In January, the Work and Pensions Committee launched an inquiry to examine whether the UK welfare system adequately supports the growing number of self-employed and gig economy workers.
The “gig economy” has come to prominence recently with high profile issues over the hours, pay and work conditions in large online courier and cab services like Hermes, Deliveroo, Amazon and Uber. However, this is not just about forcing people to work with low wages and unstable hours.  Online platforms are shaking up traditional industries, removing duplication, saving costs and improving customer services.
One type of platform which is coming to prominence is the “market network”, a term coined by Silicon Valley VC – James Currier.  The idea is to combine the benefits of a social network with an online electronic marketplace and cloud based software as a service.  Examples include Angel List for entrepreneurs, Honeybook for event organisers and, here in the UK, Okappy, which is currently causing a stir in traditional trades industries such as electrical contracting, plumbing and drainage.
Okappy was launched in June 2015, and in a short time has seen the number of companies using the platform balloon.  It now has over 17,5000 connections, 50,000 jobs have been managed on the platform in the last year alone and over £7m worth of invoices has been raised.
Okappy allows companies such as electrical contractors to join the network, connect to their customers and subcontractors, send and receive jobs and manage those jobs in real-time as they are updated on the mobile app by their employees and/or subcontractors out in the field.
Our aim is to make the best businesses better” says Gerry So, co-founder of Okappy.  “By managing work on one unified platform, companies can get rid of paperwork, reduce duplication and improve customer service.”
In the past, if you had a flood in your apartment, you would typically

  • First tell your insurance company
  • They would create a job on their systems and fax or email the details through to their subcontractors, in this case likely a plumber and an electrician
  • The plumber and electrical contractor will input the details on to their system (typically an Excel spreadsheet)
  • They will print out a job sheet and give it to their engineers (or in many cases another subcontractor)
  • The engineer will do the work, fill out the job sheet and then bring it back to the office so that the electrical contractor and the plumber can raise an invoice to the insurance company

This leads to a lot of paperwork and a lot of duplication both within and between companies. There is very little transparency over what is happening. If the electrician doesn’t arrive on time, then you will be left to call the insurance company, who will then need to call the electrician who will then need to call his engineer.
The biggest problem we’ve found is in the last stage of the process, when the electrician or plumber wants to raise an invoice to the insurance company.
If the engineer doesn’t bring the job sheet back until the end of the week or even later, the electrician or plumber cannot raise an invoice. Furthermore, if there is any missing or incorrect information, it is hard to dispute this after the fact. This often leads to the invoice being simply written off.
Networks are not a new phenomenon, the development of the railways heralded massive industrial expansion at the turn of the 20th Century followed by telephones, email and instant messaging. With each step, the world shrank and communication became more instantaneous.
However, market networks are a new and growing phenomenon and are likely to have a massive positive impact on how millions of companies work, particularly in traditional industries such as the trades or where people operate out of different locations.  For now we’re just seeing the beginning.
For more information about market networks, see facebook-bewa