How Addison Lee, the '40-year-old startup uses innovative tech to quash Uber


"We're a technology company that enables cabs", jokes Peter Ingram, Addison Lee's chief technology officer.

"We're a forty year-old-startup. We've spent forty years giving this profession a professional image and others are now spending their time undoing it."

The stakes for services firms have never been so high thanks to the prevalence of the sharing economy and popular apps like Uber and Hailo, so Addison Lee is acutely aware it needs to innovate to stay ahead.

"It is very exciting times. We need to be boxing above our weight, innovating and using technology to do that. If you haven't got an Apple Watch, iPhone or Android app - you're out of the equation."

What has it got up its sleeves?

The firm has several tech tools up its sleeves to ensure it can continue to grow internationally: APIs, big data analysis and connected cars to name a few.

What differentiates Addison Lee from Uber is its treatment of its drivers, its "second customer", Ingram says.

"We are seeing small companies suffer due to the Uber affect. For us, the driver is key and critical to the whole system working for us. He is worth a pint of blood. You could have the greatest marketing and app in the world but your driver needs to be good. Some of ours have been with use over 10 or even twenty years and we want to make Addison Lee the best place to work for."

Give drivers better technology to compete with black cabs' knowledge base

Addison Lee is rolling out tablets to all its drivers so they can drive as strategically as black cabs and access apps that provide real-time driver tracking assistance for traffic and route updates that are more effective than the usual sat-nav apps.

Black cabs have had two years cruising the streets of London on a moped to learn hidden routes to cut corners. While Adisson Lee can't offer its drivers this level of training, it has created algorithms and software that will give them the best possible route.

"We send some routing information using algorithms to look at day travel and night travel as well as routes for black cab drivers so the driver isn't just following a sat nav."

It already predicts customer demand to deploy cab drivers to the right areas too.

"We've got a lot of data. Using our data warehouse we analyse metrics, KPIs and customer behaviours to see predictive demand. We use a lot of tools to give us insight for when customers want a car like heatmaps to direct drivers to come out and work at busy times.

"Look at the West End for example. Shoreditch has now taken over. We're watching those changing patterns and sending messages to drivers so they're available where we need them."

The team use a variety of in-house analytics tools and SAP Business Objects to crunch the "millions of bits of data we have", including a ten-year historical data pool.

Customer data

The firm knows an awful lot about its customers, from where they live, to the approximate price of their house and if they work for a corporate firm or not.

"We have good demographics and quite a lot of data that could be tapped into. We're using it for our own purposes but there is no reason why someone could not tap into it in the future."

So far, several universities have used anonymised information to analyse traffic flow within London - which could prove particularly useful for city planning, or the emerging driverless car projects that have been funded by government backed Innovate UK.

Additionally, it has rolled out wi-fi to 3,000 of its 5,000 fleet in the UK already. Not only does this keep the driver and customer happy, Ingram explains, but it opens up a new advertising revenue stream for Addison Lee.

"If you're driving along Oxford Street we could send you push notification for an offer in Selfridges", Ingram says.

Behind the scenes, there is a host of APIs, algorithms and control centre staff who are watching routes, customer interactions and anomalies in services to predict problems before they occur and give a courtesy call.

It has 110 seats in a call centre in Euston and 80 people working from home, as well as a central control hub with 30 employees monitoring "red bars" onscreen for anomalies.

Addison Lee runs its business systems on a three tier SAP Sybase database, running on IBM Power Series boxes on the application layer and Linux servers. Its app is written in Java and it uses MuleSoft to integrate its APIs with taxi firms in the UK and abroad where Addison Lee doesn't have its own fleet but wants to provide cars for its customers.

With a new loyalty scheme that went live last week, Addison Lee will continue to push out digital offers to its customers, but it says it won't be taking a leaf out of Uber's book in regards to price surging. Instead, its only price differentiation is if a customer books online - offering a cheaper deal to get more people using its app.

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