I arrived in Las Vegas too late to see Pega founder and CEO Alan Trefler beat 14 out of 15 hopefuls in simultaneous games of chess. But I caught up with him the next day, when he was in usual ebullient form. It helps, I think, to know that some of these remarks (to a small group of media and analysts) were punctuated with hearty laughter.
On Pega Infinity: “Our challenge is how we take our very sophisticated approach and figure out how to make it simpler and faster. I’d rather be on that journey than trying to make something simple do sophisticated things.”
On the state of customer engagement: “The systems are bad. The technology around customer engagement in many of the world’s largest firms has gone backwards. We’re seeing the rebirth of Siebel — literally from the DNA of Siebel. I’m a firm believer in real-time, but increasingly these systems are moving back to batch.” A final word on “these systems”? “Incessant mediocrity.”
And don’t get him started on coding. One of Pega’s peculiar strengths, in Trefler’s view, is that it uses software to write software. The “always on” AI brain learns from experience (data), improves, adapts, and manifests its learning by updating the code. He figuratively tears his hair out when asked about humans coding. “It’s the failure of the software industry to do what we take for granted in manufacturing. When you’ve got a culture of programmers and data scientists, they’re protecting their own. In financial services, there are literally tens of thousands of software engineers. How is that possible? The senior managers haven’t caught on.”
I asked him why we hear so much from Pega about robotic process automation, but not from its competitors. (RPA is the deployment of robots — pieces of automation technology not characters from Transformers — to perform repetitive tasks which are easy for them, tricky or time-consuming for humans). “Robotics is just the evolution of what we’ve always thought of as automation. Most of our competitors are not very good at it.” Speaking more generally, he told me: “Our historical strength is process automation, and AI made practical, doing it at scale, but not just big — sophisticated. Our typical competitors lack all those strengths.”
The competitors, he admits, are very good at marketing, something he believes Pega is getting better at. “But we don’t need to lose out technological integrity to get better at marketing.” Pause for consideration. “Some of them are good at marketing, some are good at being a cult.”
What differentiates Pega? “The ‘get real’ piece.”
Where Pega is coming from: new readers start here
The key to understanding Pega, as I’ve argued in the past, is understanding its roots. Oracle comes from the world of computing, Salesforce from sales and CRM, Adobe from creative. Pega was founded 35 years ago by a very young Alan Trefler to solve complex business problems. It’s approach to business process management (BPM) was based on breaking down all kinds of challenges, from supply chain to payments to customer service, into structured cases; using AI to identify the “next best action” to handle the case; and applying automation (now robotics) to deal with cases at scale.
In practice? James Stavropoulos, Google’s global lead for network deployment operations, came to the keynote armed with a great example. Talk of the cloud can obscure Google’s reliance on a physical network — the “pipes” of the Internet, which travel by land and sea, and are often under physical strain. Alerted to breakages and outages, Google uses Pega software to manage the movement of “parts and persons” internationally to apply the fixes. Couldn’t Google just build the software itself? “We’re not trying to be a work management company,” said Stavropoulos.
This just isn’t the kind of service anyone would dream of looking to Salesforce or Adobe to supply. But it’s precisely the skills derived from addressing this kind of business challenge that Pega applied to the customer journey — to CRM (marketing, sales, and service) — and is now applying to customer engagement, more broadly understood. Whether you’re marketing to someone, selling to them, or responding to a service query, you’re dealing with a case. You need to know what’s the best thing to do next — for that person, in real time. AI will tell you (and tell you at scale).
Pega covered DMN’s expenses to attend PegaWorld