DRUID Talks Ep #11 CIOs at the Crossroads: Generative AI's Impact on Legacy Tech and Digital Excellence with Francis Carden
Watch this episode to get a deeper understanding of the CIO's thoughts on the future of IT and the challenges and opportunities facing businesses today.
Episode #11 of the DRUID Talks Podcast features Francis Carden, VP of Intelligent Automation and Robotics at Pegasystems and thought leader with 40+ years experience across all Intelligent Automation technologies and Subject Matter Expert Kieran Gilmurray. See the full episode and transcript below.
Kieran Gilmurray: Generative AI is forcing CIOs to face a new domain whilst legacy tech holds them back like super glue. It is breathing life into legacy tech and shaping new business models. Legacy tech itself is a business disease that weighs down businesses and the people inside of them like nothing else. But it doesn't have to be that way. Francis Carden is a thought leader across all intelligent automation technologies. He's been in the IT industry for 30-plus years and now provides leadership to large enterprises, accelerating their digital excellence programs. And he supports CIO move... CIOs move their legacy systems into the 21st century. Today, we'll pick his brains and talk about how CIOs should be reacting to the relentless march of tech as illustrated by advances made possible by Generative AI. Francis, good to see you, sir!
Francis Carden: Hi, Kieran. Good to see you as well.
Kieran Gilmurray: Right. Let's jump in, Francis.
Francis, you've implemented a huge number of global-scale automation programs, but what do you see as the biggest challenges facing CIOs today?
Francis Carden: I think it's a, you know, there's an acceleration of these challenges, but the challenges that have been going on for quite some time, you know, it's, you know, organizations spend vast sums of money paying for the systems that have been built over the last 20, 30 or even 40 years, effectively keeping the lights on. So that's the IT's main problem. And, of course, business is seeing all of their competitors, you know, picking up on all these new technologies and accelerating some really innovative and creative go-to-market strategies. And so I think the biggest challenge is making sure the CIO keeps the lights on, security, governance, that everything goes around it whilst actually being able to accelerate and utilize some of these newer technologies.
Kieran Gilmurray: So how is technology changing the way businesses operate today, then? What are the CIOs doing with this tech?
Francis Carden: Well, so there's two aspects. One is that, as I said, you know, you've got your old stuff. You've got to keep it running. So you can't just keep band-aiding it if you like. We've been doing that for many years, and, you know, just making it more efficient and adding in, you know, automation across the top of it all. But what to bring in this new stuff, the Generative AI, the main topic of conversation, let's be honest here today, who isn't talking about that? You've got to... you can do that. You can add that on and see it as a band-aid and very successfully. But underneath all of that, to really benefit from these technologies, you've got to start looking at the oldest stuff and applying these technologies to give you a way out. Right? Rather than continue to pile onto this legacy debt. Take a step back and start using something. We’re seeing Generative AI now build applications for you. You know, sometimes people are saying that should be in code. I think it should be no code. You don't need code at all anymore. And so what you're saying is, you know, the envied enterprise, and for our listeners, if you've got there, I'm sure you've got other competitors from you that you envy of what they're doing, digital natives, maybe, you can take this technology and have that in spades really, really fast these days. You don't have to wait from 2 to 5 years to build an application that's going to make you the envied rather than the one that's envying.
Kieran Gilmurray: But it's interesting, you can't put a lid on old legacy tech with new tech as well, you know. So I've seen, like, for example, conversational business applications set on top of all the legacy you're talking about.
Is that what you mean by extending the life of that tech, or is that a solution to an age-old problem?
Francis Carden: No, it is exactly that. So there's almost... you could take all your old stuff and keep applying this new tech, and to get the benefit today, that's actually advisable to some degree. But not far behind anymore, and closing that gap, you can actually accelerate the reimagining of these applications if you like and have Conversational AI. So you can get on the bandwagon to that; that's nothing holding you back. But I almost feel like, as you build this stuff, you need the end-of-life plan to accelerate for the stuff underneath. It's a parallel. But those that are doing the band-aid with the new Generative AI, and if that's all they're planning, good luck a year or two or three from now. As these other organizations are actually using Generative AI against the core applications themselves to reimagine them, that's going to accelerate you coming out the other side really at a competitive advantage. Does that make sense?
