So I think there’s a huge opportunity, if we’re gonna do this sustainably and at scale, for IT to actually take the lead in how they make low-code available to their business partners.

Mike Vizard: Hey, Don, thanks for being on the show.

Don Schuerman: It is always a pleasure, Mike. Thank you.

Mike Vizard: All right, guys, thank you for watching this latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insight Series. You can find this episode, as well as others, on the digitalcxo.com website, we invite you to all check them out. And once again, thanks for spending some time with us.

Don Schuerman: Alrighty, bye-bye.

Show Notes