ESI Interviews

Ep 21: Automating the Enterprise and the Future of AI with Workato CIO Carter Busse

Guest Michael Keithley
Carter Busse
April 19, 2023
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Ep 21: Automating the Enterprise and the Future of AI with Workato CIO Carter Busse
ESI Interviews
April 19, 2023

Ep 21: Automating the Enterprise and the Future of AI with Workato CIO Carter Busse

On the 21st episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, Carter Busse, CIO of Workato, joins the show to share how the company uses its own technology internally to optimize key business functions, the optimal place for IT within enterprise organizations, and his view on the future of AI.

On the 21st episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, hosts Evan Reiser (Abnormal Security) and Saam Motamedi (Greylock Partners) talk with Carter Busse, CIO of Workato. Workato is an enterprise automation tool allowing businesses to integrate their apps and automate workflows without compromising security. Today, he shares how the company is harnessing its technology for various internal business functions, his perspective on the possibilities of AI, and the ideal role for IT within enterprise organizations.

Quick hits from Carter:

On the state of digital transformation today: "We're in a second wave of digital transformation. We did the [first stage of] digital transformation before COVID. We had COVID. Now we're on this hyped-up AI, automation, Web 3.0; so it's like a second wave… We're all in this big race to figure out this second wave of digital transformation."

On Workato deploying their tools internally: "We're doing a lot of fun things here using AI with work. If you're an employee, you want an app, you just tell our chatbot, and we take the automation from there and then we automate the approval with your manager through Slack, and then we provision the application."

On the state of IT within enterprise organizations: "I've learned that especially nowadays with the young generation coming out of school, they want to own the technology, they want to be involved, they want to help IT. It's really up to the IT leaders to give them the architecture, guard rails and governance so they can innovate and we can put it into production as well."

Recent Book Recommendation: Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller

Episode Transcript

Evan Reiser: Hi there, and welcome to Enterprise Software Innovators, a show where top technology executives share how they innovate at scale. In each episode, enterprise leaders share how they're driving digital transformation and what they've learned along the way. I'm Evan Reiser, the CEO and founder of Abnormal Security.

Saam Motamedi: And I'm Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners.

Evan Reiser: Today on the show, we're bringing you a conversation station with Carter Busse, CIO of Workato. Workato is a leading enterprise automation tool enabling businesses to optimize workflows and integrate their applications in a no code environment. In this conversation, Carter shares surprising ways that Workato automates business processes, insights into the future of AI, and the best practices for IT teams to collaborate with business partners.

Saam Motamedi: Carter, thanks for joining us today. Could you start by giving our audience a little bit of background on Workato and your role there as CIO?

Carter Busse: Yes, sure. So Workato and it's not Work-a-to, which we get a lot. It's Workato and it stands for work automation. It's an integration led automation company. I came here after being a customer, and after being a two time buyer of one of our competitors. I saw the power of this platform. When I found this role was open, I jumped at the opportunity. So this role, yes, I'm the CIO. I run what we call the Business Technology team here. So all employee facing technology, from laptops to the email to all the great automation we run in Workato internally and all the enterprise apps, security, and security operations are underneath my purview. Another part of my role here is really evangelizing what we do internally here and evangelizing the automation integration space, which is actually really fun for me because, after 30 years running IT, mainly in the Bay Area, mainly for enterprise software companies, it’s actually kind of fun to tell stories of my career and the stories of how we use Workato internally. So it's actually a really fun job. I really like it.

Evan Reiser: So, Carter, there's two reasons why I was really excited to chat with you. One is because of the work you do today, which is in some ways  kind of transforming how businesses use technology. Also because you've had a pretty long and storied career and you've seen multiple generations of technology. One of the themes that we talk about all the time, obviously on the show, is digital transformation. I’d love to hear what that kind of means to you. I know there's like a buzzwordy version, but this feels like there's something real about how businesses are transforming how they use technology today.

Carter Busse: Yeah. Thank you. I've landed at some good companies and I've seen some great transformations. I've been at some great software companies. When I think of digital transformation, I think of a story. And it was the first time I actually used those two words together. And I was at 8x8 about nine years ago. It's a UCaaS company, think of phones and call centers in the cloud. They were looking to do a digital transformation there. I'm like, okay, let's do this. What it really meant was pivoting from client server PeopleSoft architecture to best of breed cloud solutions, and was driven by a business decision to really digitize the business, and to make it easier for customers to sign up, making it lower cost for support. So we led this “big digital transformation” at 8x8. I feel like all my peers in the Valley were doing the same thing, we were all moving to the same platforms, the same cloud solutions, the same enterprise platforms. That was like one digital transformation. And I was thinking through before this podcast, I'm like, I feel like we're almost like in a second wave of digital transformation now. We did that digital transformation before we had COVID. Now we're on this hyped up AI automation, web 3 auto. So it's like a second wave of digital transformations that we're all in this big race to figure out the second wave of digital transformation. So, that's kind of exciting because I feel like we've all had this foundational architecture, but now we have to figure out how to stitch it all together with some of these new tools coming up that are catching the press. I'm sure that you're hearing a lot of your conversations as well.