Kieran Gilmurray: It does make sense, it does! It's interesting! I just wonder if people will actually address their legacy tech or whether kick it down the road because, at the moment, I suppose one thing I see, Francis, is that Generative AI is an amazing, what do we call it, application platform or something else, and it's turned around or turned about as I semi-predicted years ago. So everybody was quite content, not worrying that their secretaries and their taxi drivers would suddenly be automated and digitized. And now they're faced with the prospect of the rise of Artificial Intelligence and Generative AI. And we're seeing that potentially impacting folks' jobs. So now everyone, I think, is going to get impacted in different ways, but I still see folks retaining their old habits and jumping after new shiny things and maybe not fixing the past. And that will lead lots of orgs where they are.
What are your thoughts on Generative AI and its impact on roles and businesses ahead?
Francis Carden: Well, in the intro, you mentioned my 30 years of doing intelligent automation for all of its different names and guises, and it's actually worked out here, and it was 40 years; it's 43 now.
Kieran Gilmurray: I was taking a couple off to make you seem younger.
Francis Carden: Well, thank you, you’re very kind. I'll talk a little bit about this. This is not one of those technologies you hope may be a fad and goes away. For those of our listeners that think that that might be the case, you need to unthink that really quickly. You know, we have continued to paint over, gloss over, band-aid those legacy systems. And we have been successful, you know, things like robotics and, just sort of like, just patching things on and connecting new technologies. But the scale in which this is moving, I mean, seriously, we got examples of where you can build an application by chatting right to an engine, and it says, “Well, what fields would you like?” You know, you can imagine if you were creating a pizza app, and I’ll give that example simply because it's one we can all understand, you say, “Well, what else would you need in an application to take a pizza order?”, and it gives it to you. And you can feed that into a no-code engine. And then you're like, “Well, what data fields would they need to store? What credit cards would we need to interact with? What would the UI like?”
Well, actually, this Generative AI is coming back, and we’re seeing applications being built in that, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but not enough, in that 5 to 10-minute range where you can start playing with that application. You can then get it to generate you a million records of test data, and it is mind-blowing what is happening. But if all you are imagining is to use this technology to keep putting on top of your existing systems, then you're going to come out the other side with some glory, and then it's like 95% of your budgets will be going towards keeping the lights on, not applying a lot of that budget. This is what CIOs having to balance with business, is that as we get more and more efficient in IT, we can use some of those resources to become acceleratedly more efficient in business.
Kieran Gilmurray: And I do hope they take that route. Otherwise, you say it is like an anchor weighing them down.
So do you think CIOs then, Francis, need intelligent automation or RPA, the band-aid you potentially were alluding to earlier on, now in an era where Generative AI allows you to prompt and to click to get all of the answers that you actually want?
Francis Carden: So, I have to answer yes, you need RPA, but the need is de-accelerating faster than the acceleration of why you need it, right? Because if you can look at a process and you can start with IT and business alignment, all the security and governance you will ever need goes within the platforms that are using Generative AI to make sure you come out with what you build really securely. And you can reimagine that process, which is amazing, and just say, “Oh, we don't need that old stuff anymore.” Because that old stuff was built in a different era for a different way we interacted with customers. We used to walk into the bank to pay money in with a piece of paper that would end up with a nightly round to do a batch and a balance. Now we're like, “Well, that just happens.” It's just done in the back end.
We know those legacy systems are doing a lot of work. We have to keep them. So you can plug little elements in as you need it. But as I say, the plan should always be the end of life of these band-aids, these robots. As you're seeing it, the acceleration in the use of them, because they're being replaced, but they're still being used to plug gaps to accelerate you using some of the technologies like Conversational AI, like low code or like the integration. It's very, very important to have those band-aids at your fingertips in your tool kit. But it's also important to have a plan to go. Eventually, that wound is going to be cured, and you can look forward to greater things because your competition is! They're not standing still. Large organizations are doing this. And if you don't, then you're going to be in the laggard territory.
