Digital Business Means its Time to Evolve

I’m returning from three days at Forrester’s Technology Management Forum in London. The theme was “Unleash Your Digital Business”, and a very public event on the first day hammered home the timeliness and relevance of the story.

Parliament passed the “Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen”in 1654.  London at that time would have been unrecognizable to the modern city-dweller. Over a decade before the Great Fire destroyed swathes of the medieval city. Almost 200 years before Charles Dickens immortalized the orphans, beggars and thieves of the smog-shrouded slums of the industrial revolution. But in essence, the act of hailing a taxi remained unchanged since that day.

You stand on a street, wave at a driver and take your chances.

Enter Uber.

And Hailo, and a number of other clones, but Uber is the main bone of contention here. Uber represents the future. It empowers consumers to make a choice, placing power in their hands, and removing it from the service provider. It’s a poster-child for the Age of the Customer. And London’s taxi drivers aren’t happy about it. I will stop short of debating the politics or legislative aspects here – suffice to say that London’s taxi drivers are so unhappy that an estimated 12,000 of them took to the streets on Wednesday to protest. It was messy. And tragically misguided.

The following day, three interesting things happened.

  • Ted Schadler took the stage and introduced the Mobile Mindshift. He told the audience that to build a compelling mobile strategy, they must work to identify “mobile moments” – like hailing a taxi.
  • Nigel Fenwick then followed and introduced our Digital Business research, outlining how firms must reach beyond their traditional boundaries to embrace new ecosystems of value – like the ecosystem of customers and drivers Uber creates.
  • Uber – the subject of the taxi drivers’ wrath, reported an 850% hike in subscriptions compared to last week.

British consumers are making the mobile mindshift. This week’s protest pushed a few more of them over that barrier, permanently adjusting their expectations, teaching them that location-aware, context relevant mobile moments make a difference – and if firms can provide such moments, they will drive consumer adoption of their services.

While the taxi drivers were protesting, I was presenting our digital business readiness assessment. I couldn’t help but equate the taxi drivers to the Digital Dinosaurs in our model, and the whole protest as the death throe of a giant beast, making Uber the small, furry new predator evolving to cope with the changing climate. A small, furry predator currently valued at $18bn. Not bad.

As Nigel summed things up in his opening line – do you want to be a digital predator, or digital prey?

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