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How Uber’s India tech centres are driving unique innovations for global markets

Uber's India tech centres recently completed the seven-year milestone. Megha Yethadka, Senior Director, Program Management and Jayaram Valliyur, Senior Director, Engineering, share how some of the most critical technology innovations and product launches are being led from their centres in Bangalore and Hyderabad. The two centres together handle 13 critical technology functions for Uber globally, including Rider, Eats, FinTech, Risk and Payments, Maps, GSS, Customer Obsession, Uber for Business, AdTech and Growth, Infra, and IT, among others

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Can you share with us a brief background of Uber’s tech centres in India ? How are you using India as your key engineering hub?

Megha Yethadka: We started our journey of the India tech centres from a house in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad in 2014, with a three-member team, and are now a crucial part of Uber’s tech story, with a 750-plus-member team, and plans to grow further. We have also recently announced plans to hire 250 more engineers in the India tech centers through 2021. The two centres together handle 13 critical technology functions for Uber globally, including Rider, Eats, FinTech, Risk and Payments, Maps, GSS, Customer Obsession, Uber for Business, AdTech and Growth, Infra, and IT, among others. Some of the most critical technology innovations and product launches are being led from our sites in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Jayaram Valliyur: We are focused on building a talent-rich organisation that can innovate for our global markets and customers. Our differentiators are the bright minds we have on the team and the innovations being driven out of here. We have relentlessly kept the bar high and this has enabled us to build teams which are continuously learning from each other and driving innovation. This has also helped us attract other top talent.

What have been your breakthrough tech innovations – for India and other markets?

Megha Yethadka: We have launched new product lines from India tech. Examples are prescription delivery of pharmaceuticals in the US, cab hailing in the UK through integration of a third-party cab aggregator, high capacity vehicles (Uber Bus), micro mobility, etc. We have innovated for emerging markets with products such as Uber Lite, Cash payments, etc., launched them in India and scaled across the world. We have made technology investments to improve customer experience – whether it is automated merchant onboarding or payments platforms and experience. The seamless financial systems that cater to our business, enabling our wall street reporting are built and maintained through our FinTech and Payments team in India. From here, we drive a lot of the tech innovation that scales operations globally, ranging from virtual customer support to map editing, machine learning operations to digitisation and more.

How have these innovations addressed the unique urban transportation challenges in India ?

Megha Yethadka: In India, we have innovated in multiple ways to address transportation challenges:
• Flexibility and traffic situation: To offer our customers a range of options to commute from point A to B, we have innovated on our product offerings – from pool to premium, auto to moto, transit and more. We are constantly watching out for the needs of our customers and launching products and services that cater to them.
• Payments: In addition to integrations with key payment providers in India, we allowed for cash payments several years ago (including infrastructure for earner payments, fraud etc) and this has been an innovation that has scaled to other regions.
• Network conditions: Given the volatility in the network, we have invested in technology that allows you to book a ride in low network conditions (Lite) and also book a ride through mobile, SMS and other forms.

How has technology helped your operations during the lockdown phases ?

Megha Yethadka: During the pandemic, technology has helped operations in several ways. Few key ones are:
• Safety first: We enabled the launch of several safety-first initiatives. ML ops for mask detection, updation of maps with road closures and accelerated digital payments transition are three examples of areas where India tech contributed.
• Satisfying evolving customer needs: We quickly adapted to changing customer needs and launched new products – Uber connect to deliver any item within a city and Uber Medics to transport healthcare workers are two examples of the same.
• Transition to virtual operations: Keeping in mind the safety of our customers, we built automated support systems and virtual support tools and enabled seamless service to our customers.
• Expanding earnings opportunities: In countries where Uber Eats operates, a lot of restaurants started switching to delivery during the pandemic. The tech and ops to accelerate onboarding, menu ingestion etc., was built and scaled from India too.

Jayaram Valliyur:
• We built technology to enable seamless distribution of PPE kits to our driver partners and keep the trip safe for our customers.

Your focus on R&D.

Megha Yethadka: Making big bold bets is one of our company’s cultural norms. That very statement lends itself to investment in experimentation and R&D. In the India tech centres, we built and encouraged an innovation culture. We launched “My innovation time” in our sites where engineers, program managers and data analysts can get together to solve problems (even if it is outside of their core role/focus area). From a hiring standpoint, we look for problem solvers and innovators. We encourage continual learning and diverse perspectives, both critical to any R&D centre. We learn from and collaborate with the best, internally across our global sites and externally with the industry. To summarise, we have built our India tech centres to lead R&D and innovation for Uber and continue to make investments holistically to raise our own bar.

Jayaram Valliyur: We encourage our teams to continuously challenge the status quo and drive improvements. We operate in the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds, and it gives us many opportunities. Small changes can sometimes result in a large impact for our customers. We encourage our engineers to use the products they build to understand the pain points. Engineers along with the product partners listen to the customer service calls, look at contact data or shadow our users of the product to drive new insights for innovations. We also encourage our engineers to understand our key results and push them for better ways to solve to achieve the same results.

Which emerging technologies will redefine the mobility sector in the years to come?

Megha Yethadka: If you look at the emerging direction and future of mobility, shifts we are seeing are towards multi-modal, shared, platform approach to go and get, energy efficiency, autonomy and more. Technology has a key to play to redefine the sector and accelerate progress towards these long term milestones. More precise ML/AI models for routing and navigation. simplifying product interfaces, personalising user experiences are all going to be key. With network connectivity and location technology improving, connected cars are also an emerging area that could transform mobility space and the experiences around it.

Jayaram Valliyur: Any technology that will enable safety, sustainable mobility and simplify for customers to move will find traction. I see ML/AI models helping in preventing safety incidents proactively, renewable energy sources to power vehicles, and driverless vehicles will drive huge transformations in this area.

Is there any other significant factor you wish to highlight ?

Jayaram Valliyur: We as a country need to continuously invest in institutes of higher learning to enable us to drive more innovations for the world from India. We are also continuously driving improvements to the diversity in workforce to build a world class long term sustainable organisation.

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