Kieran Gilmurray: Although... I do wonder, though, if you have all those things at your fingertips, the temptation is to keep touching your fingertips and keep progressing and making things last. Particularly at a time, Francis, when, let's be honest, IT budgets aren't exactly bursting at the seams; nobody's throwing cash at things. And therefore, sometimes you just have to make things last that little bit longer.
Francis Carden: But we've been saying that for 40 years, right? And I think that, you know, we squeezed almost the last lemon juice out of some of these lemons. So, let's paint it another way. Imagine... I've got some examples. We've got a customer who had 53 versions of the application spread all over the world. That's a cost to IT, all over the world, to manage 53. Very similar apps, but they're so different yet to manage 53 of them in the infrastructure. They shifted in less than two years to one version of the app, and using a centralized rule system, they could manage the different variations of how that app should behave. And another example is where an organization had 5300 controls that needed to be put inside every app they ever built from day one. Because they needed that security risk, the governance all built into everything. They put all those into a centralized rules engine, so now they never have to write them again. They just make sure that it gets consumed, you know, centrally, from a central point. So you're seeing this cost of IT, as we move to the cloud, as we move to these other technologies, really coming down so fast if it's done properly! And you're seeing operational efficiency with Conversational AI, with Generative AI, with low code and no code, accelerating innovation like never before. And I'm telling you, if that IT budget stays the same, you're not going to be able to accelerate unless you’re going to raise money or you're going to, of course, this is a tough time to do any of that. But the enterprises that are doing this right are saying they're knocking it out of the park, and they can consume this Generative AI ten times faster than the legacy laggards.
Kieran Gilmurray: So what is your vision, then, for the future of IT? And in addition to that vision, Francis, how will you measure the success of it?
Francis Carden: So this is one of my favorite questions, but it's also the, I guess, one of the toughest questions because people go now, “Is this the end of IT? Is this the end of people to write code?” Not at all! What we want is for more creativity. Right? Coming in. So, the IT, they need to manage the risk, the security, the governance and the controls. But they're not even able to do that because this just fixing bugs, and making sure the hardware works and the backups are done, but actually moved to these new technologies like cloud where a lot of that stuff is done for you, all they need to focus on is the risk and the governments.
Now you can see that they have more time with the CIO's help and the CTO's, bringing them in alignment to business actually to tackle business problems. The very reason that we as customers complain when we deal with our insurance company or a mobile phone provider or whatever it might be, we complain because the systems are poor, right? And they're poor, even if you put all the technologies on top of them only.
So, I think you're going to see a new generation, quote-unquote, of IT where they can actually be more innovative if they want to be because the cost reductions and the simplification and the modernization of the way applications are managed provides them with more capability to provide business with more insights in how to consume what's going to be an accelerating movement around Generative AI, things we don't even know today that might be big tomorrow, in that short time frame.
And that's what IT needs to help businesses. The business and IT alignment, maybe that final dream that will happen, and these technologies are just delivering such wonderful things now and scaring people. Right?
Kieran Gilmurray: I wonder which will be easier to do; remove legacy debt or get business and IT to actually talk to each other because that's in itself a form of legacy where both, in many companies or probably, if I use the word, too many companies, Francis, are still divided functions. The business doesn't understand technology, and the technology team doesn't understand the business, which is something that's been around for quite some time, as long ago as I started.
Francis Carden: Well, some of them survive the digital native, you know, these companies that started with nothing that came out of nowhere to start providing mobile phones or insurance or banking. They didn't build on 3000 legacy applications, i.e. that legacy debt. They started from scratch, and they had, whether that was in low code or no code. Generative AIs is just creating that next gap. If you cannot keep up with these technologies because you're strangled by the legacy systems, then it's a race to whether you survive or not.
And I think that's what might finally bring IT and business together. We're seeing it ourselves. We're witnessing it within the no-code technology space now, I think Generative AI, where you can build things in moments as opposed to years, and you can experiment faster to live in production like you've never been able to before. I think people should be worried, but that worry should quickly turn to reimagining the way software is going to be built from this day forward. It's not being built the same way. It's not being deployed the same way. And it is just bringing ideas and innovation from IT and business like never before. And it's an exciting time.
