Every Day is Christmas for the Peer-to-Peer Business Model

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Peer-to-peer business models are popping up everywhere. Just today, storage company Boxbee launched a sharing library to allow people storing their unused goods to lend them to others. For a $15 delivery fee, any shared goods can be borrowed, and no one needs to own a garage full of stuff anymore. Instead, you have a sharing library where you can publish or browse, and participate in a sharing economy.

In a big-picture view on the same topic, a recent Harvard Business Review piece, “The Peer Economy Will Transform Work (or at Least How We Think of It),” starts with, “You can’t avoid peer-to-peer marketplaces,” and goes on to say that peer-to-peer businesses allow people to enter the economy without the need to secure employment from a large company. The author, Denise Cheng, challenges us to reimagine what “full work” means based on a post-employment business model.

The End of the Industrial Revolution?

This new model is something that has the potential to completely change the world we live in—if we can wean ourselves off the false security of the way business is done today. It took connectedness and mobility to set the wheels in motion (literally, if you think of the Uber taxi model). This new model is enabled by technology that is coming forward now, like Bitcoin as a peer-to-peer currency, Square for mobile payments, and smartphones that allow an unlimited number of apps and provide a platform for peer-to-peer exchanges to take place.

So What Holds Us Back?

So what keeps us from adopting this model immediately? We’ll need some new ways to think about technology:

New ways of thinking of data – In the Industrial Age, information moved up and down the hierarchy of the workplace in very regular, structured ways. That’s why we created IT capabilities, including databases that think of data as hierarchical; it was how we thought of sectors, regions, products, and reports. In this new world, the data moves sideways as often as up or down, and the timing and volumes aren’t nearly as predictable. The peer-to-peer world is a different animal, and companies that want to embrace this model need to think of data as coming from anywhere, headed to anywhere. They need to think of constantly streaming information far more than just transactions.

 New ways of thinking of process – So many processes are built in silos and lack the horizontal model of peer-to-peer. Processes for running a peer-to-peer business are very wide and very flat. When Uber can be the biggest taxi company in the world without owning a single car, the process models have been completely stood on their heads.

New ways of thinking about analytics – When data comes from anywhere and goes anywhere, patterns emerge that are critical to the business. And they’re not just critical from 9am to 5pm when employees are at their desks. They need a highly mobile way to manage the business and make decisions.

The integration needs of this new world will foster new ways to think about location, data structure, business events, and a host of other concepts. The technology and techniques will be different because the business models will be different. Each and every one of us will be affected.

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