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Old principle in new clothes – from sharing in the Sharing Economy

T he term “Sharing Economy” appears again and again in connection with the digitalisation of the economy and above all the platform economy. Yet the underlying principle is so old that we live together as a community. It is a matter of making optimum use of existing resources and, for example, making our own tools available to a third party for this purpose.

What has always worked well in village communities, for example, is not very widespread today, particularly in the entrepreneurial sector. In many companies there is a lack of understanding for the shared use of existing resources. It is often the lack of information that causes expensive machines to be temporarily unused instead of being used by someone else who would contribute to the profit margin by sharing the costs.

Digitisation as a driver

This is where digitalization comes into play: through digital platforms or virtual networking, companies are in a position to reduce information asymmetries and provide data on unused or searched resources in real time. This is based on the principle of “asset over ownership” and means that ownership is not transferred, but that free resources are offered as capacity or service.

For example, machine tool manufacturers have joined forces in a plastics cluster and exchange information on free capacities of so-called special machines. The information for this is shared weekly in an email. Due to the regional proximity, these can quickly be passed on to partners in the network.

The more data acquisition and data processing are introduced into production, the earlier free capacities or corresponding bottlenecks can be identified. In other words, digitization delivers the data in real time and, in the next step, could immediately offer capacities or search in the network. At the latest with the establishment of Smart-Contracting (automated contract conclusion machine to machine), this optimization of machine utilization could be fully automated.

The big goal: Efficient production

The sharing of certain resources is desirable, not least from the point of view of sustainability. The efficiency of the overall system is increased and the bottom line is that companies have to invest less. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular can benefit from such a system of sharing.

It is therefore not surprising that classic forms of sharing already exist in small and medium-sized enterprises. In the agricultural sector, for example, there are cooperatives that have been allowing the joint marketing of products for many decades, but also the use of machines at different times. However, the cooperative as an independent legal form is not yet comparable with the idea of a completely flexible Sharing Economy.

From a macroeconomic point of view, an economic system is efficient when no free resources are unused. Transferred to the existing structures of a cooperative, this means that a free market must be created for the available resources, for example by setting up its own platform.

In any case, a solution is needed that on the one hand involves as many actors as possible and at the same time ensures that there are no resource conflicts. In addition, the processing effort (identification, booking, billing) must not be so great that it consumes the resources saved.

Initiating cultural change to new openness with small concrete steps

For many companies, the cross-organizational use of resources means cultural change. Companies have the responsibility to introduce their employees to the topic in small, concrete steps. As entrepreneurs, they should start by listing free capacities that could be made available to third parties with their managers and consider who they could offer them to. Then think about how you can make this offer to the potential interested parties. Networking could, for example, be organised via regional industry clusters or IHKs.

The third step would then be to set up functioning processes, where perhaps no complex software would be necessary at all. How about, for example, a Whatsapp group of participating companies for fast communication of available resources? When they are faced with the decision to digitalise production and make it agile, they plan interfaces for the Sharing Economy right from the start. Modular production, which is highly flexible, is primarily based on the fact that not all modules are used to the same capacity. These modules can be made available to third parties without endangering the company’s own production targets.

Conclusion – Sharing is the heart of agile systems

So let’s summarize, sharing costly resources is easier than ever before with the help of digital technologies. Information barriers can be overcome and win-win situations arise. In increasingly volatile value creation networks, the ability to collaborate and share resources can become a key competence.

What does this mean for you as an entrepreneur? Critically examine your structures and resources and identify exactly those resources that are temporarily unused. Try to offer them in regional networks and to gain supporters for the development of a sharing platform.


Dr. Alexander Bode