Meet the PAC: Richard Firth

Meet the PAC: Richard Firth

Posted on June 04, 2015 0 Comments


Richard Firth is a member of the Progress Partner Advisory Council

Richard Firth, CEO and Chairman, MIP Holdings Pty Ltd

The next Q&A in our “Meet the PAC” series features Richard Firth, CEO and Chairman of MIP Holdings Pty Ltd.

MIP has been a Progress Partner for 20 years and is now an Elite ASP and Application Partner. Headquartered in Bryanston, South Africa with additional offices in Pretoria and Cape Town, MIP delivers software solutions across financial service verticals. Their clients specialize in the financial services industry; specifically managed healthcare, employee benefits, personal finance, lending, research and development, mobile banking and tracking, “Pay As You Go” billing, and reconciliation systems for mobile network operators in the developing world and mobile locations. MIP manages more than 11,000,000 policies and 120,000,000 subscribers across its administration systems base.

After holding Chairman positions with Auto-Mate, Itemate Solutions and Waytag Pty Ltd, Richard has led MIP for more than 19 years. Today he gives us insight into his company and how they are addressing their challenges in 2015 and beyond.

Q: From a technical and/or business perspective, what projects or initiatives are you looking forward to most over the next 12 months?

MIP has worked hard on rolling out its service orientated architecture and our internal workflow administration systems. With this architecture comes the challenge of truly integrating mobility as part of our infrastructure, and not just adding it on!  The “Pay As You Go” services in the developing world have increased dramatically.  This demand is driven by the economic boom in developing markets where daily wages change the spending habits of consumers in a context in which most financial services administration systems are built on a basic assumption that people get paid monthly!

The Need for Mobility is Motivating the Financial Sector

We believe that the true power of mobility is going to come to the fore in our financial service verticals over the coming 12 to 18 months. The need for connectivity, anywhere, at any time, has driven organisations of all sizes to look for ways to automate business processes and ensure seamless and measured communication between the company, its employees and consumers.

In addition, these needs have forced businesses to provide mobility to their workforce in order for companies to take their services to consumers rather than consumers searching for them. This can only be done by enabling access to workflow applications in what is essentially becoming a virtual workplace.  There are many factors driving this change: service levels, communication, travel costs, petrol prices and expensive office spaces.

However, businesses today can’t take advantage of the myriad benefits mobility offers unless they understand how to harness workflow effectively and how to properly automate business process functions between companies and their consumers.  I believe that these capabilities will become the single biggest risk to the burgeoning call centre industry being rolled out in many third world countries. FAQs will replace the call centre agent as the communication method of choice within large consumer-driven organisations.  Can you imagine what this is going to do countries like South Africa, Kenya, India, China, Ireland, Mexico and Brazil?

Q: What is the next “big thing” that you see happening in your market space, and what are you doing to prepare for it?

Workflow has been high on the CIO agenda for some time now, as a solution for improving business efficiency, measurement and processes. However, with applications and systems becoming the front end of business, devices potentially become the front end, too. Companies need to strategize how their consumers communicate with that front end rather than through expensive call centres.  Outsourced or internal call centers still exist only because in 85% of most businesses, consumer questions and answers can be automated and responded to by using relatively low-cost staff.

Enabling a Mobile-Based Call Center to Meet the New Customer Communication Paradigm

The next logical step is moving the call center from a resource-based initiative to a mobile-based one. Companies traditionally use cheap labor to answer 90% of company FAQs. However, today social media has created a paradigm shift, and organisations must get a handle on social media, chat, sharing apps and review sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp and YouTube as these have become the de facto way consumers reach out to brands with complaints and queries.

This is where workflow becomes important. No business can be automated 100%, but there has to be an interface between apps and traditional back-end business administration systems where responses and service levels are managed between company and consumer. The ideal mix is 95% workflow and process automation and 5% human.  This shift is going change developing markets.

Mobility Will Impact South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India and Other Countries Significantly

The impact this new means of interaction could have on countries such as Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and India, which have put massive strategic importance on call center investment, is huge—and not in a good way. The mobility trend could result in hundreds or even thousands of jobs being lost because of increased self-service capabilities.

Ultimately, this trend in mobility brings with it the Internet of things (IoT) and “devices for devices.” Devices are now talking to each other and not only to the back-end workflow processes. Ultimately, this will lead to improved efficiency and automation of systems and consumer communications. MIP’s challenge over the next 18 months is to ensure the consumers, employees and devices interact with each other seamlessly through managed service level interaction.

Progress Partner Advisory Council Member Richard Firth Envisions the Super App

We see the advent of the “Super App.” The Super App will integrate services into a single application interface across multiple vendors in a value chain. For example, think about the life cycle of booking business travel: a weather app, diary app, hotel booking app, airline app, taxi app, receipt and expense app, and GPS will co-ordinate and share information. The single app interface will communicate data items with different process functionality to provide a seamless experience when consumers interact with a multi-functional business process.

Both automation and devices for devices are leading to a plethora of new functions that can be measured, risk rated and assigned to service levels. This is once again highlighting the importance of employees within an organization. For example, workflow solutions can now measure keyboard keystrokes for worker output and quality management of business processes. And don’t assume those come from a traditional keyboard either! 

