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From taxi app to auto supplier, Ola is ready to play

Michael Nash looks at the recent move by India's ride-hailing service company Ola to become an auto industry supplier

Ride-hailing services are becoming extremely popular in cities around the world, even in emerging markets such as India. To take full advantage of this, companies may need to provide more than just the service.

A strategic change

India’s ride-hailing service company Ola recently announced a new partnership with Microsoft that will see the companies create a connected vehicle platform designed for car manufacturers across the world. This will mark a significant strategic move for Ola, with the company branching out from being solely a mobility service provider to a supplier.

The idea behind the collaboration is for Ola to leverage Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) expertise and Cloud services to enhance and adapt Ola Play – an existing connected car platform for ride-sharing – ensuring that it can be widely adopted. Both companies will then take the platform to OEMs in the hope of integrating it with their systems.

Ola Cabs billboard India
In October 2017, Ola began rolling out free on-board Wi-Fi to 120,000 rickshaws across India

“Today’s car is quickly becoming the ultimate computing device and together with Ola, we’re focused on providing more intelligent, connected and productive experiences to our customers,” explained Satya Nadella, Chief Executive of Microsoft. “The combination of Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and our AI platform with Ola Play will deliver new customer experiences and business opportunities across the automotive ecosystem.”

Ola Play was launched in 2016. Speaking recently at Connected Car Pune 2017, Anand Subramanian, Senior Director of Ola’s PR & Corporate Communications, described how the company and its offering has evolved.

Shaping consumer needs

“I’ve seen the company go from being present in one city to over 100 now,” Subramanian recalled. “Ola’s growth is a reflection of where the Indian consumer is – the country’s mobility market and consumer needs are very unique, and we have helped shaped them.”

Value for money has always been extremely important for consumers in India, with cheap public transport services often over crowded. However, connectivity is playing an increasingly important role.

Ola and Microsoft will enhance Ola Play in India – longer term, it could be supplied to vehicle manufacturers around the world

In October 2017, Ola announced that it would offer free Wi-Fi on board 120,000 rickshaws (otherwise known as tuk-tuks). As a result, passengers can remain connected as they travel, accessing social media on their smartphones or writing emails, for example.

“The evolution of Ola Play all started with what we call auto-connect Wi-Fi,” Subramanian continued. “The thought process behind this was simple: people spend more time on the road than anywhere else aside from work and home. We wanted to get people connected when they get into the vehicle without needing to go through the trouble of entering a passkey.”

However, Ola’s customer app and driver app can be used without an Internet connection. This, he added, is vital due to inconsistent network coverage: “We live in a country where connectivity changes every three or four kilometres. You can be in one part of the city and have perfect coverage, and in another it becomes like a black hole.”

Technology and mobility convergence

Looking ahead, Subramanian thinks that Ola is positioned well to start work as a supplier alongside Microsoft. “We’ve been working with Indian and global car manufacturers for around four years now,” he noted. “We see technology and mobility converging in a big way, with both ride-sharing platforms like us as well as car manufacturers working together.”

He described the partnership as a “game changer” for the Indian market, marking the first time that a technology company like Microsoft and a ride-hailing company like Ola have teamed up to provide a solution for vehicle manufacturers.

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