Will monopoly work in the age of digital disruption?

The birth of these ‘business disruptors’ in the last decade has changed the way we live, whether we like it or not

Graphic By ANIS SHAMSUL

LET’S face it. We are already living in the future we once imagined 20 years ago. From video calls on smartphones and 3D virtual reality headset to flying delivery drones, autonomous vehicles and flying cars. All these things which seemed impossible at one point are now readily available.

The birth of these “business disruptors” in the last decade has changed the way we live, whether we like it or not. From transportation to grocery shopping to ordering food, there is very little room left untouched by the digital revolution.

Less than five years ago, cab drivers in the UK and Malaysia had protested against ride-sharing firms — Uber Technologies Inc and Grab Holdings Inc. Despite many attempts and regulations to stifle their growth, these companies have revolutionised global public transportation.

They provided a new thinking and opportunity. In the entertainment sector, Netflix Inc — the on-demand provider for television (TV) shows and movies — has literary punched a hole as big as a meteor crater on TV stations. The company, which was founded more than 20 years ago, has garnered a base that made the company worth more than US$152 billion (RM633.84 billion) in 2018, ahead of both its competitors, Comcast Corp and the Walt Disney Co.

In tourism, the hotel industry had been struggling to fight off the homesharing application, Airbnb Inc. Despite the short rental service being outlawed in a few countries, Airbnb has risen to prominence, including in Malaysia.

There are other “disruptive” firms that are changing the way we live and work. Local entrepreneurs have also tried to stake a claim in this very “disruptive world” like Dego Ride.

One key difference in the success of these global firms is they do not rely on a single particular market or thrive under the government’s policies.

In today’s world, there is no guarantee that your competitors would not be able to offer better services at a lower cost or no cost at all. Failure to embrace, adapt and change to the evolving technological advances and competitions would only leave a company to follow the fate of companies like Xerox Corp, for copiers, or Nokia Corp, for handphones.

Recently, there is a strong outrage against Touch ‘n Go Sdn Bhd. Some Internet users had initiated a boycotting campaign against the company on social media, questioning the need of the 10% surcharge, the card’s durability and compounding fees to reactivate it.

Some had voiced their feelings that the firm had taken its users for granted because it has control over electronic payments systems for highways, public transport and public parking.

Although the firm had issued a statement to clarify the surcharge imposed (was due to third-party vendors) and measures it has taken to address all grouses like working on eliminating all charges in time, many believed that the arguments and methods are considered outdated based on today’s fast-changing markets.

Users are already spoilt with so many e-wallet options, wireless payment and the convenience of debit card.

Today, a single person can have two or more e-wallets, debit cards from a few banks and also the convenience of wireless payment with credit cards.

People are already asking why they can’t capitalise on these other options to pay for toll on the highway or with other e-wallet services.

In this very open and competitive world, consumers want to have options to pay and enjoy the most benefits with the payment system they choose. They do not want to be forced to use one when they realise others could provide more financial benefits. Why would a person need 10 separate cards for 10 different payments in this highly connected world.

One thing one should learn from this era — nothing is safe from digital disruption. Accept the fact and face it head-on, and make the necessary changes to be competitive, or prepare to be a few pages in the presentation slides about resisting changes.


Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.