The case of GoGet: How technology turbo-charges a car-sharing start-up
GoGet – originally a neighbourhood initiative – is now a shining example of collaborative consumption
GoGet is Australia's largest car-sharing service, operating more than 2000 cars for 80,000 members across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. It has been strikingly successful in meeting financial targets and, perhaps more importantly, in consistently achieving its social mission.
GoGet began as Newtown CarShare in 2003 with just three vehicles shared between 13 neighbours in the inner-Sydney suburb of Newtown. Its simple aim was to remove the need for individual car ownership. By sharing vehicles the like-minded neighbours would also be doing their bit for the environment.
Today, according to GoGet, the existence of the car-sharing service across Sydney means 10,000 less cars clog that city's streets. The key steps, processes and milestones in the company's development are outlined in Cultivating technology-enabled collaborative consumption: A case study of GoGet in Australia, a new conference paper co-authored by Felix Tan, a lecturer in the school of information systems, management and technology at UNSW Business School.
But the larger understanding of the paper is to shed light on how technology plays an evolving role in enabling a start-up such as GoGet to achieve and maintain its goals.
"The reason collaborative consumption of cars has boomed is because it is environmentally beneficial. It helps solve the social problem of traffic congestion in cities," says Tan. "Collaborative consumption of goods and services has been around for a long time. But today people are hyper-connected in a digital economy. The version of collaborative consumption that has taken off is unique in its intensity and connectedness."
'The version of collaborative consumption that has taken off is unique in its intensity and connectedness'FELIX TAN
Tan and his co-authors have identified four crucial elements of a successful business in the so-called sharing economy:
1. Critical mass: This is not just about the number of users interested in the service, but also about the availability of the shared item. If an individual is keen to utilise the GoGet service but a car is unavailable then that customer will be lost to the service. Tristan Sender, CEO of GoGet, says this issue has been top of mind for the business. "Our goal is to make it more convenient to use GoGet than to own a car," Sender says.
"We have looked at what types of people and organisations use their own cars. We've created a wardrobe of vehicles to suit every kind of trip. Additions include baby seats, pet hammocks, roof racks and most recently our learner program where our members can teach their children to drive in a GoGet car. And businesses take advantage of our offer so they don't have to pay the fixed costs of owning vehicles."
2. High idling capacity: Idling capacity relates to the unused potential of resources. Sender says the average car in Australia is driven for just one hour each day. Imagine how many fewer cars would be on the road if each car could be used to full capacity. For this reason, he says, GoGet has been looking into driverless car technology – centrally owned vehicles that drive all day, taking passengers wherever they need to go.
3. Belief in the commons: Here is where the company's mission enters into the equation. Users or members must feel they are supporting a wider cause and adding value to the community.
4. Trust between strangers: When people are brought together through mutual engagement, Tan's paper says, there must be a strong element of trust. The collaborative part of collaborative consumption – sharing a car, a room, a house – is purely about trust.
Different roles of IT
With so many vital inclusions, it is no surprise Tan's paper reports that "collaborative consumption forms an inherently complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon". But while today's technology created the space in which such a system could thrive, so too does it create solutions for various challenges.
"Different roles are played by IT within the business," Tan says. "IT can be used to grow a network or streamline processes or match demand and supply. But the very responsible use of technology also involves ensuring the eco-friendly message gets out there."
Technology is essential to spreading the word of GoGet's mission, because it has enabled sharing to become mainstream. And it ensures the message of social responsibility continues to permeate the business as its success also attracts members with no particular commitment to environmental issues.
"Technology is the catalyst for the sharing economy," Sender says. "It enables customers to seamlessly share assets and make it a viable alternative to ownership. We pride ourselves on great customer service and we have a team of committed GoGetters who help keep our vehicles humming and our members happy."
GoGet staff are presently working with data scientists on various projects. "We have heat mapping projects around bookings and car usage and we're developing powerful insights into how people travel," Sender says.
Cycles of sharing
Businesses in the sharing economy go through several changes of focus as they grow from start-up. In the beginning, such businesses are typically concerned with what Tan calls "collaborative conservation". This is when the members all share a specific community goal. When GoGet had 13 members sharing three vehicles, the business was in a collaborative conservation phase.
At this grassroots stage IT is simply about the broadcast and integration of services and is usually basic. In the case of GoGet it was about emails and text messages to inform each other of the location of cars and keys.
The next phase is"'conscious consumerism", seeking out a market and ensuring members are able to get what they're paying for. This came about for GoGet with the build of their original website and the integration of software to manage operations including bookings, car locations, remote unlocking and basic customer service. Data was collected in order to bring shared cars closer to the members.
'Technology is the catalyst for the sharing economy. It enables customers to seamlessly share assets and make it a viable alternative to ownership'TRISTAN SENDER
Awareness and resources
The final and present stage for GoGet is '"collaborative consumption", where the business is managing a critical mass of members/customers and setting up new partnerships with other organisations and groups. In this phase the role of IT is around ensuring the smooth running of the business but also increasing community awareness and redistributing resources.
"The RFID (radio frequency identification) system and the in-car technology help members utilise facilities such as fuelling up, unlocking and locating cars, making them convenient to use and attracting more customers," Tan's paper reports. "GoGet's CRM system, which maintains a profile on members, helps staff create more personalised connections with members."
The custom-designed in-car systems can also be put into vehicles of other fleets, meaning GoGet can work hand-in-hand with government fleets, for instance, to help them manage periods of peak demand. So technology utilised well should help the business to grow while remaining unchanged in terms of mission.
"While we have seen substantial growth, I believe we are still in our infancy," Sender says. "I think increasingly you will also see businesses and government turning away from their inelastic, privately-owned fleets and looking to car share as a way to save money. I and the GoGet team find it really exciting that we are helping to create more convenient and liveable cities of the future."
Dr Felix Tan is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Busines School and the founder of UNSW UNOVA, which helps organisations navigate the process of digital transformation through research and development. Dr Tan's interests include digital platforms and ecosystems, enterprise systems and digital transformation.