Uber Spotify CIOs

You tap your smartphone. The car arrives moments later. You get in, take your ride, and get out. No fussing with credit cards or cash, no figuring out the tip.

Even with its existing service, Uber has managed to create the kind of smooth, fully digitized experience that could serve as a model for how CIOs could use IT as an enabler for employees and customers. Uber’s announcement on Monday of a partnership with music streaming service Spotify, however, may wind up being more instructive still.

The idea is pretty simple: Much in the way Netflix allows consumers to watch movies on demand and curate their own lists of interesting films, Spotify charges a monthly fee for premium users to hear the music they want. They can also organize them into playlists, and now, according to the new startups, those taking Uber’s on-demand car service — where both ordering the car and paying for it are all handled through its mobile app — can get their Spotify playlists to broadcast in the car whenever they take a ride.

According to a story on Inc., the firm even coined a bit of jargon to describe what the partnership will offer Uber users: “soundtracking.”

“We’re always trying to create what we call a highly evolved experience,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said during a call with reporters. “It’s the first time we’ve personalized the experience inside the car.”

The takeaway for IT leaders

Full disclosure: I use both Uber and Spotify, and I wrote this post before all the blow-up about Uber senior staff reportedly discussing stalking journalists and others who critique the company. This isn’t intended to “save” me from future vengeance or something.

But just think about the struggles CIOs in more traditional enterprises have in getting traction with the things they build. Users often either completely dismiss or ignore new software programs, mobile apps and other tools intended to help them, or they create elaborate workarounds that may be even put companies at risk. Even when IT departments get to design mobile apps or other digital products for end customers, adoption can feel like a steep hill to climb.

Uber and Spotify have an advantage in already being fairly popular, but their decision to work together shows how layering on value to an existing convenience can be highly attractive. I would not be at all surprised if this is only the first of many partnerships a company like Uber forms.

Although it wouldn’t garner as much press, what about inking a deal with SAP, Oracle or Salesforce to bring some of the more promising business apps to life inside the car? Maybe it’s something as simple as reading your most recent e-mails aloud, or replacing the cheesy ads that are often featured on the back-of-the-seat monitors in U.S. cabs with a dashboard showing CRM data? Of course, they could pull out their tablet or smartphone to do some of these things, but you could listen to Spotify from those devices too. Being able to enjoy them via the car is a simple, more immersive and ultimately more contextualized experience. That’s should be the Holy Grail for IT departments right now.

Content — even the best content — needs a great distribution channel. A smart CIO working on a mobile app or other digital offering for her customers today should do all the usual stuff — make sure it works well, is highly secure and so on — but also think about how best to manifest or surface that experience. It might not be on a traditional piece of hardware.

There can be good intentions behind the idea of putting users in the driver’s seat with IT. But sometimes, as Uber and Spotify are demonstrating, it may be better to consider what they might want in the passenger seat instead.



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