A large country like India, and one with several infrastructural challenges, offers some unique opportunities for innovators. One such opportunity area is security & safety. The Uber case that took place in December 2014, brought into focus the need for solutions around safety & security.
A technology startup headquartered in San Fransico, Uber connects passengers with taxi drivers in 200 cities across 53 countries and enjoys a valuation of over USD 40 billion just about 6 years into its inception. The success story of Uber would have been a commendable one had the Company not become synonymous with flouting safety regulations and indulging in unfair business practices in order to make a quick buck, thereby leading to legal tangles in several countries where it operates.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, there has been a rapid increase incases of sexual harassment and assault, economic harassment (e.g. not paying daily wages in time or in full), murders, etc. in India. Women and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable.As a result, safety has become a prime concern for both, individuals and the government. Going by the incident of the rape of a woman executive in an Uber cab by its driver in Delhi, the company cannot escape the liability by virtue of the fact that it is only a cab aggregator and does not directly operate any taxis. It is ultimately a taxi services company, albeit an app-based one, and therefore cannot shirk the responsibility of ensuring the safety of passengers who hire a cab through them.
In fact for any business where customer security is involved, it should be built into the core of the operations rather than going the Uber way and resorting to shortcuts to achieve growth targets. As a result of this fiasco, all app-based cab services were banned in Delhi citing security issues. The ban will be lifted only if they agree to follow the rules meant for Radio Taxis.
Where Can Startups Innovate
While the government has to take necessary steps to ensure that it is able to keep the citizens safe & secure, it is not going to happen in a hurry, as India is too vast a country for the government or public infrastructure or policies or resources (security agencies, police etc.) to address these issues immediately.
And this is where I think that technology-enabled solutions can contribute significantly, in making India safe & secure. Innovators are already thinking of how to address security issues using technology. Some of these innovations could be in areas related identity verification; databases of track records of publicly accessed private individuals (e.g. cab drivers); performance and compliance tracking; reporting; alarms & alerts etc.
Software, as well as hardware products can create solutions across different types of cases, and the scale of the opportunity provides opportunities in India for tremendous cost-efficiencies to make these solutions affordable.
Biometrics and digital identity technologies are now commercially available, and inexpensive to use as one of the platforms for safety and security solutions.
Some of these solutions could be company specific (e.g. Uber or OLA may use a proprietory tool or process solution for due diligence on drivers and tracking), while a number of these solutions can be managed by third-party innovators/entrepreneurs who can offer their solutions as a managed-service offering.
Think about it. India is a developing country with a population of 1.2bn. We have 925mn mobile phone connections and a smartphone penetration of 350mn. Our GDP is 1.87tn USD and is expected to go to 3tn USD by 2020. The size of the market opportunity is large. One effective solution can make a whole world of difference to people who no longer feel safe outside their homes (or even inside). Moreover, India has the capability to create and outdo many such ‘Ubers’, keeping the integrity of the system intact.
We believe that the opportunity is real, the opportunity is NOW and the problems need to be addressed. And we also firmly believe that only technology innovations can address some of the major challenges related to security at the scale and speed at which we need to address them.
Here is what Startups can do, to avoid getting ‘Uberised’ –
- Have tech-enabled processes in place, to ensure accountability. And make it a norm. This can be critical for future collaborations
- Regular mystery audits to ensure compliance by even the ground staff
- Legal compliances and processes to ensure interest protection and liabilities of not only your company, but all stakeholders
- Gauge the risk factor – from your point of view AND also from the customers
- Have an escalation matrix, whereby customers can connect directly with you
About the Author:
Vikram Upadhyaya is the Founder of GHV Accelerator. As a member of Indian Angel Network, he has provide his mentorship to several startups in the country.
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