Why Mobile Is The New Website

Tom Halligan
Posted on December 11, 2015

PARAMUS, N.J. — LCT sat down with GroundWidgets Founder CEO Apurva Patel to review the state of emerging on-demand apps and the challenges the limousine industry faces in adjusting to mobile technology.

LCT: What do you see as the major technology shift in the industry now?

Patel: In my mind, operators need to give clients the ability to book on a mobile app. Mobile is the new website. Ten years ago, the mantra was you had to have a website and online reservation system. Today, you have to have a mobile app to allow your clients to book on a mobile device whenever they want your services.

LCT: That leads to the point many industry members are talking about — the emergence of companies that have launched or will launch a universal limousine industry on-demand mobile app to compete with TNCs.

Patel: There are many challenges because most operators are not geared to work with an on-demand customer. Look at the taxi and black car industries; they are geared towards on-demand dispatch because they are used to operating in an ASAP mode. This is a complete shift in the operation mode of the limousine customer. Traditional limousine companies don’t have the drivers out there and don’t want them sitting around. This is an operational shift for the industry. I don’t know how many operators are comfortable switching to an on-demand model.

FASTFACTS: GroundWidgets
Location: Paramus, N.J.
Founder/CEO: Apurva Patel

  • Back Office Software Systems: SantaCruz, ULS, and LMS
  • Mobile Apps for Customers: GroundApp
  • Mobile Solutions for Chauffeurs: GroundPad
  • Agency and Corporate Booking Connectivity: GroundSpan
  • GPS Fleet Tracking
  • Safety and Accident Avoidance: GroundSafety

LCT: It’s interesting because there are operators who say that TNCs are not hurting their business, and there are others who say they are losing business.

Patel: You want to be on-demand to the extent that you can service clients, but are you willing to sacrifice price over function? No way. Today, consumers will equate price to an Uber ride versus a limousine ride. I work in New York and I don’t know any executive who would call a limo to go 10 blocks. They’ll take a taxi because they know it will cost $10 to $15. They’re not calling a limo company for a $60 ride. On-demand operators have a choice — charge traditional price or downgrade service levels for short trips that basically cannibalize their business/pricing model. In fact, customers might start to realize that on-demand limousine service is cheaper than advanced ordering.

LCT: What other obstacles do you see?

Patel: With the on-demand mobile app, you must have a client app and a driver app, and very tight control over that experience because operators cannot afford to have a bridge that goes from the customer, to the back office, and then to the driver, and hope that the driver responds and gets back to the customer. If you don’t have the back-end dispatching system as part of the core strategy, the challenge will always be trying to create this controlled experience from start to finish — from the time the order is placed, to the time the driver is notified, to the time the client is notified, to when the driver is on his way, to the end when the transaction is completed and the card is charged. If they (industry on-demand app companies) want to work with all the operators out there, they have to build the bridge to integrate into every operator’s back-office system.

LCT: Please elaborate on the bridge-integration issues.

Patel: It’s not impossible, but it’s a significant technical challenge that requires a fair amount of work to get it done, especially when you have operators who have their own in-house infrastructure, local servers, connections, and performance issues.

LCT: What are your thoughts on Uber?

Patel: Uber has set the bar very low. Their customers have been trained from the get-go that when you launch its app and no cars are available in your area, you are not getting a car. Consumers can’t get mad because they know that’s how it works and they just go find another means of transportation. Now, if you are a limo company with an on-demand app and say no cars are available, all hell breaks loose because the limousine business is about customer service while the Uber model is about making cars available. Operators do not work that way. Chauffeurs are either busy on the road, or if there is not enough work, they’re home. Operators don’t want them hanging around.

LCT: That is the discussion in the industry as we speak.

Patel: Yes. There are two main issues: A — Are you going to focus your business on these last-minute, on-demand rides that are priced lower than what you normally charge the customer? And B — Even if you have a car available, would you risk giving up your driver to an on-demand mobile app company and have it take your inventory away? Then you can’t use that driver to service a corporate client that calls you 10 minutes later and needs transportation.

The other issue is wear and tear on vehicles. Limo companies have high-end vehicles less than three years old that are well maintained, and that’s why they can charge $70 an hour. Do you want to use those vehicles for many local short trips causing more wear and tear and make less money? I don’t see that bridge being crossed.

LCT: How does GroundWidgets fit into the equation?

Patel: We are not in business to provide booking or transportation services. We are the technology agent that powers and enables operators. Our value proposition is providing a fully integrated portfolio of products tailored to customer needs because labor is very expensive and we provide automation services to operators. We don’t aspire to be like Deem or iCars because that would get us in the middle between the operator-client relationships.

LCT: Any final thoughts?

Patel: Regardless of industry on-demand apps, operators today must be technically astute with mobile apps and have good communication integration systems. Looking at the industry overall, operators need to focus and work with each other on a common network, but at the end of day, how many operators will give up their brands to a generic on-demand brand like Deem, iCars, or Whisk? That’s what it comes down to I think. Are they (operators) really building a better relationship with their corporate clients? Or cannibalizing their market share and diluting the brand that took them 15 to 20 years to build? This industry is about service, and using technology and automation to fine-tune the experience for the customer. That is what will drive the future of the industry.

Related Topics: apps, Apurva Patel, GroundWidgets, industry vendors, mobile technology, vehicle apps

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