Saam Motamedi: Yeah, and actually one of those tools is Workato, right? Like Workato very much is at the forefront of innovation and helping companies automate many previously manual and distributed processes. And so your customers, I think, are using you to drive their digital transformation goals. Maybe talk a little bit about that. I'd be curious as to what a few of the most interesting use cases are that you see customers using Workato to transform their businesses.

Carter Busse: Yes, we really feel and our customers feel, and that's why I've actually joined this company two years ago, I really feel like the integration automation space is the hub, is the start of your digital transformation. It's really how you're trying to scale the business and really increase velocity. Some of the great use cases, some internally, I love to talk about is we completely automated the entire onboarding process. There is no IT involvement at all. From the time the candidate signs that offer letter to getting a laptop, it is completely automated, we don't even touch laptops. That's all an automated process that we talk about quite a bit. We're in the process of automating our entire order to cash process. There's no touching orders, there's no touching invoices. Those are, kind of, common business processes that people are looking to us and we're doing it a lot internally. We talk a lot about data triggered automation. We have all this data, everyone always comes out with all this data, so I have a lot of discussions with CIOs about data triggered automation. Some use cases are we have Gong, internally, to record all of our phone calls. And there are certain words you can actually have Gong flag. You can actually, with their API, have it say one of our competitors, we can take that competitor word from a conversation and then stuff it into salesforce for competitive analysis automatically. Then what we also do is take that data triggered automation and then send the rep, who's on that phone call, a knowledge based battle card on how to talk against that competitor in the future. So we're doing some training data trigger automation, we're taking data and putting it into Salesforce to be actionable. All the ChatGPT conversations and AI chat bots, wow, there's some fun things. We're doing a lot of fun things here using AI with Workato. If you're an employee, you want an app, a new app, you just tell our chat bot and we take the automation from there. And then we automate the approval with your manager through Slack and then we provision the application. So everything's automated from AI to automation. The world with AI and automation is fascinating for me and our company, and just some amazing use cases are starting to come around. Every day I hear new ones that are blowing my mind.

Saam Motamedi: Those are some great examples, and you have two interesting vantage points here. One is inside Workato and your responsibility for employees, how you drive process automation, process reengineering, efficiency, leveraging, whether it's Workato or AI and automation tools. Then the second is you see how Workato's customers drive those changes inside their organization.  If you think about, whether it’s internal or on the customer side, some of the projects on automation and transformation that have been successful versus not. What are the characteristics of the ones that are successful?

Carter Busse: Oh, wow, that's an easy answer for me. It's when the business is actually involved and takes leadership and ownership of it. Those are the ones that are really successful. When it's not just IT driving it, but when business actually helps drive it, and actually is part of the solution, is actually helping them build the solution, and IT is more of the architecture and the governance, the guardrails. But when business leads it and actually is part of the solution and part of the building of this internal transformation, that's when it's most successful. There's dual buy in. I can't tell you how many projects I've been on where a business wants to do something, they throw it over the fence to IT and IT delivers just like they wanted it and it fails because we weren't doing it together. So it's business involvement. 

Saam Motamedi: I'm sure there are a number of people listening right now nodding their heads, other IT and technology leaders at other companies. In your learnings as a technology leader, how have you learned to work with the business side to drive that outcome? What advice would you share with emerging IT leaders who might be listening and wrestling with this issue?

