It is interesting how the changes facing us as individuals, organizations, society and how we do business is being driven by technology; and that the speed of change is so rapid that it seems even the experts have a hard time grappling with it.
Digital disruption is changing every aspect of the system from the organizational level to where and how we work to the laws and systems we have in place, most of which are entirely inappropriate in an ‘on-demand’ world.
‘On-demand’ for those of you not up on the current lingo refers to services like Uber, Postmates or Airbnb. Each provides a digital platform to give instant access to a taxi, delivery or room rental. In the case of Uber and Postmates, it hires people to provide the service (with their own vehicles). With Airbnb, it is a direct transaction between the owner and the renter using the owner’s home.
Businesses deal with disruption in a variety of ways, but those affected by on-demand seem to realize now that these new digital platforms are an actual threat. In January San Francisco’s biggest taxi company filed for bankruptcy. Bear in mind this is a protected municipal monopoly that up until several years ago faced no competition whatsoever. The heady world of digital delivery changed all that as ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have taken a serious bite out of long-established businesses.
In the days before digital disruption, you stood on the corner and hailed a taxi or booked a hotel room. You might have called your favorite restaurant for delivery and it might have offered such a service or not.
The intersection of cloud and mobile changed everything. With a computer in our pockets, the introduction of app stores and access to cheap cloud services, clever people came up with these platforms (and many others like them) and it has fundamentally changed businesses and created whole new ways of working.
All of that is having a profound impact on us as we struggle to keep up with the changes they bring. For the taxi and hotel businesses, what started as an irritant is becoming a full-fledged threat to their business models.
There is something else happening here. Even as organizations are being disrupted, so are we and what’s changing is the way we work (and expect to work).
There have been a range of responses from individuals to digitization of certain industries — and if it hasn’t happened to yours yet, expect it to soon. Taxi drivers have felt the change most directly from ride sharing. They have reacted with strikes and sometimes with violence, illustrating that it’s not just the industry itself feeling the full weight of disruption, but also the individuals who work in it in a very direct way.
Yet even as taxi drivers feel the sting of competition, many others are joining the ranks of Uber drivers. Why do they do it? In most cases people like the model. Some do it to supplement a full-time job, while the majority earn their living from Uber.
These folks have the advantage of working on the digital platform that Uber created for them. They have flexibility to work as much or as little as they want. They simply turn on the app when they want to work and they start picking people up. If they don’t want to work, they turn it off.
It’s great to work when you want, but it’s not so great when you don’t get paid because you got the flu or hurt your back.
It’s worth noting that while Uber is a highly successful example of this work model, it is hardly the only digital platform operating this way.
Meanwhile governments struggle to keep up. Sometimes they want to protect the incumbent industries. Sometimes they want to encourage innovation. Whatever they do, they tend to react much, much too slowly to technological changes. As technology speeds along, we are stuck with antiquated systems that fail to meet the needs of today’s businesses or the way we work.
Just as technology and the digital platforms that we are creating are changing these industries and the way individuals work, it’s also have a huge impact on the systems we have put in place that have been tied to a traditional way of working.
We see this playing out in a number of ways. Employees lack any benefits in this new system, prompting speakers to suggest that perhaps we require a benefits package that isn’t tied to our employer. Emergency systems like unemployment insurance spend too much time and money trying to find cheaters instead of helping people achieve their goals and find meaningful work.
If technology is driving all this change, perhaps we can find answers in building digital platforms that address these issues and give people a central place to deal with them in a modern context. While there are many benefits in using these services, there are many implications too and we need to come to grips with the changes digitization brings because it’s having an impact on every aspect of our lives.