Uber Swallows Taxi Drivers, Software Eats World, and Croatia Chews Its Past

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Is Croatia ready for technological change?

Yes, we are again talking about Uber, taxi drivers and tourists, but only as an example that proves that IT directly affects all of our lives, jobs and our country, which at the same time is more ready to deal with the past than to prepare for the future, reports Netokracija on 31 July 2017.

The software will eat the world, said technology investor Marc Andreessen in 2011. That is a statement which has since become known to almost everyone in touch with technology and business, and Andreessen was right, as we have seen in recent days in Croatia – where one application, Uber, is changing the jobs and lives of many Croats.

It has been a few days since the protests of taxi drivers against Uber in Split and Dubrovnik, but passions are still running high. Now comes the time to seriously analyse what the uberisation brings to the Croatian market and to the state itself. This last part is particularly interesting because, according to the state, its regulations, and Minister of Sea, Transport and Infrastructure Oleg Butković, Uber, which provoked such unrest, has been operating illegally in Croatia for two years.

Let us repeat this – it operates, but illegally.

However, at the same time, the state has demonstrated a rather weak reaction against this illegal business – several seized vehicles, a few fines, threats that the app will be banned in Croatia which caused ridicule among the public. Even Butković himself had to condemn the protests and blockage of roads at the peak of the tourist season. Although he said that the target which the taxi drivers were protesting against was illegal, at the same time he stressed that changes in the Law on Road Transport could legalise Uber.

This is a clear example of how technology, in this case, an app that connects drivers and users (although it is not “just” an app), affects the way in we use a service, market and, ultimately, the rules. Users can quickly get used to better solutions; they will easily allow software to eat up or change an industry and long-established businesses just to make it easier, faster, and more affordable for them to access a service, content or product they need.

Andreessen talked about it six years ago, listing all the industries which software has affected – from retail (have you noticed that the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, a few days ago became the richest person in the world?), film industry (Netflix), music industry (Spotify, Deezer…), telecom services (VOIP and chat services), but also financial, health, military and even transport services. At the time this seemed somewhat abstract, but now every Croat is talking about these changes.

It is indicative that, at the same time, technological entrepreneur Matija Kopić pointed out the need to set up a kind of Ministry of the Future, which is particularly ironic because just a month ago the government founded the so-called Committee for Dealing with the Past.

True, as Matija noticed, there is the Central State Office for Development of Digital Society, which should at least partly resolve these issues – but it has not been very active since it was established in October 2016. Before that, its activities were under the Ministry of Administration, when interesting services, such as gov.hr, open data portal or e-Citizen, were launched. However, thanks to political disagreements, the Office has already managed to change its state secretary – Marijan Lalić, an independent, supported by MOST was replaced with HDZ’s Bernard Gršić. Maybe something will happen, but it must be noted that the stagnation of digitisation and digital transformation of Croatian society, in this case, was a direct consequence of political turmoil. For it is easier to collect political points by dealing with the past than by facing what the future brings us. This will bring a much higher ROI, while efforts to follow the Estonian example will go unnoticed by the majority of the public.

But, perhaps this is just for the time being, because Uber is not the only example happening today in Croatia, although it is perhaps the loudest one. It endangered a group that has long dictated the rules of the taxi business. But, Uber is not afraid to respond at the right time, in the right way, which further earns it sympathies from the users, although at the global level the image of the company is questionable. Such quick reaction is possible because it is still a software company at its core, agile and responsive to what is happening around it.

The media recently reported on Beeping, a “Uber for cleaning”, that could shake up the business of cleaning apartments and offices and comes from neighbouring Slovenia. Croatia’s Gigley wants to do the same with household jobs and repairs, while Locodels does it with deliveries. There are many other examples present today that are changing various industries, all based on software and market opportunities.

But, it is easier to shut your eyes than look into the future which could, in just a few years, bring us autonomous and maybe even flying cars. That sounds like science fiction, but that is how Andreessen seemed just six years ago.

He also spoke about some of the problems that accompany such sudden changes, which we are witnessing today. For example, the lack of real education and skills required for a digital career, which will create ever greater gaps and instabilities in the labour market. This could not be corrected even if the education reform were started right now because the problems have been present for many years (just ask employers in the IT industry), and with the digital transformation, that problem will only grow larger – it will become the reality which the state will have to deal with.

But, the state that is dealing more with the past than the present, let alone the future, will hardly be ready for all the challenges that await us. Still, it does not matter, because the software is still hungry and may eventually swallow the state itself.

Translated from Netokracija.


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