Report on “Everything-as-a-Service: The Unconference”

Everything-as-a-Service: The Unconference 2019

On the eleventh of November, a diverse group of experts from a variety of fields attended “Everything-as-a-Service: The Unconference”. The event was organized by Firmhouse in collaboration with Emerce and held in the iconic “Groothandelsgebouw” in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). Because of the free-flowing “unconference“-format and the broadly defined theme of the event, the scope of topics discussed was wide. From the environmental impact of Product-as-a-Service to the challenges in setting up such a system. It was an interesting dive into the world of services. In this short report, I’ll try to give you a bit of a taste of the content of this meetup and the lessons learned.

Everything as a Service

The topic of the event, “Everything as a Service” was broader than just Product-as-a-Service-models and therefore attracted a more diverse crowd. From the outset, the atmosphere was one of sharing insights and helping others to learn about various topics related to Product-as-a-Service. The unconference format made sure that it was a truly open forum where anyone could start their own session and anyone was welcome to contribute with their knowledge. There were experts from different fields and a variety of companies either interested in starting on or already working on Product-as-a-Service-offerings.

Audio appliance maker Sonos gave a presentation sharing their experience launching their Sonos Flex-pilot in The Netherlands. They offered some valuable lessons learned about the importance of gaining support throughout your organization and how to create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to start testing and learning about consumers’ reactions to your “service”.

One of the participants was the electric scooter subscription startup RideStep. They were very open in sharing their challenges and experience in the Product-as-a-Service-space. Ways of tackling fraud and the necessity of providing added value to your product to make it a true Product-as-a-Service instead of a just financing option for people who can’t afford a product outright.

There was an interesting discussion during the first round of sessions about the environmental impact of Product-as-a-Service. PaaS is often seen as inherently more sustainable than ownership of products. This isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes the opposite can be true. Some interesting examples were shared in which Product-Service Systems actually created more problems than they solved. The choice for PaaS should only be made if the purpose is clearly defined. If you want to use fewer resources and become more circular the service design should be in such a way that it helps to achieve that goal.

Lessons learned

The unconference was an interesting starting point for me in my quest to learn as much as possible about Product-as-a-Service and the Circular Economy. Some lessons I learned that could be helpful in starting with PaaS:

  1. Ask for the “why?” – A common mistake is to focus too much on delivering a product in a different way instead of asking about the problem behind the “need” of the consumer. Having a clear
  2. The need for an MVP – A “Minimal Viable Product” is very helpful to do market research. Product-as-a-Service isn’t yet common in a lot of markets. How consumers react to it often isn’t predictable. Small scale testing will give companies quick feedback on their offering.
  3. Support throughout the organization – Vital for a successful pilot is having the right sponsorship throughout all the layers of the organization. The transition to offering products as services touches every part of the company. Therefore, there must be proponents of PaaS in every corner.
  4. Service plus product – Product-as-a-Service demands service on top of the product, otherwise it is just a different financing option you offer consumers.
  5. Account for fraud and recklessness – Possible fraud remains an important concern for PaaS-models. You need to understand the risks of leasing products. This also includes people not properly maintaining their leased products because they feel little responsibility for it.
  6. No silver bullet for the environment – Although I still strongly believe that PaaS could be the motor for the Circular Economy, it is no silver bullet. The perverse effects of badly designed services could actually create more environmental impact. Furthermore, for some companies a PaaS-model is just a way to market themselves as environmentally conscious.

A good start

The unconference was interesting because of the variety of experts and companies. Because of the open atmosphere, there were some interesting and honest discussions on pressing issues with regards to remaking everything as a service.

Although the sessions were a bit too short to really dive deep in the topics discussed there were some valuable lessons from my perspective. I think that the experiences that were shared and the contacts that were gained will prove fruitful. Hopefully, this will be the starting point of a lot of new adventure in the field of Product-as-a-Service.