AiThority Interview with Josh Koenig, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Pantheon
Know My Company
Tell us about your interaction with smart technologies like Automation and Website Operations platforms.
At Pantheon, we run a massive Website Operations platform that orchestrates millions of distinct CMS instances (both WordPress and Drupal) to provide a truly serverless experience for our customers, delivering first-class web experiences to hundreds of millions of unique visitors with billions of pageviews a month. This would be impossible to manage with human operators making the decisions, so we’ve developed completely autonomous software tools which are constantly balancing the workload on our WebOps platform.
How did you start in this space? What galvanized you to start at Pantheon?
We spent the mid-2000s (the “Web 2.0” era) working as open source CMS implementation consultants, and developed expertise in applying modern agile Software Development practices like Continuous Integration and Delivery to the website use-case. Clients also demanded scalable, high performance, and high availability infrastructure for their production workload. Combining both of these was the birth of WebOps, and we recognized there was a huge gap in the market that was holding the Open Web back in general, so we decided to step up and fill it.
What is Pantheon and how it transforms Content Management for marketers?
Pantheon’s WebOps platform gives marketers a first-class CMS which they can actually own and control. We deliver agility not only in publishing but across the entire digital experience. We enable marketers to harness the power of the web and manage a whole portfolio of websites where they can call the shots, vs being stuck with one massive enterprise software instance which is hard to use, and whose roadmap is often dictated by vendors and IT.
Which industries would benefit from accessing your resources?
WebOps can help any company that’s trying to drive their business or brand through the web. It’s especially crucial for teams adopting an agile approach to Marketing, focusing on growth and optimization, or in organizations where there’s a desire to push innovation, decision-making, and accountability down closer to the line level. Examples include B2B and B2C Marketing/Sales funnels, CPG or brand groups, media companies and networks, chapter or franchise-based companies, as well as big institutions like higher ed and healthcare.
What is the state of AI for Marketing, Sales and Customer Service in 2019? How much has it evolved since the time you first started here?
The state of AI has changed fairly radically since we started building our platform. It’s moved from an area dominated by pure R&D and theory, to one where there are direct and obvious business benefits to be had through applied technology. This is exciting. With the emergence of ready-made models from cloud providers, you have a huge paradigm shift in terms of where and how AI and ML can provide value. This is one of the key reasons we selected Google Cloud as our underlying infrastructure partner — their combined AI/ML/Big Data toolkit is best in class, and we see our ability to bring this value to our customers as strategically crucial over the next decade.
Tell us more about your vision into growing AI-driven revenue opportunities using WebOps.
Many of our customers are already working to leverage AI to improve aspects of their business, whether that’s through chatbots, automatic sentiment analysis, and segmentation, or integrating AI into the CMS itself to improve the pace and quality of publishing. All of these use-cases require a robust development approach to ensure that the integration is solid, plus the ability to iterate based on what drives results in the market. Those are core WebOps capabilities.
Why did you decide to launch global WebOps? What challenges and risks do you foresee for your company in the global market?
The web is a global project, and since we first announced our platform in 2012 we’ve felt the demand from around the world to “bring Pantheon to [insert region here].” While our integrated Global CDN ensures that web experiences powered by Pantheon are high performance no matter where a visitor is from, this doesn’t address very real concerns around data residency or the quality of the developer or content editor experience. With our partnership with Google Cloud Platform, we were finally in a place to take WebOps world-wide.
How could digital businesses leverage Artificial Intelligence technology to strategically price their products? Which other technologies integrate with Pantheon?
I don’t have a lot of insight into AI for pricing. Not sure how to answer this one.
What is the biggest challenge to Digital Transformation in 2019? How does Pantheon contribute to a successful Digital Transformation?
The biggest challenge in Digital Transformation in 2019 is agility, and this will likely continue in 2020. You simply can’t execute something as ambitious Digital Transformation with a waterfall “master plan.” There are too many unknowns, moving parts, and learning opportunities along the way.
Only an agile approach can deliver the results. Pantheon can make a key contribution because we’re the only WebOps platform built from the ground up for agility, and the web must be a cornerstone of any Digital Transformation strategy. Without an agile approach to the web, companies not only leave their public face lagging their vision but more crucially they encumber any other digital touchpoint which has a web connection or dependency on the website, which is virtually all of them.
