With Uber racking up over 2 million trips on South African roads in the first six months of last year, in stark comparison to the 1 million trips taken throughout the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, the digital giant's popularity has skyrocketed on the continent.
Uber has become a firm part of the South African transportation ecosystem and the term "I'm going to just Uber it" is a widely heard phrase while out and about in the nation's major cities.
I chatted with Uber's Central Operations Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, Timothy Willis, ahead of his presentation at this year's AfricaCom, about data insights, the unique operating challenges Africa presents and what he's most looking forward to at this year's event.
1. We look forward to welcoming you to AfricaCom next month, you will be delivering the presentation: ‘Uber – the big data company’, what kinds of data and insight is most meaningful to Uber and in your capacity as, more specifically?
In my role as Central Operations Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, my team focuses on three key areas: (1) Supply Operations, (2) Analytics and (3) Process.
From a Supply Operations perspective, we’re continually monitoring the number of driver-partners that are online and considering whether we need to encourage more to go online, or move to busier areas. We’re always looking at how best Driver-Partners are using our technology and how we can improve that experience. An example of this is Forward Dispatch, which allows drivers who are already on a trip to get another one if their drop-off location and a rider’s pick-up location are at the same place.
"In any start-up, scaling your processes is really important. The decision on which process to build out and scale is always based on data"
On the analytics and process side, we’re always trying to identify the major challenges of the business and improve our processes to deal with them. In any start-up, scaling your processes is really important. The decision on which process to build out and scale is always based on data. We’re are always analysing data to best understand our business.
"We’re customer obsessed at Uber"
2. How has Uber been able to leverage its data and analytics to improve customer experience? What has the practical application looked like?
We’re customer obsessed at Uber and that means we are looking through at how we can improve the experience for all riders and drivers on the platform. For instance, a lot of riders requested scheduled rides. We realised there was a business case to scale this product and so today you’re able to schedule a ride with Uber.
"Road networks are not as developed and congestion is a challenge in most of our markets"
3. Uber has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in South Africa which has subsequently spread through Kenya and Nigeria, how does operating in Sub-Saharan Africa differ from that of say the UK and North America?
There are unique challenges to operating in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to the UK and North America. For example, road networks are not as developed and congestion is a challenge in most of our markets. It is our job to overcome these challenges and ensure riders and drivers have a seamless Uber experience.
"I’m looking forward to seeing how AfricaCom will become a powerful vehicle for digital transformation"
4. What are you looking to gain from attending and speaking at AfricaCom 2016?
I’m excited to see what the audience will think of using data and analytics as a tool to improve the customer experience.
5. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event?
I’m looking forward to seeing how AfricaCom will become a powerful vehicle for digital transformation, economic development and social empowerment. I’m also you looking forward to interacting with leaders in the industry.