Richard Favero: “Consolidate the tools you use”

Upgrade where your communication needs aren’t being met — Our customers come to us looking to upgrade because they have grown out of their existing communication solution, maybe because it is having outages, or because it is not keeping up with necessary features for the customer’s use case, or maybe because it is becoming overpriced as volumes […]

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Upgrade where your communication needs aren’t being met — Our customers come to us looking to upgrade because they have grown out of their existing communication solution, maybe because it is having outages, or because it is not keeping up with necessary features for the customer’s use case, or maybe because it is becoming overpriced as volumes increase. For whatever reason, the customer is looking for a proven, battle-tested and robust solution.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Favero.

Richard Favero is a leading researcher in mobile technology, software engineering and speech recognition technology. Richard founded Soprano Design in Sydney, Australia in 1994 as a software consulting firm specializing in the emerging industry of object-oriented software development. Prior to founding Soprano, Dr. Favero worked as a software engineer at Gestetner Lasers and then as a project leader at Telstra Corporation. He has provided consulting services to BHP Billiton, National Australia Bank, SingTel Optus, Alcatel, Visa Europe, Hewlett Packard and Invensys. Richard also acts as strategic consultant to blue-chip Australian companies and advises early-stage technology companies on commercialization. He is a director and early investor of several technology companies. Richard earned his Ph. D. at the University in Sydney in speech technology and Bachelor of Engineering (Hons1) at the University of NSW.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a problem solver. I like to solve complex problems with elegant, well-designed and beautiful technology. So there was never a doubt that I would study engineering (Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (Hons 1) at the University of NSW). Through that study I became passionate about telecommunications and in particular speech processing which led to my research study and attaining a PhD at the University of Sydney. Prior to founding Soprano, I worked as a software engineer at Gestetner Lasers and then as a project leader at Telstra Corporation. Shortly after, I began doing consulting work for global tech and banking companies. I then became a director and early investor of several technology companies.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Unfortunately, there is rarely something funny about mistakes in engineering as they often lead to some great disappointments. Nonetheless, my weirdest experience was flying to Dallas for a presentation (of some new mobile money transfer technology Soprano developed) to our sales partner and a key customer. All having gone well (albeit some weird signals and suffering dramatic jetlag) I arrive home to find a news story with the key customer being hauled to jail on fraud charges in an orange jump suit and chains. Dodged a big bullet that day!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are always some really low points in being a founder. My parents gave me a lot of freedom to fail and succeed, and my wife for just tolerating the manic-depressive circumstances when winning and losing deals.

My first manager at Telstra was a great engineer who built up a team of high caliber engineers to build some of the world’s first object-oriented software. We were on the cutting edge in those days and really breaking the limits of what hardware, compilers and software could do. He gave us a great chance to deliver. We were all so passionate about delivering some cool tech that there were many all-nighters just to prove we could do it.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Sun Tzsu’s Art of War. It is so very simple but profound. It’s strategic and so very applicable in navigating complex problems in large organizations.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Soprano Design’s mission is to be build trust between companies and customers with trusted mobile interactions. Trust is earned, it’s not a title that you can give yourself. Soprano aims to demonstrate that organizations who place their trust in Soprano will remain customers for life. At the end of the day, we want to help the world communicate with more meaningful interactions between enterprises, governments, services and their communities.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We recently just acquired another CPaaS provider in December, Silverstreet, which was key to expanding our global reach. We’re always anticipating our customers’ potential use cases (Soprano’s “Customer Inspired Development”) and the ways they want to communicate effectively, so we are constantly innovating. Between the vaccine distribution, voting and other worldly situations, there is always a new need to communicate better.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Like so many technically lead changes, digital transformation is an evolution and not so much a revolution. Sometimes it feels like it’s not happening and suddenly everything is just easier. For me, digital transformation is the automation of some process that once required a human (allowing those humans to better deploy their capabilities). Just think about the simplicity of an appointment reminder now via SMS versus a receptionist calling and confirming and then adjusting — or emergency communication and staff safety. It can all be done now using mobile phones and some software that delivers a set of trusted interactions.