Kieran Gilmurray: Isn't it? That's why I enjoy being in IT.
So, how do you see the role of the CIO changing in the next few years, then?
Francis Carden: Yeah, I think we touched on a little bit of that with what we've been talking about, but it is almost like it is now your role to make sure you are embracing these technologies, keeping the lights on where it's necessary for some of the legacy stuff that's just going to take a lot longer to deprecate. But you've got to be planning for that deprecation and working then with the other leaders around the organization in business and, you know, at the board level, and to talk about what competitors are doing, to talk about what you could do to be leading edge. You don't have to be the leading edge unless you want to be. But you can start to look at these technologies and imagine where you can take your organization and become a superstar.
If all you're doing is spending your time just making sure all that stuff is just ticking along, it's not necessarily the greatest experience for a CIO. And also, it's not what the board wants, and it's certainly not what the customers of that enterprise want because they could... they'll be able to switch faster than ever in the future. Generative AI is going to tell the customer to switch from one mobile provider to another, from one insurance company to another. So, if our customers are using ChatGPT and Conversational AI, then we better be in the enterprise. So that's really the role of the CIO; is to get closer and closer to business and deliver on that promise.
Kieran Gilmurray: Well, I was kind of hoping that COVID had told them to do that, though. You know, it was for me; businesses had to pivot; they had to move really quickly. CIOs had to jump in and become business people. You know, they had to launch things in an agile way. Everybody communicated really effectively.
Have you seen a bit of demise in that than pre-COVID as everybody's gone back to the way they were operating? Because what you're describing there is the CIO who understands the business, who’s a business partner, who introduces new technology, who deals with the legacy tech in the background, who has to cope with digital native competitors.
Is that one individual, or is that a whole team of individuals that needs to make all that happen? Is that a superstar CIO or something that you expect everyone to be able to deal with, just put it in priority order and spend time at each?
Francis Carden: Yeah, it's an interesting way of looking at it. So that makes a really good question, right? Because I like the idea that we're going to have far more collaboration with more people, but the CIO and other people in the organizations are going to have to step up. They're going to have to step up and not just take the status quo answers from their other leaders.
Now, COVID did actually make a dent in a lot of the legacy stuff. You know, it wasn't possible to, if you were a bank, for example, you could only get a mortgage if you walked into the bank, you could only get a loan if you walked into the bank. Well, in less than three months, they not only reimagined those applications in this new era, they actually went to live, and they allowed all of their customers, many, many hundreds of thousands of customers, to start actually interacting with them to get loans and mortgages while never leaving their homes. So it can be done when forced. Some, of course, have got away with it, and they've just managed to sort of like, you know, wrap that around a bit more. But Generative AI, I think, is going to give visibility to everybody that's interested in seeing, “Well, we could do that as well!” And that's what it's doing; it's putting the CIOs on notice that they're being watched even more closely because “I'm seeing them doing, so why can't we do it? You've been giving me excuses.” One excuse was we spend 95% of our budget to keep the lights on in IT. There's no room left to be innovative. Well, you have to be. You got to figure that out. And, as you move some of these legacy systems away from that expensive baggage into these new systems, into this new era, and you realize it's a fraction of the cost and time to manage them, then you can accelerate the use of these new technologies as your competitors will be doing.
Kieran Gilmurray: An interesting thought will end on that. But it just reminds me of something that another IT expert mentioned the other day, that their IT budget hasn't changed in decades, and they gave me the comparison that says, “Nor has my household budget, but I have to be innovative with what I've got!” And as you mentioned a moment ago, Francis, some of this is excuses or signs like excuses, at times, I just need the drug of more money. And if only you give me more money, I'd be able to do more and better things. Whereas you're quite rightly describing something like Generative AI is going to be game-changing, and if organizations do not approach it as a game-changing moment and alter how they do business, and COVID demonstrated that they could if they had to, then no, maybe COVID is the second coming where they no need to because they won't be around if they don't. And they have CEOs who have seen what's possible and are demanding more for the money that they've got.
Francis, thank you so much for today, sir! I really appreciate it.
Francis Carden: Thanks, Kieran and thanks for listening!