Carter Busse: Yeah, let me start with another story about when I was at MobileIron in 2011, 2012, and I was that canon kind of command and control centralized IT leader. We had a new Sales Ops person come in, and she brought in all her lieutenants, and she said, hey, I need access to Salesforce, I haven’t access to Salesforce. I'm like, no. No way. You can't have it. And it escalated in email and escalated to a shouting, literally shouting conversation, shouting match in the office. Gophers would come up over the cue balls. It didn't look good for me. It didn't look good for me, my team. I was the IT leader saying no. I actually won the conversation. The CFO had to step in and say, no, we're not giving Sales Ops access. So dust settled about a couple of weeks later. I'm like, hey, why did you need access? She's like, Carter, you're not moving fast enough. We can help. We can help you do the low hanging fruit. You work on these bigger projects, the new billing system, the new CPQs, but give us some access, we can help. You're not moving fast enough. I'm like, oh, okay. And ever since that conversation, that battle I had with her, I've learned that, especially nowadays with the younger generation coming out of school, they want to own the technology, they want to be involved, they want to help IT, and that's where I'm much more open to that. But it's really up to the IT leaders and us to give them the architecture and to give them the guardrails and give them the governance and all that fun stuff so they can innovate and we can put it into production as well. But, anyway, it's from that story, and I've switched in the last eight to ten years to really working with the business and giving the business the technology they need to do their own jobs.

Evan Reiser: So, this dynamic between how, kind of, IT works with a business, I'm not really clear what the right balance is. And it's challenging because in some ways you want the functional parts of the business to fully own their stuff because they need to find the process that we want to automate, they're dealing with the problems and the optimization. They're learning. They got to go do that. At the same time, you don't want your sales executives being Salesforce data architects, so you actually want some of the responsibility to be over in IT. But if you push too far in that direction, then that team can get a little disconnected from the end customer result. So I guess my question for you is what is the right relationship or division of labor across IT organizations, business functions, in order to get the best of all worlds?

Carter Busse: I don't have a black and white there. It really comes down to the department and the leader of that department. Let's take an example, marketing. Marketing, they always have tech savvy people on that team and let them fly. Let them have freedom. Control them, but let them have complete freedom. I don't want to get in their way. HR is one of those departments playing the leader. They might want to own the tech stack. They may not want to own the tech stack. I've been in a situation where I've been at one company where different leaders came in and we did a 180. And so that's one. Now when it comes down to, like, finance, they usually don't have tech savvy people, I’ve found. And it's really where IT really more owns that technology and that platform. So it really depends on that leadership and the group. But they have marketing, let them fly. Finance is on the other side. And then the other departments are kind of in the middle. And it's really partnering with those leaders about how fast they want to move, and if they want to move fast and they have the right team, you can give it to the business. Actually, what we're doing, I'm coaching a lot of CIOs, it’s like, if you put this Workato in with the right framework, you can give it to the Ops Team in Finance or Customer Support or Marketing Ops. You can do that safely, and they'll be happier. So it's part of our jobs to kind of figure that out as we navigate to that organization.

Evan Reiser: That's right. It comes out to like, trade-offs and judgments, and usually the answer is like, well, it depends.

Carter Busse: It depends. But I do think some of these-, I can kind of sense in your question, Evan, that some of the foundational systems, like an ERP, CRM, those systems should be in IT, the ownership should be. But allow access to those businesses to at least do some low level configuration and product configuration.

Evan Reiser: What is the right balance between what should be really essentially led versus maybe more functionally led? Maybe just give a more concrete, more specific example there. What is the sales process? How do you automate that through salesforce? You want that to be very, kind of, sales defined, or at least from a process architecture perspective. However, if you give every functional department the full ability to pick their tools and build the systems fully defined by their process, you can end up with a fragmented thing where you have four different departments with their own records of customer information in different ways. So, again, what's the right balance between centralized architecture and more distributed process design? At some point, you need someone to kind of make sure everything all lines up, so any wisdom or pro tips about how to strike that balance?

Carter Busse: No. Evan you nailed it. We need alignment. You need the architecture. That needs to come from IT. Truly believe that. I feel like in 2021, everybody was buying all kinds of tools and IT was just like trying to keep up. 2022, 2023, we got a stick now, and we get to consolidate and say no to things because we're all trying to, with the macroeconomic environment, save some costs. So 2021, it was tough. Yes, there were six different types of systems and six different data masters. But I feel like in the last two years we get to say no. And that's where I think it feels like we need to set the architecture and realize that business doesn't need to be part of the decision, but they need the guidance and the architecture. I feel like they've wisened up too in the last two years. Just in my two years here at Workato, like, hey, let's get IT involved in these conversations. If we're choosing a new application to monitor our professional services and to monetize it, and we're actually going at it together, where I guarantee you, two years ago they would have gone up and bought something that was thrown over the fence. So we're looking at it together.

Evan Reiser: Yeah, maybe kind of switching gears. Going back to what Saam said, I think Saam made a good point where Carter, you have a very unique view because your company is a provider of innovation, but then you use it also yourselves. I'd love to hear, are there anecdotes or examples of ways that you guys are using technology to help the business to create a better customer experience, in maybe ways that even your customers on the outside world may not fully appreciate?

