It's not all Uber and Airbnb, the sharing economy has something to teach business as well
In recent years, the sharing economy, a term stemming from the open-source and collaboration movement to describe peer-to-peer economic and social activity, has become a prevalent phenomenon for consumers and businesses globally.
This economic system pretty much does what it says on the tin: assets or services are shared between individuals and organisations – either free or for a fee – usually through a digital platform, with car-pooling being a classic example.
As an industry, the sharing economy is extremely lucrative. A report (pdf) published in March 2017 by Brookings claims the sector will be worth an estimated $335 billion by 2025, compared to $14 billion in 2014. The success of companies such as Uber and Airbnb in particular is accelerating growth in the area, it adds.
While the sharing economy is highly popular among everyday consumers, it's also creating big waves in the world of business. Digital-savvy professionals and firms are using collaborative services and products to save money, improve agility and stay at the cutting edge of technology.
An evolving workplace
There's no denying the world of work has changed dramatically over the years, and the sharing economy is now one of the big disrupting factors. Nick Lazaridis, EMEA president of tech giant HP Inc, says the rise of collaborative environments and services are changing the way people view and experience the workplace.
"The world of work as we know it is poised to change forever. As consumer mobility matures, commercial mobility has yet to hit its full disruptive potential. Mobility is going to pull into question our whole notion of work," he tells IT Pro. "We're already moving towards the notion of a 'blended life' whereby folks increasingly see work as a thing you do and not just a place you go," he says.
In particular, Lazaridis points to the idea of co-working and how it's making companies more innovative. "Co-working spaces have recently exploded in popularity in cities across the globe. These attractive, collaborative environments are hotbeds of innovation. They're a physical embodiment of today's dynamic employment market and of generation Y's desire to explore its entrepreneurial potential."
He adds that phenomena like co-working go hand-in-hand with the latest technology. "But like the gig economy and self-driving cars, a co-working space doesn't function without intelligent mobile technology. As the global workforce goes increasingly mobile, people need to take their offices with them wherever they go," he continues.
"Boston Consulting Group predicts the rise of autonomous vehicles and associated car-sharing will reduce the cost of car travel by 20-40% and cut average journey times by 40% in 10-20 years' time. Suddenly, the wasted hours spent crammed into metro and commuter belt rail services become unviable and unnecessary. This said, 'work' as a single location we commute to each day may be an obsolete concept long before our cars drive themselves."
Collaboration improves innovation
Collaborative working, which is core part of the sharing economy, is helping firms foster innovation and improve efficiencies. German car maker BMW is one example of a heritage company that's taking up this new way of working.
Jonny Combe, general manager of product & channel development at BMW Group UK, explains how his company is fostering collaboration in its everyday operations.
"Collaboration is key. Many large car manufacturers have been used to selling cars in a certain way, but this process now needs to innovate -- as the car is no longer the only star of the show," he says.
"In 2016, we undertook our first BMW Innovation Lab, which saw us look to innovate beyond the vehicle. This saw us work with startups to help improve and future-proof our operations. Drover was one such startup, helping us to develop a subscription-based model based on the user's specific needs, instead of the current way of business, which is set to predefined periods.
"Working with technology providers such as Drover allows us to cater directly to our customer's needs both today and tomorrow. It takes a lot for a large corporate to say we don't necessarily know the answer to our customer's problems. But once businesses open themselves up to working with smaller, agile firms, they can harness that disruption to the benefit of the customer."
Ed Bussey, CEO of cloud firm Quill, says flexible working is changing the cards in business. "We anticipate that the growing on-demand workforce will continue to rip up the rule books. A recent Accenture report predicts that within five years, flexible working trends like on-demand talent platforms will replace legacy employment models," he tells IT Pro.
"The digital economy has created a sharing economy which decreases the need to own things. In the same way, it will bring an end to the days of jobs needing to be in-house and onsite. The old model is simply too inflexible, expensive and inefficient for the fiercely competitive digital age."
The sharing economy isn't just transforming the internal workplace, it's also having a major impact on external factors, such as transportation. Sharemine, created by Omoove, is one of the popular apps operating in this area. It lets entrepreneurs and consumers participate in the sharing economy by easily creating car- and ride-sharing communities.
Edwin Colella, who heads up sales and marketing at the firm, says: "The cost of car ownership is growing and once insurance, fuel, maintenance and parking costs are considered, owning a car can become prohibitively expensive. Individuals and small companies can set up and manage communities around shared mobility needs.
"These communities can be location-based as commuters leave vehicles with a community manager rather than at a station car park and rent them during the day. Community managers can also be thematic, for example sports fans arranging transport to away games, or parents carpooling for schools.
"The sharing economy allows people to take advantage of the internet to put their unused assets to work for them."
Collaborative approaches in the business world are far from new, but when they're combined with the latest technology, it's clear that companies can benefit greatly. By tapping into the ever-evolving sharing economy, businesses are showing they can improve internal efficiencies, boost innovation and save money in the process.