Q: Which Progress technology enhancements are you most excited about in the coming year?

The advent of the single app server is our technical highlight and our participation on the Partner advisory council is our business highlight. Progress has a plethora of technical functionality that any business needs to operate succinctly in the new world of technology and mobility. These items need to come together as one product, and finally MIP can see that vision coming to fruition.

In a similar way, the Partner Advisory Council is allowing MIP to interact with Progress on a completely different level. For the first time we as Partners have vision and the ability to influence outcomes before unnecessary work is done that may not fit what is needed in the field. I want to highlight that both Progress® Corticon® and Telerik® fit the unified application server strategy “hand in glove.”

Q: What is your advice for a new developer starting out with an amazing idea and wanting to build a business?  

There are seven main forces driving tech futures for any new programmer plotting a futuristic technology strategy. A programmer, to my mind, should understand these traits backwards. Let’s look at each of these in detail:

  • Inventiveness: In the late 1990s, the Coke board investigated competitors. It spent hundreds of millions analyzing every competitor in detail and wrote a detailed plan on each. But the competitor that was overlooked was a new bottled liquid that would outsell the Coke recipe by three bottles to one before the end of 2005: water! This proves how simple strategy can be. Yet, far too often, we spend huge amounts of time looking for complex answers to simple questions. Amazon as an inventive organization is a relatively simple industry: retail. It’s now a Fortune Top 5 and the world’s largest online bookstore and retailer. Its model is simple but inventive—it sells items for an average of 6% to 9% less than the largest US retailers.
  • Centralization: Today’s devices, like the iPad and Kindle, are designed to take advantage of centralized information. Integration takes place through a cloud-based central architecture so the devices no longer need to synchronize, removing huge complexity. And costs are dropping. Networks like WhisperNet charge per ebook, so sync costs are built into the book price. Imagine Facebook, which has 500 million users and where users spend an average of 34 hours a month online. No one cares what database it uses, or which country hosts it. Choose a platform that works and will give you a guaranteed or certain time to market. It is important to note that depending on a company’s size they may either join a cloud or create their own. Remember that in the new world, database or application down time will cost the software team not the customer!
  • Immediacy: Zara is a Spanish clothing and accessories retailer. It’s said that Zara needs just two weeks to develop and launch a new product into stores compared with a six-month industry average. It launches around 10,000 new designs each year. Now Zara has been described by Louis Vuitton fashion director Daniel Piette as "possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.” It is driving fashion trends, which last on average six weeks, instead of following them.
  • Transparency: Peter Sheahan says, “Today you can track the country, region, farm, soil, insecticides, date and time of the full distribution process, along with temperatures and shelf life, of any product on the Internet.” Make sure that transparency is the cornerstone of anything you design going forward. We have seen that not even the CIA can keep secrets in this social, digital, immediate and real-time world.
  • Personalization: My Apple iPad purchasing experience exemplified the power of this back in January 2011. There was no shopping counter; the entire transaction was done with a mobile phone, including swiping the credit card and signing the screen of the iPhone to authorize the purchase. Before leaving the shop, the sales rep had the necessary information to connect the iPad to my e-mail account, ensuring that my e-mail, calendar and contacts were available on my iPad before leaving. All this rather than the usual, "please charge the device for 15 hours before using it!"
  • Interactivity: People will interact directly with machines, to the extent that by the end of this year one in 10 responses obtained will be from a non-human, according to Gartner. It has never been more important for businesses to understand their business processes and document them in workflow systems. A company must plan to lose the menu structure of legacy applications and convert these structures into workflow-enabled processes. These processes will be used down the line for consumers to log in directly and manage their own data or information using the ever changing world of mobile devices or Internet of things.
  • Location: I refer to location-based services as the fourth dimension of real security. Devices will always know where you are. Location-based authentication will underpin other forms of security to ensure that systems are not just more secure in the future, but robustly so. Consider using a credit card in an ATM. If the owner of the credit card has their mobile phone, we will be in a position to locate the known co-ordinates of the ATM maintained and owned by the bank instead of geo-technical scientists. We will then locate your mobile phone to ensure that you are within 10 meters of the ATM and then approve a withdrawal of cash. Bang goes intercontinental fraud.

Q: What was your most innovative career moment? 

The most innovative moment of my career was participating in the invention, design and delivery of a new product on the bleeding edge of technology when I got involved as a founder of the start-up called Waytag. I was contacted by a client and his colleague who were frustrated by the way that which locations or Points of Interest (POIs) on a GPS device were so inaccurate and almost impossible to find. The conundrum we discussed was, “In this new connected world why could individuals and businesses not own, manage and share their location by simply linking their name to a co-ordinate just like a web site address links to an IP address?” This was the first time I was intimately involved in conceptualizing a product this unique, and it was the first time I needed to sell a concept rather than a product.

Find Out More

To learn more about MIP, visit the website. Interested in becoming a member of the Progress Partner Advisory Council? Contact Kimberly King at

Michelle Tackabery

An experienced content and social media marketing professional, Michelle writes frequently about the practical applications of information technology.


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