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How does technology innovation shape our world?

News, Views, 29 July 2016
In Ventures, Views

How does technology innovation shape our world?

Lee Clancy, SVP Product & Mobile Strategy at Naspers shares how technology has the power to address big societal needs.

With Naspers’ focus on high-growth markets, we experience first-hand how technology enriches communities, every day, all over the world. Indeed, the most successful innovations are often those that solve big societal needs. Profit is clearly a powerful driver of innovation and investment decisions - and that’s fine - but profitable innovations typically also have broad and beneficial effects on society.

In many markets, the best innovations often standardise fragmented markets, increase transparency and competition, and bring far-reaching benefits to all.

redBus, an online bus ticketing and journey planning platform, is an example that does just that. redBus has brought order to the chaotic intercity bus network in India. It has not only made booking tickets a great deal easier, but it has also improved the quality of India’s bus services. 

It did this in two ways: directly and indirectly. 

The direct change for India’s bus riders is obvious: for the first time ever, the nation’s vast number of bus routes and timetables from a wide array of operators are now digitally aggregated and mapped.

Consequently, India’s complex bus network became more transparent for passengers, who can now get to work on time, make easier journeys to visit relatives and travel with far less hassle.

The indirect, second order benefits are in many ways even more interesting.

In addition to timetables, pricing, route data, and boarding points, redBus aggregates real-time information about the services delivered by each of India’s many bus companies to help customers make better ticket purchase decisions. One operator might, for example, provide customers with the option of choosing a sleeper seat; another might offer free WiFi or air conditioning. Once redBus makes this information visible in one place, all of India’s various bus companies can also see what amenities their competitors offer.

Over time, this amenity transparency drove, and continues to drive, all bus companies to raise their game, ultimately benefitting society at large.

Increased transparency didn’t only result in changes to the booking process. They led to significant improvements in rider experience. For many bus companies, redBus users can select their seat in advance, see if the person they’ll be sitting next to is a man or a woman, or even choose a seat reserved only for women. This level of user control delivers not only a better UX during booking, but also a more relaxing journey on the bus.

Additionally, as redBus democratised the market and weakened the grip of larger players, the need for bus drivers expanded, which helped increase jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities across the country.

This rising tide of improved customer experience, more efficient operations, and revenue growth has only been made possible by the transparency that innovative technology applications can provide. With its recent expansion in Latin America and Southeast Asia, redBus is now taking its innovations to other countries with similarly challenging transportation environments. Its impact on these societies is expected to mirror that of the imprint it has left on its home market.

Innovations such as these are good business, but they also create situations where everybody wins: the company, the consumer, communities and society at large. The by-product of standardisation and increased competition enabled by technology is bringing about tangible improvements to peoples’ lives. 

From our vantage point at Naspers, what’s most exciting is seeing this process happen over and over again across so many markets worldwide. It’s a great feeling to know that every example like redBus inspires countless other founders and entrepreneurs to tackle new problems and address societal needs.

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