two children sharing chalk
New technologies have enabled new sharing constructs which promise to deliver strong benefits PHOTO: Tina Floersch

Who didn’t struggle as a child to learn how to share? Now that skill is one of our most important in the digital era. 

And, as it turns out, it’s worth the trouble. Digital sharing can deliver amazing results.

Sharing Is Fundamental

When we were young, we were taught to share because it was the right thing to do. 

“Good children share,” the adults explained. 

While we might have struggled with the concept then, there is no doubt now as to why sharing is so important. In the digital age, when we meet the challenge to effectively share, a whole new set of exciting possibilities present themselves.

For businesses, sharing information across department, product and channel silos can create customer-centric views that drive new business growth. Gartner has identified “silo-busting technologies” as one of their top ten for 2017 driving the digital workplace: 

“Silo-busters are tools that transcend organizational boundaries. They enable teams to solve problems and generate ideas across work silos — a longstanding challenge in many organizations.”

Digital social and collaboration technologies may well change how we work, by creating virtual sharing communities that form and reform in an agile fashion. The new "gig economy” trend says our future teams will be more fluid with a greater mix of contractors alongside full time employees. 

A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors. In this digital age, “the workforce is increasingly mobile and work can increasingly be done from anywhere, so that job and location are decoupled. That means that freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than that available in any given area.”

Sharing Changes How We Operate

So even greater benefits of sharing may come when organizations not only digitize to better share data, but also to change the nature of their operational models.

In government, the move to shared services can offer the promise of better service to constituents at reduced costs. The US Federal government’s Unified Shared Services Management office intends to accelerate and modernize the implementation of shared services. This includes SaaS as one of the keys to making the vision work, along with exploring new models of public-private partnerships, all enabled by digital sharing.

In healthcare, the rise of electronic medical records and digital sharing of patient information is driving changes to the care landscape. New initiatives to leverage consumer-mediated information sharing promise to contribute significantly to making clinical research better, faster and less costly.  

Dr. Harlan Krumholz, director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, argues that “putting the patients in control of their data and making it easier for them to participate in research has the potential to disrupt traditional models of research, which can take years to complete and cost lots of money.” 

This sharing construct, dubbed Hugo, makes patients partners in their care and may truly ultimately reshape how healthcare operates.  

Blockchain Is Sharing for Grown-Ups

In the world of finance, blockchain — the digital technology behind the asset and payment system Bitcoin — offers a new paradigm for sharing that makes it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the internet.  

It’s all based on building blocks, though a bit different from the blocks we might have played with as children.

The shared distributed blockchain database holds records of digital data or events in a way that makes them tamper-resistant. While many users may access, inspect or add to the data, they can’t change or delete it. The original information stays put, leaving a permanent and public information trail, or chain, of transactions (Investopedia).

Seven major European banks are now partnering on a new blockchain-based trade platform, with plans to launch later this year. This just announced Digital Trade Chain holds the potential to revolutionize international trade using a permissioned ledger, with authorized parties allowed to share transactions on the platform.

Though blockchain was initially intended for financial transactions, businesses of all kinds are getting creative with the shared blockchain approach, as it can be used for virtually anything that holds value. 

"Why Blockchain is a Game Changer for Supply Chain Management Transparency" cites benefits of this sharing construct that could well apply broadly to all forms of digital sharing:

  • Enhanced Transparency: Capturing a product’s journey across the supply chain reveals its true origin and touchpoints, increasing trust and helping to eliminate the bias found in opaque supply chains
  • Greater Scalability: Virtually any number of shared participants, accessing from any number of touchpoints, is possible
  • Cost-effective Security: A shared, indelible ledger with codified rules could potentially eliminate the audits required by internal systems and processes
  • Increased Innovation: The decentralized blockchain architecture creates opportunities for new, specialized uses for the technology

Digital Sharing Creates New Challenges

New technologies have enabled new sharing constructs that promise to deliver strong benefit. At the same time, these new sharing constructs have thrown new disruptive challenges in our path.

Legal conflicts are an understandable byproduct of changing business models. McKinsey tells us that the sharing-economy has arrived, growing rapidly and creating new opportunities across the globe including the likes of Airbnb and Uber. 

Projections put the sharing-economy revenues at $335 billion globally by 2025. But as with any fast-expanding sector, growth pains including legal problems are pushing the players to find better approaches to external engagement.  

Sharing in the digital era also logically presents related privacy and security concerns. As a marketer, I encourage and attempt to leverage all the digital information now being shared. However, I realize the natural tension between privacy and the advantages to be gained from information sharing. 

This is evidenced in the many social communities we participate in like Facebook, where we continue to be admonished against TMI, and extends through to business information sharing as well as critical sharing in the intelligence communities.  

For security, McKinsey points out that as our world gets more digitized, and our sharing potential increases, the security threat goes up exponentially. The challenge is to secure our continued digital sharing in a way that does not impede innovation.

Sharing Is Still Hard

The playgrounds of our youth where we argued over sharing have morphed into very serious digital spaces. With silo-busting technologies, consumer-mediated care information and blockchain fintech, we may agree that sharing in the digital era can deliver some outstanding results. 

Having said that, what seemed difficult to most of us growing up can still be a challenge … whether it’s learning to be quiet in school classes, or learning to drive, or learning to share.  

And if you’d like to have a laugh, here is my excuse to share one of the most hilarious outtakes ever from Will and Grace on how driving is hard.