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Unlocking the sharing economy – a review by the UK government

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Unlocking the sharing economy – a review by the UK government

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Over the last decade, the sharing economy has mushroomed from an industry worth peanuts to one valued at many billions of dollars.

It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that attempts have been made to better understand this new approach to business, and the impact its having on society. Altimeter led the way with their exploration of the sharing economy in 2013.

This was followed earlier this year by Sharing is the new Buying, which set out to discover just who was using the sharing economy, and how big this market actually was.  It emerged that over 25% of the population was now regularly using sharing platforms, be that AirBnB or Kickstarter, eLance or TaskRabbit.  The report went on to predict that this participation rate is expected to double in the next year.

The UK government launched their own review of the sharing economy earlier this year, and the output of that report was published this week.

The report makes a number of recommendations on how the UK can better support the sharing economy, including:

  • Providing an innovation hub for the sharing economy
  • Expanding Gov.uk Verify to provide trust and reputation services to the sharing economy
  • Creating industry representation for the sharing economy

Much of the above seems to build upon work that’s already going on.  For instance, I wrote recently about the launch of the Digital Catapult centre in King’s Cross, London, which aims to provide many of the services recommended for the innovation hub in the report.

There are also a number of services, that I wrote about here, that provide reputation and trust services specifically for the sharing economy.  The hope is that the Gov.uk Verify service will complement the likes of eRated and Traity and give another layer of verification for users.

Likewise, the Peers.org concept was launched over a year ago now to act as an advocate for the sharing economy.  It seems to have changed tact a little since then to focus more on end users, so it will be interesting to see what comes out of this in terms of an official industry representative.

Supporting b2b sharing

One area that I think the government can have a big impact is in the b2b space.  Whilst this sector isn’t as hyped as the consumer facing part of the industry, it’s arguably an even bigger growth opportunity.

I’ve written before about the likes of TechShop and BioCurious are providing shared spaces for people to engage in manufacturing and pharma research.  This kind of leveraging of assets is likely to become an even bigger trend than is currently the case as organizations appreciate the flexibility they obtain by not owning the assets they utilize.

This has been extended still further into the talent management field with communities such as Quirky and Marblar providing a sharing economy of talent and expertise, with a growing volume of intellectual property being opened up to the ‘crowd’ in the hope that they can better capitalize on under-utilized assets.

And that’s before you get into real estate, where companies are already renting out un-used office space, conference space and all manner of other aspects of their property portfolio that the flexible working environment has made available.

This has also extended throughout the supply chain.  For instance, French retailer, Carrefour share warehousing space with other retailers, whilst Astra Zeneca have shared manufacturing facilities with Merck.

This approach is exemplified by the Dutch marketplace Floow2, who provide a sharing marketplace for all manner of business items, equipment, manufacturing assets and even employee time.

To this end, the paper does recommend that the British state begin to be a much more active participant in the burgeoning economy, both as a consumer and potentially as a seller themselves.

For instance, the report recommends that all public bodies explore whether publicly owned vehicles could be rented to the public when not in use, or indeed to go wholesale and replace the owned fleet with a leased one from the sharing economy.

I’m inclined to think that of all of the recommendations in the report, this is the one that would have far and away the biggest impact on the growth of the sharing economy in Britain.

Have a look at the report though and see what you think.  It’s available for free here.

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