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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.

Flash back 10 years ago when another digital disrupter, Zingo, wanted to turn the London taxi business on its ear. Zingo identified a taxi's location using cell tower triangulation. It would forward a call from a person requesting a cab to a nearby taxi. Radio Taxis Group decided to wait and see how it played out.

"In two years, Zingo spent 13 million pounds on marketing," Riesel says. "After three years, they sold the company for one pound."

CEO Geoffrey Riesel, Radio Taxis Group

Zingo's fast fall, followed by a nasty economic downturn, might explain Radio Taxis Group's conservative stance. Even when the company finally decided to venture into mobile in late 2011, it only dipped its toes. Radio Taxis Group came out with a mobile website for its corporate customers, called Taxi Connect, a far cry from a slick digital disrupter app.

"It's a bit clunky," admits Riesel. "You may have to do a dozen presses to get the cab. But I still use it rather than the telephone."

But CIO Brown pushed forward with a mobile consumer app and hired consultancy Mobile Data Systems late last year for the job. Using a process that helps identify a mobile app's user friendliness, Mobile Data Systems designed the app to hail a cab in two taps, just like Hailo. The app has features that help users find the quickest way to a destination, maybe using the Tube and not a taxi cab. While this seems counterproductive, the goal is to give people more reasons to use the app.

Many CIOs get hung up on the functionality of a consumer-facing mobile app and try to pack it full of features, says CTO Martin Hudson at Mobile Data Systems. Tech people, he says, love to work on mobile app projects but bring some of their desktop software baggage with them. Hudson is constantly fighting scope creep-uncontrolled expansion of a project-in mobile app development.

Another common mistake: neglecting back-end connections.

When a consumer opens the Radio Taxis Group mobile app for the first time and registers, the app needs to communicate with the backend account management system to create a new user. Once in the system, the user can contact the call center when problems arise, and the call center will be able to look up the user's history and take action, such as a refund on a credit card.

The problem is that the account management system is contracted to be used for corporate accounts. Suppliers of back-end systems won't want to grant access to a consumer-facing mobile app.

"The moment you go near it, they're going to walk away from the maintenance and support contracts," Hudson says. "So we make the app talk to our web services and to a little database in the middle. We're taking that and building interfaces into the legacy systems. It's a two to three month development cycle."

 

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