The disruptive power of mobile apps

Modern communications technology. Image from BigStock.
Modern communications technology. Image from BigStock.

On a recent business trip, I was told by personnel of a major airline carrier that they could not check me into my connecting flight from Miami to Bahamas as Bahamian immigration required that all residents from Trinidad and Tobago produce evidence of yellow fever vaccination before being allowing entry into the Bahamas. This turned out to be false information as of revision to policy in January 2014 and I am still awaiting a response from that carrier to refund costs incurred to meet their stated requirement for check in.

Uber’s Whirlwind Ride

Part of this cost was taxi fare to get to a clinic to receive the vacination and it was during this trip I struck up conversation with the cab driver of mixed Nigerian and Trinidadian heritage who was a fan of the mobile social app providing alternate taxi service in major cities around the world, Uber. Recent news out of Germany is that the Uber app has been blocked (recent Viber controversy anyone?) which follows on the heels of June protests in London led by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and even more recent announcement of price wars with traditional London taxi cab service. So what is Uber? It is a disruptive service to the traditional taxi business model made possible by demand and supply matching between customers and independent cab drivers via a mobile social app on their smartphones. From my driver’s persepective, it offers independence from having to pay rental fees to cab owners and allows drivers the opportunity to better meet the expectations of their clientele via cleaner, better performing and newer cabs. In the Uber world, the disintermediation of the traditional owner actor allows for creation of the owner/driver actor which leads to greater empowerment and pride in service delivery all at a lower cost to the consumer.

The New Airbnb Logo Looks Like…

Continuing on my trek of mobile-social-apps-which-are-disruptive-to-traditional-business-models discovery, I met up with a colleague from Trinidad at the Bahamas conference who could not find suitable accommodation…so what did he do? He resorted to using Airbnb, a mobile social app for finding accommodation around the world, directly matching property owners with customers, which I only heard of a few weeks prior given the uproar on the Internets over their logo change. So while I was enjoying the memes, he was productively using the website to find inexpensive accommodation when the traditional methods for booking accommodation left him with little options. He even boasted of the quality of his room and the fact that the owner of the property picked him up at the airport for free, while I was left saddled with $36 US charge to get to my accommodation from the airport (maybe I should have used Uber to find a cheaper ride).

Crowdsourcing Bush-Medicine Catalogue

Back home in Trinidad and Tobago, where a 2013 International Telcommunications Union (ITU) report stated that as of 2012 there were 1.5 persons per 100 persons with mobile broadband, Waze is quite popular for displaying vehicle traffic patterns. But what about our own locally produced mobile social apps? The Ministry of Works and Infrastructure have recently launched the WIZE app with reporting capabilities to improve communication with users of their facilities. I hope complaints they receive via the app are attended to in in a better manner than reports they receive via Twitter.

Despite initial acknowledgement, I’m still awaiting action and further feedback over 2 months later
Despite initial acknowledgement, I’m still awaiting action and further feedback over 2 months later

Then there is the much buzzed about F1RST and another mobile app from local software developer Nissan Dookeran which won him an award from the idea2innovate folks for his Bush Med Book mobile social app which seeks to crowd-source the development of a catalogue of local traditional remedies.

Change Is Inevitable!

I am all for clearing the years of cobwebbed thought processes which bind us to the philosophy of doing things a certain way because “er, hmm, well…that’s the way it’s always been done”. The international controversy around Uber and our own recent little storm in a teacup with respect to a major local mobile service provider blocking the Viber app in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad, not only highlights how technology can challenge traditional business models but also show the extent to which institutional powers will go to justify and protect their dying business models rather than adapt.

The Caribbean reaction to digital currencies, the upstart to years of traditional thinking on electronic payment systems and indeed centralized monetary systems, has been no different, despite efforts to show the economic benefit they pose to Caribbean nations. But the good thing about these business model redefining social apps and other technological advancements is that change is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time before market forces force people and institutions to adapt or get out of the way.

Shiva Bissessar
Shiva Bissessar

About the author, Shiva Bissessar B.Sc.(Hons.) MBA M.Sc.

With over 17 years of industry experience, Mr. Bissessar currently offers corporate entities and public institutions consultancy on strategic matters of ICT and Information Security.  Of late he has been focusing on bringing awareness to cutting edge issues within the Information Security domain including areas Digital Currencies, Cyber Security and Cloud (security and privacy).  

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