Carter Busse: Yeah, for customer experience, we do several things there. With our technology, we are taking data, we're ingesting data from our product and business applications. When using our product, we're ingesting data into our data warehouse. We do some transformations. And then with that, we're giving them some really intelligent ideas on how to better use our tech stack, I guess product like growth, how to put it back through our pipelines back to the product. We're giving our customers ideas on how they can actually leverage our product even better. So we're actually using our technology to do that. That's number one. The whole experience of a survey. You take a survey with us inside of our app. We take that survey and all that data in the survey, we don't just look at it, we actually automate, based on what you say. We may actually go send you a T shirt, all automated, if you give us a good review. But also automate some other questions back, or generate a phone call with the executive, automatically scheduling a phone call. All that entire process from that survey is all automated. Really trying to improve the customer experience. One example, kind of a simple one, but kind of one that hit home for me. I was talking to the CIO at New South Wales Group that helps farmers in New South Wales Australia with funding. They ran an emergency and they had a lot of fires there in the last couple of years. It's basic automation to improve their customer experience, they built a website and they used Workato to hook it up to their payment and ERP system, and payments of farmers who needed checks after a fire went from months down to days. He said, Carter, your automation is actually the difference between a farmer building a fence for his cattle or not. I'm like, oh, that's kind of neat. It's neat to hear those stories of the world. Three of us are all in enterprise software, but to see how enterprise software can actually help human lives in Australia halfway around the world. So it kind of hit home with me.

Evan Reiser: Yeah, I have similar stories where things like the customers like, oh wow, our software is a little more important, never thinking about it in the world, then I realized. It’s an exciting and humbling conversation.

Carter Busse: It is. And that's what's so nice to be at a company like this where there's this huge art of the possible. It's just kind of neat how people are using it.

Saam Motamedi: Carter, you just said the art of the possible. I love that and I want to use that to transition to this new wave of AI. You referenced ChatGPT earlier and Evan and I have been thinking a lot about this. We talk about this with other guests we have on the show. I think you have a really interesting vantage point to it because these generative AI models can be a very new approach to automation in the enterprise and I'm sure will impact how you think about the Workato product and also the types of use cases you support. Maybe talk to us about the role AI’s playing today and also help us dream about the role AI is going to play around driving digital transformation over the next several years.

Carter Busse: Yeah. Wow. Isn't this kind of fun? Yeah. So how we're using it internally, I brought up earlier, we're using it to embed it in our Chat AI bot, internally, to automate all your interactions with IT and then the automation after that. So we're really making it, kind of, automating that genius bar type thing approach where you are going to the Apple Store. I want to automate that with our Chat AI and with automation, the back end, so there’s no human involvement. That's how we're using it today, with our automation. There's a lot of discussion about how we're using it in our product and where we're going to go with the product. And there's some great fun ideas there, like with the Copilot idea that GitHub just launched with Microsoft. Those are discussions we're having too. We have this connector, we have thousands of connectors with various apps. You could actually automate building of those connectors with something like ChatGPT. I want to build a connector to this piece of software, can you build it for me inside Workato? Building those connectors, that's number one. And then we have, inside of Workato, you build these automations, we call them recipes, and automating that. I want to automate an order from salesforce to NetSuite and then down to my billing system and it could help us build that 80%, build that recipe for us based on knowledge we have of other customers doing the same thing. Those are really exciting things that we're talking about, using it internally. We're looking at another use case for us, using it internally, is SDR emails. How often do you guys get SDR letter emails? Actually you can make it much more personalized just sending data out of your Salesforce instance. Workato, ChatGPT, can you write a letter? Here's the background of Evan and here's where he works for, but actually personalize a sales pitch email. I am so excited about it. A little scary, but I am so excited about it. I tell my son, he's twelve, Jack, here's the time we got to watch Terminator. He's like, no dad, why? It’s like we're at the precipice where something goes wrong, this could actually happen. So I'm excited about it. Excited,but  it's a little scary too.

Evan Reiser: So Carter, I think the reason all of us probably brought into technology is technology lets civilization go do more things. It's a productivity tool. One of the reasons why low code and no code got popular is because it increases the accessibility of this building to more and more people, I guess. To what extent do you see AI and ChatGPT being just kind of like the next extension of that?

