DISRUPT OR BE DISRUPTED
I am working in the Information Technology sector and like many others in the field, me and my colleagues are noticing an increasing rate of change in the technologies that we need to work with. There are times when we start a project for an organisation using the latest technology and programming paradigm and by the time we finish the technology is either outdated or in some cases becomes downright obsolete. To keep up with the latest technology we have to spend a considerable amount of personal time and money and yet we have to make business decisions on regular basis to adopt or shun technologies based on their chances of future success.
There is nothing new about rapid change and if we study history we will notice that changes like these happened in the past too and we can easily identify a pattern. Rapid development towards new ways of doing things with lots of competing processes, technologies, thoughts and business models and suddenly humanity crosses a threshold after which the technologies of today become irrelevant tomorrow. I will not delve further into the concept itself and for those who wish to investigate further can lookup terms like “Technological Singularity”, “Moore’s law” and “Technological Unemployment”.
Those who take advantage of this disruption leapfrog ahead of those who stay in denial and often detest and protest against the changes. But history tells us that no amount of protest can stop disruption so the question is “why bother?”. The hunter-gatherers, Luddites and the like all failed as this is what disruption is all about. By the time the chain of events are triggered it is too late and the change becomes inevitable. With this in mind I had conversations with many whose jobs could be disrupted in the near future and were oblivious to the fact. One such group is of those who work in the taxi business. There is a little need to mention the likes of Uber as that is old news now but for those who do not know, it is a phone app that allows to call taxis and removes the need of having a fixed taxi base and hence making those businesses irrelevant. Many taxi businesses that I spoke to in the last few years first totally disagreed that they will have a huge impact but unfortunately as of today some of them are already closed or severely impacted and many of them are barely hanging on.
When I spoke to the drivers they indicated that they will wait and see. I can confirm that most of them now work for Uber themselves. We also discussed about the impact on their working hours and net take home income and initially most of them were better off as there were less drivers and more demand. Customers were given subsidies on their journeys as a typical marketing ploy and they got used to it. The cost to the customer is less than the regular taxis as there is no taxi base with human controllers who in most cases were bottlenecks to the businesses anyway. Uber gave drivers more jobs but for less money but if they work longer hours took home more than they used to. This is what we call an on-demand economy.
But the situation is changing now. In the areas where the firm has established its customer base, there are far too many drivers working longer hours and now taking home less money. They cannot go back to the old ways as the customers are liking the ease of use and low cost hence many drivers are stuck with a reduced quality of life. Uber and the like are investing quite heavily in self driving cars and once the technology becomes established a lot of these drivers will gradually be made redundant. There will be many customers that are happy to save money on a taxi that has no driver and can handle their own luggage. Already in the US there is a semi (articulated lorry) that is driving itself and some leading car manufacturers are testing their products. Having worked in the logistics industry for a number of years and with my experience of various cab companies my bet is that the change is not reversible and due to existing pressures and competition many larger organisations will jump into this cost saving opportunity.
At this point the way forward is to not fight the disruption but rather unite and think of new ways to create further disruption in your favour. The iron is still hot i.e. the market has warmed up to change, so find new ways of doing it better and that will be the best course of action for the benefit of everyone and most importantly for the customers.