Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Adventures in Uberland, Geofencing and Digital Transformation

Last week, while in San Francisco, I used the Uber app and service four times.  All four experiences were great, although one of the drivers stopped for 30 seconds and then left as I was walking up to the car.  He must have realized I was a blogger.  None the less, the next car was just a minute away and I suffered no pain.  In this article, my colleague, Ved Sen, Global Head, Advisory Services Social, Mobile and Sensors at Cognizant shares his experiences and insights.

The Habit
Ved Sen
Nothing is as addictive as a service that is easy, offers instant gratification and solves an everyday problem. I just had to try it once, and I was hooked. Now, you have to realize that it’s not the same in London, where the density and availability of cabs, both private and public are very high. But in New Jersey standing on the highway, and facing the prospect of great head-scratching and then significant time and effort to get practically anywhere, it’s the most obvious thing to do! And once is all it took.

My name is Ved and I am addicted to Uber
Nobody walks in New Jersey. This is almost as much of a truism as “No Snakes in Ireland”. But it’s true. I found a Starbucks 10 minutes away (on foot) from my hotel. To get to it, though, I had to walk through 3 parking lots, a driveway and a stretch of path by the road which I think was only used for construction work. Nobody walks in NJ and it’s not designed for walking. Nonetheless, each morning I ventured my way to the Starbucks and then headed out from there.

When my coffee was three-quarters finished, I booked the cab on the Uber app. It usually took 7-8 minutes for the car to arrive. It came right to the Starbucks without my having to give the driver any instructions. I got a warning when the car was 2 mins away. Is it not obvious yet, why I can’t tear myself away? Of course there are moments when it falls over a little bit, but more about that later.

What’s in It for Me?
It’s a cashless transaction. I can track the car. You know all of this.  But I also know the name of the driver and vice versa so I can greet him with a ‘Hello Dan’ – this is a very small thing, but I find it extremely worthwhile. It opens up the space for a conversation.

What’s in It for Him?
So far all the Uber drivers I’ve met are men. I’m sure there are women Uber drivers as well. So forgive the generalization. Uber hoovers up (vacuums) spare capacity and brings more granularity into the supply side. In other words, you could be an Uber driver for 2 hours a day or whatever works for you.

I met a driver who was a tech entrepreneur, one who was also driving for a cab company and one who was a student. I learnt that Uber gives each driver a phone with the Uber app installed and everything else disabled. I learnt that thanks to the geo-fence implemented, if you don’t have the right license / car to drive in New York, the app shuts off as soon as you get on the bridge.

Finding Nemo
Yesterday, I called the Uber car after my coffee but he struggled to find me.  I watched him drive in circles on the map, but he eventually made it. It took him 15 extra minutes, but it was a Sunday and I was enjoying my coffee. I didn’t mind.

Mobile Entrepreneur 
Today, my Uber driver was Rob. He told me he’d just started with Uber a month ago, when he quit his job with a software company. Why did he quit? He started his own company. What kind of software? Mobile apps. He said he drives for a couple of hours every day. We had a great discussion about the Uber app itself, the advantages and drawbacks, geo-fencing and battery life.

On Friday my Uber drive was Taj and we spoke about daughters and growing up in different cultures.

Professionally speaking, Uber could well happen to your industry. What if service providers had a platform to offer to users what you do with great investment and commitment? What AirBnB is to hotels, or Ebay is to retailers. These platforms aren’t service providers themselves, but often are really focused on marketplace efficiencies.

Should you look for these opportunities within your own industry, before somebody else does? That might well be the right question to ask.  As I’ve argued before, resisting technology is like resisting ageing.

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.