The ‘uberification’ movement


Uber is certainly an uber-topic on everybody’s mind right now. Well, let’s say at least up there with Brexit. But if you think comparing these two topics is somewhat frivolous, with Brexit being of much more far reaching consequences, think again.

Uber has had a lot of press these days, some good, some not so much. Their and the local cabbies’ battle of the drivers has seen them both as the uber-, or under-dog at times (yes of course, pun intended). Both transportation service suppliers have their proverbial other side of the coin. But let’s not go into all the good, the bad and the ugly of traditional taxi services. It’s all been said before, we have all experienced it, the accounts are countless.

Let’s take a closer look at Uber instead; it’s so much more relevant. Admittedly, Uber might be something of a misnomer when it comes to the company’s social engagement. Nobody who relies on large groups of individuals to deliver their vision can be that great. On a worldwide scale, Uber drivers don’t earn very good money; an enthusiastic cabbie can do better. Uber drivers are working under socially unfitting conditions, they have no social security, no EPF, no health insurance, no sick days or overtime benefits. They are untrained and unlicensed. Undeniably, many Malaysian taxi drivers get exploited in a similar fashion, but in the developed world to which Malaysia will soon belong, this is way below the acceptable norm. Most Uber drivers would never find their destination if it wasn’t for their company-provided “device” and often the additional support of Waze.

But there it is. These drivers are equipped with technology that enables them to provide a good service even without training and licensing procedures. But there’s more to why Uber has been one of the fastest growing startups worldwide, why it has been valued at USD68 billion, just six years into their existence, surpassing the valuation of many 100-year-old companies.

In a society increasingly concerned with environmental issues, progressively pressed for time and willingly embracing every hip novelty, the Uber modus operandi perfectly combines these seemingly contradictory impulses. Uber rides can’t be hailed on a street corner, therefore drivers don’t cruise busy city streets aimlessly causing additional congestion and pollution. Drunk driving has been reduced considerably in some large cities. Young professionals can live the dream of having a personal chauffeur, one ride at a time. But the driving service’s perhaps biggest ace is its 5-star rating system. Both driver and rider rate each other at the end of every interaction, which creates a grassroots accountability system unseen in other service providers. Eventually, the global village we live in will be populated by one big family of strangers who somehow know and trust each other.

But enough about how great an idea Uber is. The real deal is the fact that Uber, along with AirBnB, EatWith, Feastly, Gett and many more, are part of a new generation of disruptive business models, which eat into the demand for traditional company structures at a voracious pace. Peer to peer transactions across all sorts of industries is in its infancy, but the debate they started is a sure indication that there is a fear of, and therefore certainly a need for, a general overhaul of existing arrangements. Rides, rooms, dinner guests and pick up service are established platforms displacing traditional and sometimes quite complacent industries today. But the possibilities are endless, imagine a world where I need a power drill for just one day, and you happen to have one, a world where you have a very special function to attend, one that requires your wife to shine with gorgeous jewellery, and I have the perfect set sitting pretty in my safe. Or one where we leave on our honeymoon just hours after gorgeous flower arrangements have been delivered to our house by the truckloads and this floral extravagance can be passed on instead of dying unseen. The sky’s the limit.

Our business landscape is about to evolve at an explosive pace and many will be left in its dust. Peer to peer might come across as the new kid on the block, readily embraced by a generation unwilling to be tied down by traditions, but really, “uberisation” looks a lot like a back-to-the-roots model, hailing from a distant past where people helped each other out and shared available resources.

An Uber-cool idea, wouldn’t you agree?

Fanny Bucheli is an FMT columnist.

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