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Mobile app drives digital disruption for London taxi company

Tom Kaneshige | March 12, 2013
Mobile transportation apps like Hailo and others have forced traditional taxi companies to pull a strategic u-turn. Here's the story of how 60-year-old Radio Taxis Group of London has gone digital and mobile to catch up to Hailo's disruptive powers.

On a drizzly March day on the outskirts of London, executives at 60-year-old taxi company Radio Taxis Group met for two hours to discuss something of great importance. They needed to hash out a name for the company's newest crown jewel, a mobile app designed to go head-to-head with so-called "digital disruption" apps.

Much like the grey clouds filling the sky, a troubling fact also hung ominously over the meeting-Radio Taxis Group was terribly late to the mobile app game. A little more than a year ago, a swelling group of startups with snappy names like Hailo, GetTaxi, Click A Taxi and Kabbee began arriving on the London scene with iPhone and Android apps for hailing cabs, and were now connecting tens of thousands of passengers with taxi drivers every day.

"You always think to yourself, we should have thought of this first," says Radio Taxis Group CIO Gordon Brown, adding, "But you can't just stand by, you've got to be in it."

Radio Taxis Group was on the verge of launching its mobile app but needed to come up with a name. At the meeting, the decision boiled down to two options: jump on the clever name craze or stick to the well-known brand. Then there's the problem with the word "radio" in the company name, a tired technology in a brave new digital world.

Radio Taxis Group is just one of many companies facing a mobile digital disrupter in their midst. These mobile apps flout tradition while taking on the role of rising-star matchmaker on smartphones. They wring out supply-and-demand inefficiencies with awesome digital execution.

"With Hailo, there's a two minute average from tap to taxi," said Hailo CEO Jay Bregman.

Digital Disruptors Can Be Destroyers

Left unchecked, a fast-moving digital disrupter can wreak havoc on a company saddled with infrastructure costs, such as call centers, equipment and a bloated workforce. Amazon, perhaps the most famous digital disrupter, blindsided U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers. E-readers piled on. The resulting disruption caused Borders to go out of business and Barnes and Noble to shutter stores.

"Usually coming late to digital is dangerous," says James McQuivey, Forrester Research analyst and author of Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. "It's a turning point that many companies culturally aren't ready for."

Radio Taxis Group Chairman and CEO Geoffrey Riesel, CIO Brown and other directors at the meeting had seen enough of these "rogue apps," as Riesel puts it. They had been watching patiently on the sidelines and now were ready to light the fuse on their own mobile app for a springtime launch. The piece de resistance would be the app's name.


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