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Lumen Spring 2017 Issue
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The digital disruption of transportation

David Rohrsheim, General Manager of Uber Aus/ NZ

David Rohrsheim, General Manager of Uber Aus/ NZ
Digital technology is transforming the way we move around our cities and two University of Adelaide alumni are at the heart of the revolution locally.

David Rohrsheim (Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Finance) is General Manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand and Lachlan Cooper (PhD in Medical Biotechnology) is the State Manager of Uber South Australia.

We asked them about their work with the global ride-sharing platform and how they see the continuing impact of digital disruption on transport networks.

How did you go from studying at the University of Adelaide to working for Uber?

David: I have always sought to bridge technology and business. That’s why I studied a double degree at the University of Adelaide in finance and engineering. After graduation, I joined management consulting firm Bain in Sydney to learn how big businesses make decisions and handle change. Then I spent five years in Silicon Valley, first with an early-stage venture capital fund (DFJ, an early investor in Hotmail, Skype, Tesla and Baidu) and then studying an MBA at Stanford.

I had a front row seat to the world’s most dynamic start-up ecosystem. I learned that taking risk, embracing change and moving fast was essential to build the companies and jobs of the future. Uber was a product that I wanted to use myself. Uber gave me a chance to be part of making my city better. How often have you seen something that was broken and said, “Somebody should do something about this”?

Lachlan: About half way through my PhD I figured out that research wasn’t going to be for me long term. I love science but, being a generalist at heart, I found it difficult focussing on such a narrow area of research. I was lucky enough to get a consulting role at a management consulting firm, Partners in Performance, and spent a couple of years working across many different businesses, helping them solve problems related to efficiency, profitability and growth.

I learnt a lot about how businesses work and the challenges they face, and worked with some really brilliant people. I heard about an opportunity with Uber from someone I worked with while I was consulting and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Lachlan Cooper, State Manager of Uber SA

Lachlan Cooper, State Manager of Uber SA
What is your personal interest in transportation and technology?

David: Dr Matthew Sorell was an inspiration – he taught me a class on mobile phones back in 2003 and later supervised my honours project writing a mobile phone app three years before the Apple App Store would be invented. I passionately believe that technology improves lives. I’m not the inventor of any new technology, but I am constantly looking to bring the latest ideas into the world. And yes, my house is full of the latest gizmos to keep me on the edge.

Lachlan: In the short term, I want to make it easier for people to get around Adelaide and make the city more accessible. Down the track I would love to play a role in helping to shape a city that needs less parking spaces and has more green spaces.

How has digital disruption changed business and the way companies engage with their customers?

David: The only people who describe new ways of serving customers as disruptive are those who think they can take their customers for granted. Businesses should work on the assumption that a new company, and potential competitor, is born every day. As Australian Corruption and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said “Digital disruption is the most pro-competition thing to have in the country at the moment. It’s just fantastic”.

How has digital disruption improved people’s lives and encouraged innovation?

David: My proudest achievement with Uber is creating flexible work for over 60,000 Australians. Uber, and other on-demand platforms, give people the ability to press a button on their phone and make money whenever they want. This is a fundamentally new way of working. It’s clearly popular and I’d expect more people will look to this as an alternative to the 9-5 lifestyle in the future.

Lachlan: Uber is focused on giving people their time back. If I ride Uber to work I can use the driving time to do something else. If I use UberEATS, I can have dinner ready by the time I get home. In terms of innovation, one of the biggest benefits of a business being digital is that it is easier to scale than a traditional business; entrepreneurs have the ability to expand their businesses much faster.

What is still to come in digital technology in transportation?

David: Voice is emerging as a new interface to computers. You can call an Uber just by asking Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming of age through great leaps in machine learning. The same machine learning ideas that will power our autonomous vehicles is being used by computers to detect sharks on Australian beaches.

Lachlan: One of the things that I’m looking forward to is autonomous vehicles that will change the value proposition of car ownership. This will have a significant impact on the liveability of our cities by increasing the utilisation of vehicles on the road, reducing the need for car parking and thus increasing the usable space in a city. The sky really is the limit.

Can you tell us about Uber’s involvement in Smart Cities in Adelaide?

Lachlan: In terms of collaboration with government and industry partners, Uber is making data that shows travel time between two points in a city publicly available. This kind of information will help with infrastructure planning as governments can see areas that are becoming more congested and where investment is needed.

Once areas for improvement have been identified industry, government and research institutions, like the University of Adelaide, can work together on developing effective solutions.

Story by Kelly Brown, Kimberley Hoile & Fiona Davey
Photo of David supplied by Uber
Photo of Lachlan by Jo-Anna Robinson

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