Everyone is talking about the sharing economy. Sharing marketplaces are experiencing tremendous growth. Transportation services such as Uber or platforms for peer-to-peer loans such as Lending Club among many other companies acting in the so-called sharing economy have rapidly taken off, growing from unknown startups to global businesses, some of them with valuations in the range of billions of dollars.
Most of these companies are peer-to-peer marketplaces presenting new opportunities just for consumers sharing or business-to-consumer interactions. But, what about peer-to-peer enterprise exchange? B2B initiatives of the sharing economy may not be as well known as B2C’s, but some analysts consider the real power of peer-to-peer exchange may be found in B2B transactions, as businesses could better leverage the potential financial and operational benefits of jumping on the sharing economy bandwagon.
But first, it is necessary to be clear about what “sharing” means. Sharing Economy is a term currently used to designate many different ideas that could be also tagged with so disparate concepts as “gig economy” or “collaborative economy”. For the sake of the argument a sharing economy initiative could be described as one activating idle resources for usage, facilitating the paradigm of access versus ownership, and using technology to enable the matching between idle resources and its demand.
There are still many barriers to B2B sharing…
Key differences between B2B and P2P sharing may explain why you might not have heard as much about the B2B sharing economy as you have about B2C/P2P. For start, there is the cultural mindset we have mentioned so often in here: businesses have been shaped for decades to be competitors, not collaborators. The kind of relationships are used to is exclusively transactional. Owning more and better assets than others is supposed to be a key factor for success. Sharing resources does not come naturally to them, even if there is a benefit for doing it.
Then, there is also the legal hurdles or gaps that many P2P or B2C sharing initiatives are still sorting out. These hurdles are understandably more intimidating in the case of business to business interactions. Finally, the quality and user experience of the sharing economy services is also a factor to take into account. While a disappointing experience is not usually going to discourage a consumer to try again a particular P2P service choosing another peer, a business is less likely to pay for shared services when a bad experience could have a more significant consequences than, for instance, a driver too talky or too quiet in a shared ride.
… but its benefits could tip the scales
But these particular barriers for B2B sharing might be rapidly overcome as the economic environment compels business of all kind of shapes and sectors to leverage its benefits. The promising area of shared commercial services is vast and varied in its potential environmental and economic impacts. Certain B2B sharing services could provide many businesses, especially SMEs, with access to once inaccessible resources that those companies have no way to access if not through sharing. Besides, sharing resources streamlines companies, enabling them to operate faster. It can also allows them to react quickly to market changes in a less expensive and more efficient manner.
For instance in manufacturing, where the increasing versatility spur by flexible manufacturing technologies allows companies to share their production facilities and equipment much easier than in the past. Or in areas related with a bigger pressure for sustainability, where sharing large assets with significant carbon footprints as cars, trucks, industrial equipment or buildings can help to reach environment-friendly goals.
The number of B2B sharing economy platforms is still low compared with their P2P counterparts, but some business-to-business players are already enabling businesses to share access to assets as such office space or underutilized machinery:
Sharemyoffice.co.uk lets businesses anywhere in the world advertise their spare desks or office space providing a portal for startups to find their first commercial business space.
Yard Club Rental, recently acquired by Caterpillar, provides a way for construction companies to share their equipment by renting it out when not in use by their own companies.
Floow2 is about sharing between companies every aspect of the supply chain… and more. The most popular categories are cars, trucks, meeting rooms, aerial platforms, communication specialist and designer (yes, professionals can also be shared).
Flexe wants to transform how logistics and supply chain professionals manage growth, inventory peaks, returns and new market entry creating warehouse networks that scale as necessary by connecting organizations that need warehousing space to organizations with extra space.
Breather wants to become the Airbnb for office space and meeting rooms.
Storefront specializes in retail spaces available for pop-up shops.