Carter Busse: Well, yeah, and we had low code, no code. Like, I was at Salesforce that's a low code no code CRM tool and allowed sales to move faster without IT. So it's nothing really new for me. But I saw Workato as being a platform with low code no code. That's the next level. Wow. Adding Chat GPT with Copilot type functionality, with a low code no code tool, it's like, wow, I'm scratching my head about my business analysts. They get up leveled. Everybody gets up leveled, I feel, is where I think AI with automation is going to take place. Where we get to actually get to be really true automation, true knowledge workers and not a lot of tasks. It's going to be fun. The way business will move now is so fast.

Evan Reiser: So Carter, when you think about, kind of, leading your team and trying to drive them to innovate, are there kinds of practices or ritual traditions that you encourage people to… You guys have been very successful. All the things that you said you're doing, there's something there that's helped you get really advanced for a relatively small company. So why is that?

Carter Busse: Yeah, it's a good topic and it's one that they have me speaking about quite a bit and we talk about what we call the automation mindset. It's actually a big deal. It's such a big deal, we're writing a book about it coming out this year, and I got this mindset when I started here. I thought I had it when I got here, but I didn't. And I realized it from my team. My team is all under the age of 30 and they've automated most of these processes I talked to you about. But they have this automation mindset where they're not afraid of these business challenges. They get the business problem the business is trying to solve, they don't think about the manual steps to get them there. They think about what data is needed to get to this end result. And they worked with the business literally in our low code, no code tool to actually develop that process. A, kind of, if then else statement of getting the data to where they need it. It's an iterative process with the business slowly iterating on it. We start small. I talked about how we have some of the whole onboarding process automated. Well, that was very iterative. We started with automating some emails, but it's iterative working with the business and having that automation and that kind of art of the possible mindset that we talk about and grasping and embracing that with our technology. Embracing this automation mindset with the business and with the younger generation who think about technology first. They don't think about the process. They think about what data is needed to get this to a place you need to be.

Evan Reiser: So Carter, at the end we like to do a bit of a lightning round. So maybe go to like five or six questions, look at the one tweet response so we can kind of get some quicker hits in here. Saam, do you want to go first?

Saam Motamedi: Yeah. Carter, you've worked on a number of great companies and IT leadership roles. How do you define or what does success look like for a CIO?

Carter Busse: You are seen as a strategic leader and brought into business discussions.

Evan Reiser: If you had a colleague or a friend that's stepping into the CIO role for the first time, what would be your advice to them about maybe any of the traps to avoid or things to be on the lookout for?

Carter Busse: I just had this conversation with a mentee of mine. Don't focus on the infrastructure, focus on the business conversations.

Saam Motamedi: That's good advice, and maybe staying on the theme of advice, what part of a CIO's responsibility do you think is most commonly underestimated in its importance?

Carter Busse: The glue we provide across the entire organization. I feel like we are the people who know the business processes, the conversations that happen across the business that no one realizes.

Evan Reiser: So Carter, at the risk of exposing myself as a huge nerd, I'm like a big science fiction fan and I'm drawn to SciFi because there's some innovation, there’s this imagining what's possible and, kind of like, suspend disbelief for a second and kind of like, well, why not? Why couldn't we get there? You talked about this idea a little bit, like, how do you activate that in your team? How do you get people to shut down the false constraints and then really think about how to innovate?

Carter Busse: Yeah, it's really embracing this kind of growth mindset. And when you hit a challenge, how do you pivot from that? And how do you not really not be afraid to pivot? And how do you not be afraid to experiment and encourage that and embrace that? And that's what we do a lot on our team, on the BT team here, but also with the business. Let's go figure this out together. We may fail. It's okay to fail, but we'll figure out and, with this growth mindset, we'll pivot and we'll change. I feel like that really comes from our top down. Don't be afraid to fail, and we'll recover because we'll be innovating faster if we're okay to fail and keep going.

Evan Reiser: That's a nice note to end on. Well, Carter, thanks so much for spending time. Great to chat with you and looking forward to talking again soon.

Carter Busse: Yes, Evan, Saam, thank you. I did feel like I was at a restaurant having a conversation.

Saam Motamedi: We did too. Thanks for joining us, Carter.

Evan Reiser: That was Carter Busse. CIO of Workato.

Saam Motamedi: Thanks for listening to the Enterprise Software Innovators podcast. I'm Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners.

Evan Reiser: And I'm Evan Reiser, the CEO and founder of Abnormal Security. Please be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. You can find more great lessons from technology leaders and other enterprise software experts at EnterpriseSoftware.block.

Saam Motamedi: This show is produced by Luke Reiser and Josh Meer. See you next time.