These are all things that make lives better, simpler and connected.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Almost every company has an upside going digital and we saw that take shape in 2020. However, the three main types of companies that can benefit most from a digital transformation are large financial, government and healthcare organizations. All three rely on critical communication to large audiences, patients and customers to receive these trusted transactions.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Companies now have complete control over the communication experience with consumers, employees or citizens. This unlocks multiple channels of engagement, to enable the right message, to the right person, at the right time, in the right channel/format, and for the right business outcome. Overall, it becomes an ongoing innovation over time because we’re evolving with their business needs and anticipating where communication needs are going to be in the future. They also achieve the security and compliance they need to meet any external policy standards in place.

Soprano has helped such a wide variety of customers from health, finance, government, retail, transport and education to name a few. Providing the connectivity and the software application that drives the value is a great buzz. It is amazing how much value can be created with a relatively small but we conceived deployment.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Companies who have an engagement problem often don’t realize it until they see a competitor doing it. Maybe for three years in a row their email open rate went from 1.5% to 1.7% to 1.9% and they think things are going well, until they find out that complimenting their campaigns with SMS and voice in an omnichannel deployment yields open rates much higher than that. Plus, there are new channels such as WhatsApp and RCS where open rates aren’t even the right metric. Customers are limited by what they don’t know when it comes to engagement. This is similar to 10 years ago when customers didn’t know about SMS.

Companies who need to upgrade are often like that frog in boiling water, they don’t know what they don’t have. They usually move into action when a major initiative surfaces that their existing system cannot support, so they go looking for a solution to that problem from the major initiative. This is a typical digital transformation opportunity for Soprano.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Meet engagement needs through an omnichannel experience — Say a customer has an engagement need that their current solution cannot solve (e.g., they need to better engage with their mobile consumers, employees or citizens) but they do not understand or do not have access to an omnichannel capability that enables more than just email (for example). They need to be educated about why SMS, voice and the newer social channels such as WhatsApp or RCS can enable a much richer and more engaging experience for their mobile users.

Upgrade where your communication needs aren’t being met — Our customers come to us looking to upgrade because they have grown out of their existing communication solution, maybe because it is having outages, or because it is not keeping up with necessary features for the customer’s use case, or maybe because it is becoming overpriced as volumes increase. For whatever reason, the customer is looking for a proven, battle-tested and robust solution.

Implement automated security and compliance into processes — Some customers have an external compliance or security requirement and only a handful of tools on the market can meet that need. Even though they may have identified many platforms that can meet their business need, only a few can do it in a secure and compliant way.

Consolidate the tools you use — There are a lot of tech vendors out there that just specialize in one use case and over time it adds up to a lot of solutions to manage. Customers can have too many communication applications deployed (often across multiple departments but sometimes even has more than one solution within the same department!) and wishes to consolidate. The benefits of consolidation are many: Cost savings, efficiency, control, security, compliance, reporting, and of course enhancing and improving the communication and engagement capabilities across all departments. For example, some departments may have home-grown limited solutions but could benefit from a more powerful solution. In all of these situations where consolidation is needed, the customer will need a proven platform that has quite a lot of functionality and flexibility, able to be a “superset” of the various systems being consolidated.

Gain functionality by diversifying — We just talked about consolidating, but other customers are looking to diversify their messaging supply. For example, a few of our very large recent customer deployments have been a result of global firms seeking to have 3 or 4 major partners, which they believe gives them a hedge against outages, rising costs, and reach issues, and also provides them with even more functionality across their multiple suppliers.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

It starts by respecting each other. Respect needs to be there in order for colleagues to collaborate, strive and innovate together. It also helps to never be complacent. We work in a competitive, crowded market which challenges our team to quickly adapt and innovate in how we help the world engage and interact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are probably right.”

This quote always drives for me and in people I admire competence (I want to know), confidence (I think I can do it) and commitment (I think it is worth doing) and not overlooking chance (just lucky to have the opportunity to exercise the first three!). There is nothing worse than having people around you or on your team who talk about the impossibility of an attainment, it is so life-sapping.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I try to let Soprano do the talking. Even better, don’t just follow what Soprano does, get involved and let’s see what we can do together!

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