Is it Time for IT to Do an Uber?

A typical black cab in London

A typical black cab in London

What excitement in the UK. This week London taxi drivers ‘caused gridlock’ when they protested en masse against… what? Take a guess? Was it the situation in the Ukraine? Syria? World Cup rules? The price of doughnuts?

Nope. It was a protest against the mobile app Uber. Now, I’m going to pretty much assume that anyone reading a LANDESK Blog is going to be relatively tech-savvy. At least to the point where you probably know that Uber is an app that can be used to bring a local mini-cab to your mobile location to pick you up for a pre-agreed rate, and payment is electronic so no cash is needed. So I won’t explain all that.

But what an impact it had! When the London taxi drivers (in their shiny London black cabs, tabloid newspapers, cheeky cockney accents and all) go on strike, and bring central London to a halt, you know something heavy is going down. To be fair, they are very clear that they are not protesting about unfair competition – oh no that would not sound good at all – they are protesting that the new app is bringing untrained and uncertified mini-cab drivers on to the street. Fair enough I guess, we all want a fair and safe ride, but to many observers it does appear to also be a bit like the luddites protesting in vain against technology.

But there are two really, really interesting things that I have observed from this whole hullabaloo:

1 – Uber has just received the biggest ever free marketing and promotion. It’s lucky that the black cab drivers are not worried about competition, because, oh boy, they’ve just put on the biggest ever advert for a competing service. Every newspaper, every radio and TV headline, every talk show – not just across London but across the UK and Europe, and I imagine much of the world now knows all about Uber (if they didn’t before). If this gets the Uber a driver a better level of certification, or gets the black-cab drivers the opportunity to get business through Uber then OK, fair enough. If not, I really would not be investing in the London black cab business right now. Because Uber is a potentially game changing service that could totally transform and revolutionise how and when we travel.

But I’m not here to write about that. I’m here to write about the second point…

2 – Shadow IT. Uber is a great equivalent example once again of Shadow IT in action! We talk with our customers a lot about Shadow IT and how we seeing ‘the business’ choosing IT solutions without bothering to involve corporate IT. Well, what do you know; you can see it with Uber. The general public have seen something that works better than the ‘old way’. There was no committee that approached the traditional taxi firms and said ‘hey, why don’t you change totally and go mobile?’ Nope, a consumer company built Uber and the public said ‘Yes’ and voted with their fingers, and the current-model is suddenly the redundant-model.

What can IT learn from this? One very important thing I think.

It’s all about VALUE.

Now that the end user rightly has freedom of choice, they will choose to use technology and solutions that have value for them. If IT wants to remain relevant, then IT needs to offer products and services to the business, that add VALUE to the end user in the same way that Uber adds value. So people choose to use it. We talk about User Oriented IT a lot – well I would suggest that IT departments need to get their very best IT employees out into the business with the end-users, to identify where IT can ‘do an Uber’. Because, if IT doesn’t come up with something that adds value then the end-user will go somewhere else. Look for those points of transformation. Tear up the old ways, but make sure you deliver new ways. Think about how mobile devices have location and data and tracking and cameras and recording. Think about what end-users need to do. Can new technology help? Be creative, brainstorm, have fun. Engage with End-Users and try to imagine how their working life could be improved.

And it starts at the top. IT leaders: your job is no longer to ‘run IT’. Your job is to get IT to innovate, fast. If you think you are in the Keeping the Lights On business, then you may as well get in your black cab and start protesting. Your job now is to motivate the IT department to find, or make those Ubers, that will delight the end-user and lead them to choose to use your products and services.

You never know – you might even get a cash tip for it one day.