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Whether or not the TNC business model can sustain itself long term — from both a regulatory and profitability perspective — is playing out in the courts, statehouses, and among investors who keep bankrolling the TNCs before they turn a profit. One reality is clear — the on-demand technology genie is out of the bottle and here to stay in one form or another because consumers want a one click, real-time, mobile-app transportation service.
Many traditional limousine operators have lost business to TNCs. Others, not so much, depending on their business models, fleet make ups, and corporate clientele focused on service-oriented luxury transportation. But no one in the industry thinks any company is immune from TNCs muscling into their business.
Given the limousine industry has been slow to adopt improved technology to run its operations, coupled with the traditional software providers only offering proprietary applications without hooks into other software applications, on-demand technology is forcing them to finally play nice and cooperate with one another.
In addition, a host of new players have entered the private ground transportation space, enabling operators to play in the on-demand and pre-arranged world via their booking/dispatch web-based and mobile app technologies.
“Unfortunately, our industry is a mix of different dispatch systems that do too many things and you can’t tell an operator what platform they should choose, so we have to work with the platforms they have,” says Apurva Patel, CEO and founder of GroundWidgets. “One of the things we want to promote is what we call ‘universal connectivity,’ (commonly known as open systems) where platform providers build a module into their respective dispatch systems/applications that allows direct communication from one dispatch system to another. My proposal to software providers is let’s all agree to build one universal connector that each builds into our respective dispatch modules and make that the standard that allows direct communication from one dispatch system to another.”
The goal is to allow operators and affiliates to work together seamlessly no matter what back-office reservation/dispatch system they prefer to use for pre-arranged, near demand, on-demand, and affiliate work. If operators want to join one or more of the new city-based or nationwide mobile app-based booking/dispatch services to add to their business models, then it’s just another component embedded into their “dashboard” they can choose to turn on or off depending on fleet activity levels.
“If you call a vendor and they don’t have an open system — hang up,” says Mark Gentry, president of Limo Anywhere. Gentry noted the vendor community is connecting, but there is still missionary work to be done among operators to change how they have always done business.
Technology-based open system dispatch will reduce staff and drive affiliate work, he adds. “Think about all of the dispatchers and fleet managers who spend all day texting or calling to update affiliates, chauffeurs and clients, rescheduling rides, and more.”
“The unifying theme for the industry is connectivity rather than innovation on the dispatch side,” Gentry says. “The hard dispatch problems have been solved. Now the difference is just vendors having more features than others. It’s now about the connectivity side — allowing the technologies to work together to create a global industry and affiliate network.”
Many Open Doors
Raj Grewal, former owner of Limo Alliance but now with GroundWidgets since it acquired his company in September, says, “Operators are coming around because they see technology can cut the cost of reservations, dispatch and billing. And at the same time the legacy technology providers are connecting and that never used to happen.”
All of the on-demand options out there are good for the industry, Grewal says. “iCars is good, Karhoo is good, all the competition out there is good because operators now have more choices for their particular business. You still need dispatchers, reservationists, billing departments for your future reservation businesses, but in the on-demand world, that’s all taken care of, so maybe you can cut prices a little because it’s not costing you anything on your back-end because the transaction is automatic. That’s a win-win for both sides. I think more choices for operators can only help operators, compared to being stuck with a legacy system, because if one application doesn’t work for you, you have other options to go to depending on your needs.”
As with any new disruptive technology entering a traditional market, reactors emerge to counter the upstart. In this industry, the on-demand solution has ignited a kerfuffle among traditional software providers, new startups, and some big chauffeured networks to join their affiliate partners to launch a luxury transportation on-demand service. Further, other new middleware companies want to connect all of the legacy systems and new system layers into one seamless integrated venue.
The industry has been stuck in a tech bubble, says Amir Zafar, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based GRiDD Technologies. “There’s a lot of good technology out there, and GRiDD is just the plumbing tying it all together so everyone can connect and every system can flow to one another.”
GRiDD is a neutral platform that does not compete in the industry or step on any vendor’s turf. “We are just a facilitator for operators to do what they want to do using the systems they have to do real-time, on-demand chauffeured services nationwide. However, operators not interested in on-demand could also use GRiDD to make use of deadhead runs or take more advanced reservations.”
The company was launched in 2011 by Zafar with a group of industry consultants who have a long history in large, enterprise level system integrations across many industries worldwide. Before starting GRiDD, Zafar co-founded AAXIS Commerce.
“We are the new guys who saw the opportunity in the limousine industry because there have been promises to build bridges but nothing has happened,” he says. “We are integration experts but are neutral players that have no interest in your fleet, customers, or business model.”
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding GRiDD:
Q: What is GRiDD?
A: GRiDD’s GNet is a B2B open and neutral market platform designed to enable operator-to-operator reservations and to facilitate new market channels and new business opportunities for operators from outside and within the industry.
The GNet platform is a communications/translation platform. GNet is not a booking system nor does it sell transportation services of any kind. The GNet Platform is a bi-directional switch; an operator may send or receive reservations and other information / services from other operators as well as other travel and transportation distributors, including travel portals, travel management companies, online travel agencies (Expedia.com, etc.), mobile booking applications, and other aggregators.
These connections are designed to expand the visibility of the network participants (operators), drive participation in new market segments, and help create business opportunities for all participants. GNet members completely control their levels of visibility in the marketplace (both to other operators and/or other sources of new business) and may establish relationships with any other company on the platform they wish to do business with. By facilitating operator visibility and providing access to global travel portals, mobile applications, and other verticals and/or technologies, GNet arms operators with the tools necessary to exchange information via their dispatch systems.
Q: What is the cost of GNet?
A: GNet is a transaction based system requiring no upfront payments. No investment in additional hardware or software is required or necessary. Registration on the GNet platform is free. Once an operator begins sending and/or receiving transactions via the platform, a flat transaction fee (50 cents) for each completed reservation sent or received is charged. Updates, cancels, or querying the location of vehicles do not incur extra fees. Bills are monthly, with no commitments or binding contracts.
Q: How do we know if we can use GNet?
A: GNet is connected to multiple dispatch systems such as Limo Anywhere, Livery Coach, FASTTRAK Cloud Livery Systems, and others set to come on board. If you are using one of these systems, you are already connected. Make sure you are registered on GNet to be seen by other operators, distributors, and other sources of new business. If you are not using a GNet connected dispatch system, GRiDD will be happy to develop a customized integration process for you and your system.
Q: What is required for installation?
A: If you are using one of the GNet connected dispatch systems, then your software provider has made all of the necessary changes to your programming to enable the transmission of reservations and information to/from your system. You will not be required to install any additional technology or equipment. You will simply need to reach out to your software provider for the necessary instructions and support documentation to activate the new capabilities.
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