Established in 2016 by founder Vilhelm Hedberg, ekar was the first official car-sharing business in the Middle East. The company started with an off-the-shelf car-share technology platform that limited the services it could offer. Wanting to differentiate itself from its competitors, ekar started working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Dubai-based AWS Partner, Integra Technologies. Their collaboration resulted in a fully cloud-native, microservices based, serverless app platform, reducing development costs by more than 30 percent, while supporting a 10 times growth in revenue.
Startup ekar Turns to Integra and AWS to Rebuild its System
ekar became the first official car-sharing business in the Middle East when it launched in 2016. The United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based company gives users on-demand access to a network of thousands of car share, subscription-leasing vehicles, and other mobility options within its self-drive “super app”.
ekar founder Vilhelm Hedberg believes mobility as a service (MaaS) is the key to improving people’s access to transportation while reducing its environmental and social impact. Every car which is shared leads to 10 owned cars coming off the roads.
The company’s vision is that its Mobility OS system will enable car rental and leasing companies to deliver services such as short-term hire and peer-to-peer rentals. Hedberg also hopes the ekar system can provide the impetus for a wider change across the car industry. “Our vision is to radically improve the way people consume transportation. To do that at massive scale means working across the industry and changing the perception of a car from something that you own to something that you use,” says Hedberg.
The company initially used an off-the-shelf car-sharing platform. This monolithic system provided basic car-sharing functionality and a mobile app, but the company’s development team soon discovered its limitations. ekar’s developers were also spending a lot of time managing its on-premises infrastructure rather than building new product features.
As a young startup, ekar had big ambitions. It wanted to develop a richer product and expand beyond its native UAE base. The company wanted to differentiate itself from the emerging competition with innovative services.
In 2019, with the off-the-shelf car-sharing platform not meeting its requirements, ekar turned to AWS Partner Integra Technologies. Together, the companies set about rebuilding the ekar system on AWS.
“We have built an ecosystem that can easily be scaled and replicated. With the help of Integra Technologies and AWS, we have a system and infrastructure that puts us quite far ahead of our competition.”
- Ali Asim, Head of Technology, ekar
Migrating to Microservices Reduces DevOps Costs by 30%
ekar set out to build a cloud native application system, which along with the underlying infrastructure, was scalable, resilient, and DevOps-centric.
With support from Integra Technologies, ekar rebuilt its monolithic application into a modern, cloud-native system with a current count of 95 microservices using Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) on AWS Fargate, which offers serverless compute for containers.
ekar’s Mobility OS now automatically scales according to demand. “We transitioned to a microservices-based platform and, as of 2022, we are completely serverless,” says Ali Asim, head of technology at ekar. “Apart from service availability, the immediate benefit was a sharp drop in infrastructure costs.”
Today, ekar pays only for the resources it uses and its developers can focus on innovation. This has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in infrastructure and development costs while supporting a tenfold increase in revenue.
Launching DevOps and Complying with Data Regulations
Within weeks of kicking off the project, ekar realized it needed a dedicated DevOps arm. It had just a few developers on staff, which wasn’t enough to successfully realize its ambitious vision. Integra was able to support this goal and help ekar build out its DevOps function. “With Integra, we really felt like we had a new partner, not just a company looking for a new customer,” says Ali. “Integra wanted to learn about our business and to help us succeed.”
By 2022, ekar’s fleet had grown to over 2,500 vehicles and the company had expanded into Saudi Arabia.
Managing Massive Volumes of Data to Grow the Business
As ekar’s business and fleet grew, it was collecting more and more data. The ekar fleet is fitted with 4G devices and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Each car generates more than 30 individual data points every few seconds, including location, speed, fuel level, and mileage, which are sent to the IoT platform. Although some of this data is required to comply with regulations, the rest is used by ekar to help with the strategic direction of the business, enhance its service offerings, improve efficiency, and increase revenues.
Integra helped ekar to collect, transfer, and store this data using AWS IoT Core, which makes it easy to build applications with analytics and machine learning. “As we grew, our data requirements grew,” says Ali. “At the time, we didn’t have a data department, but now we have in-house data scientists.”
Additionally, Integra worked with ekar to choose and deploy AWS database, data analysis, and data forecasting tools. Ali was particularly happy with the way Integra and ekar’s technical staff worked as a team to choose products that were suited to the business. “Integra never tried to upsell us a product,” says Ali. “They worked with us as partners and that’s something I always appreciated about them.”
ekar is now generating huge amounts of data and is recording and organizing it using services including cloud data warehouse Amazon RedShift and data analytics platform Databricks, a collaborative workspace for data science, machine learning, and analytics.
Using Machine Learning to Increase Bookings by 40%
ekar chose to use Amazon Forecast to forecast business outcomes easily and accurately with machine learning. Using Amazon Forecast, ekar can predict car usage patterns, which has resulted in increased vehicle usage. “Our system enables dynamic pricing,” says Ali. “Instead of guessing where to locate our cars, now it’s autonomous. Along with Amazon Forecast and ekar proprietary algorithms, our data and tech teams have been able to recognize latent demand, and increase our booking utilization by 40 percent per rebalanced vehicle, per day.”
Before ekar began using Amazon Forecast to predict where cars would be most used, each car averaged 2.4 bookings per day. Amazon Forecast suggested the best locations to reposition the cars, which increased average bookings for each vehicle leading to peaks of seven bookings per day.
Innovating to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience
Freed from infrastructure maintenance, ekar’s team can focus on innovation and can release new features continuously to provide a better service for its customers while differentiating the company from its competitors.
For example, ekar uses a local refueling service to automatically refuel cars that indicate their tanks are low. “Every night, cars are refueled autonomously,” says Ali. “The IoT sensor triggers when fuel is low and our refueling partner is automatically informed which cars need to be topped up. When they arrive, a microservice unlocks the fuel tank door lid.”
Innovation has also helped ekar to enhance its service offerings. Customers can now rent a car long term, by the day, by the hour, or even by the minute. It’s even possible for private car owners and rental companies to offer their own vehicles for rent on the platform.
Planning for Future Growth and International Expansion
The next steps for ekar are continued growth in Saudi Arabia and expansion into additional geographic territories. “We have built an ecosystem that can easily be scaled and replicated,” says Ali. “We have a system and infrastructure that puts us quite far ahead of our competition. We were extremely pleased by the support and investment we received from Integra and AWS. We were a startup, but we had a vision—and the support we received was beyond belief.”
ekar is a car-sharing service that provides a selection of vehicles for rental by the month, week, day, hour, or even minute. It was the first car-sharing company in the UAE and now offers services in Saudi Arabia with plans for further international growth.
Integra Technologies, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, is a Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based technology company that specializes in digital transformation, building cloud native solutions, and provides managed services to businesses and government organizations across the Middle East.
Published November 2022