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ProDriver Congress London, June 6, 2017 - Panel Session 2: Disruptive technology

Panelists:
Daniel Price, Cabfind
Hassan Abod, Autocab
Matt Borland, Magenta
Bob Nixon, iCabbi

Conference Chair Mark Bursa opened the session with a reminder that not every tech-driven development that makes a big splash in the industry has an equally large long-term impact.

Much of the discussion at least year’s event had centred on the impact of Karhoo and its comparison app designed to battle Uber. But the company crashed and burned last year. A simple question from Bursa: “what went wrong?” sparked a lively discussion.

PD Congress Session 2 Matt Borland

Matt Borland: “a standard white label app is unacceptable now”

“If you try to do too much too soon, you’re doomed to fail…these things take time.” That was the explanation Magenta’s Matt Borland had for Karhoo’s failure, with the company's habit of giving away rides in an attempt to buy market share being a particular problem given that Karhoo just didn't have Uber’s deep pockets.

That said, there was plenty of support for the idea for an industry-wide app, even if Karhoo’s execution had been faulty. Autocab’s Hassan Abod, for example, thought Karhoo had correctly identified that many customers like the simplicity of having a single national app on their phones, a feature that was captured by Autocab’s newly introduced iGo network giving customers the ability to book nationally on their local app.

PD Congress Session 2 Hasan Abod

Hasan Abod: Karhoo underestimated what it took to deliver a good service”

But that a lot of work was needed to make sure it was tightly integrated with other systems in order to achieve a satisfactory customer experience; “Karhoo underestimated what it took to deliver a good service on their app,” he said. In particular Abod felt the despatch system needs to treat app jobs completely differently to jobs coming in via other routes, with customers using the app expecting a much snappier response when ordering a ride.

Borland agreed something extra was needed, and reckoned “a standard white label app is unacceptable now”, pointing to additional features that could be used to bind customers in, such as more accurate dynamically adjusted pick-up times that build customers’ confidence, or extras such as vouchers, bonus schemes or the ability to rate drivers.

iCabbi’s Bob Nixon, drawing on his experience in the hospitality industry, thought there was certainly room in the private hire business for the equivalent of a hotels.com or a booking.com.

PD Congress Session 2 Bob Nixon

Bob Nixon: “the private hire industry is operationally much more complex than many others”

Nixon and Cabfind’s Daniel Price explained how a lot of customers were arranging several elements of their trips - flights, hotels, restaurants and car hire - on a single platform but often the ground connections by taxi or other means were missing from these one-stop-shop end-to-end bookings. Bursa pointed out that TripAdvisor was already offering Uber on its platform, so there was a need for the rest of the private hire sector to catch up.

Catching up was also the theme of an intervention from the floor by Mark Parham of Didcot-based Go Green Taxis, who said that many of the technological improvements which had featured in the discussion had already been widely adopted in other sectors.

But iCabbi’s Nixon was more sympathetic to the degree of progress shown by private hire, pointing out that the industry was operationally much more complex than others that appeared to have made more progress in adopting advanced technology to look after their customers.

Cabfind’s Price highlighted another factor - given that private hire was a highly regulated industry, it was inevitably fragmented with lots of smaller players who had less money to invest in technology.

PD Congress Session 2 Daniel Price

Daniel Price: “the industry is highly regulated, and with lots of smaller players”

Emphasising the scale of the challenge from well-funded new entrants, Autocab’s Abod suggested that Uber was best understood as “a private hire company and a technology company in one”. On the other hand, Parham from Go Green felt that his company's spending on software was actually pretty low and could be higher for the right technology.

On the subject of aggregators, Abod suggested that these were handy because they could often get operators jobs that might not have come in via other routes but that operators should ultimately be guided by what customers want. As Cabfind’s Price pointed out, though, some customers would probably always feel more comfortable talking to a real person at a call centre, however good the technology.

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