Where do you see AI/Machine Learning and other smart technologies heading beyond 2020?
Personally, I’m expecting to see more quiet, everyday, pedestrian applications for AI in the coming years vs splashy applications like self-driving cars. There’s a lot of value to be had in time-saving applications that assist in data analysis, trend-spotting, or other pattern-recognition techniques. Professionals in every industry are increasingly sitting on larger and faster-moving streams of data, but without the ability to separate signal from noise, this doesn’t do much good. AI as a force-multiplier (not a replacement) for human resources is where there are the biggest gains to be made.
The Good, Bad and Ugly about AI that you have heard or predict –
The good is that AI can realistically relieve humans from a lot of menial toils, particularly where there are repetitive tasks that involve large amounts of data. What automation did for manufacturing, applied AI can do for the information economy.
Bad – while there is a real risk in AI and automation, in general, creating a certain amount of disruption in the economy, I think there’s a lot more risk from AI hype creating a bubble which distorts the tech economy, resulting not only in waste but ultimately impractical or even unethical applications of AI.
The ugly — which is that people are likely to be credulous in treating AI opinions as authoritative or correct, when in fact they are subject to the same types of biases and blind-spots that make human judgment so fallible. The tendency to trust an answer from a machine is potentially dangerous.
From my perspective, the biggest concern with the weaponization of AI isn’t the risk of “killer robots” or autonomous drone armies, but rather the potential risks of having AI involved in situations where there is a “human in the loop,” but where the human defers to the AI’s judgment when it comes to the use of lethal force. This is already happening with remotely piloted drones, and DARPA has invested in research to provide tactical support to troops on the ground via AI. The right-now risk in the abdication of moral authority — basically allowing machines to tell humans when to pull the trigger. This moral quandary of “what to trust a machine to decide” has broad applications outside of weapons development specifically, many of which are equally troubling (e.g. use of AI in criminal justice).
The Crystal Gaze
What Cloud Analytics and SaaS start-ups and labs are you keenly following?
There’s a lot going on in this space. I’m particularly interested in seeing what happens with the convergence of cloud-powered AI/ML services from the big public cloud providers are combined with BI and data platforms like Periscope, Domo and Tableau. There have been some interesting acquisitions in this space (e.g. with Google picking up Looker) that could bear interesting fruit, as well as a ton of smaller up-and-coming shops that are applying Machine Learning to a more specific market niches.
What technologies within AI/NLP and Cloud Analytics are you interested in?
I’m interested in automated pattern recognition and anomaly detection, helping analysts determine where to invest Human Intelligence in digging deeper.
As a tech leader, what industries you think would be the fastest to adopting Analytics and AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for these technology markets?
Anyone who is involved in performance/process optimization should be looking at AI/ML as a way to improve their cycle times and deal with an ever-increasing flood of data.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Close all your browser tabs every day. If it’s important you’ll find it again, and cutting down on clutter can’t be underestimated as an all-purpose productivity boost.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read
Thank you, Josh! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
As Co-Founder and Head of Product, Josh is focused on making the Open Web a first-class platform for delivering results. Championing the value of the developer experience, and the need to demonstrate impact with data, his work combines the visionary ideals of Open Source with the pragmatic utility of the agile approach.
As a very early Drupal adopter (user #3313), Josh was part of the team that drove the first high-profile public Drupal use-case with the Howard Dean campaign in 2003. He went on to found the Drupal Dojo, an online learning community for developers, and to co-found the premiere Drupal agency in San Francisco, Chapter Three.
The web is the cornerstone of modern campaigns, causes, businesses, and brands, and the demand for quick, quality digital experiences is high and only getting higher. At Pantheon, Josh’s mission is to liberate web teams from the confines of enterprise monoliths and the drudgery of infrastructure operations so they focus on their real strategic goals using the highest-quality tools of the trade.
Pantheon is a WebOps platform for Drupal and WordPress, running more than 285,000 sites in the cloud and serving over 10 billion page views a month.
Pantheon’s multitenant, container-based platform enables organizations to manage all of their websites from a single dashboard. Customers include Yale, Coach, United Nations and IBM.