Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ola Money - Menace Or Delight?

Ola Cabs is currently a very popular cab/taxi aggregator service in India that provides match making services between those looking for taxis and those providing taxis. They have become popular due to the way they have adopted technology to make the taxis available to people, overturning companies like Fasttrack taxi and Wings Radio Cabs. These other companies still continue to exist and operate, but a large chunk of the taxi driver population has shifted loyalties to Ola cabs and Uber as well. Uber does exactly what Ola does, only difference being it is an american company that has started operations in India now.

Now, in their endeavour to keep up with superior competition like Uber, Ola has adopted a technology aided approach to make your taxi ride a smoother process. Going by this approach, and also believing that cash is a messy mode of payment, for the past one and half years, they have been offering a within-app wallet service called Ola Money, where you prepay and store some money in your name in their account, and that is digitally disbursed to the taxi driver you want to pay at the end of your ride. No need to run around for change. The driver gets a settlement on a per-day or per-week basis. In theory, this sounds very rosy. But implementation is a different beast altogether.

In my observation of using the Ola service coupled with the digital wallet feature, and also in my interactions with some of the taxi drivers who ferry me around the city, I have come to realise that in the name of having agility in business decisions, Ola has become a company whose payment policies can be as fickle as the human mind. Taxi drivers regularly mention ever changing payment settlement policies, what with Ola trying to factor in user feebback into payment disbursal and penalizing drivers with lower ratings. While users are getting accustomed to the convenience of not having to worry about exact change, or running short of money to pay the taxi, the taxi drivers are increasingly wary of taking digital payments because they are not clear exactly how much money will come to their hands inspite of running the taxi for the entire day. The average driver's expectation is I get a customer, I ferry them around, I ought to get paid in full for that. And when that fundamental logic in their mind doesnt match up with reality due to constant churn of policy decisions, it puts them in a spot. Result – A good number of drivers regularly ask for cash payments, and some of them go to the extent of turning down taxi bookings where customer may not pay in hard cash. And lacking a practical view of real life scenarios, the Ola app doesnt give the customer an option to choose the mode of payment when you keep money in your Ola wallet.

You can read this thread of tweets by blogger and techie Krish Ashok, and the many responses to his tweet that will give you an idea of how the digital wallet implementation of Ola lacks the angle of practicality to it. -

In August of 2015, There have also been news reports about how the Ola APIs have been built in a less than robust way, and about how some hackers have been able to pilfer out personal information of various users. The company subsequently claims to have plugged these loopholes and fixed potential vulnerabilities.

As they say, it takes a lot of vision, commitment and foresight to build a robust business that creates a lifetime of value for itself and also for people that depend on it. Hoping that Ola does the same, and not get trapped in the cocoon of lopsided technology addiction and compulsive need to sway to the commands of their fund masters.