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Beyond the hype: why every business can expect to benefit and what you need to do now

Alexandre EMBRY
1 Aug 2022

The metaverse is one of the most hyped concepts in technology right now – and with good reason. If your business is going to ensure it can serve its customers and consumers, and connect to its employees in the future, then it must start investigating the metaverse

While the hype is there with good reason, it’s important to set the context: we might need to wait two to five years, or more, for the true sense of the metaverse to become clear. Yet, even if we are at an early stage right now, companies still need to take a strategic approach. If business leaders watch others make a move first, they’ll risk being left behind.

That risk is because participation, quite simply, is not optional – the metaverse is going to be built. The metaverse represents the next stage of the Internet that will allow billions of people to connect in virtual worlds. This platform will give businesses the opportunity to build personalized and sustained relationships with customers, and develop immersive experiences for employees, helping to attract and retain scarce talent.

So, what does the metaverse mean for your business? What are the opportunities and what should you be doing right now? Let’s find out more.

Defining the metaverse

In such a nascent area of technological development, every player – from technology firms to systems integrators and start-up businesses – has their own definition.

The metaverse is a container of public and private decentralized 3D virtual spaces, aiming to deliver combined online digital customer experiences (CX) and employee experiences (EX) with real-life feelings. These feelings include emotion, sense of presence and space, speech, gesture, touch, or even smell. From a business perspective, the metaverse represents a strategic economic shift that will generate new business opportunities in every sector.

Let’s delve into that definition in more detail. First, it’s important to recognize that the metaverse is a container. Rather than being a concept or even a technology, the metaverse is best thought of as a home to a network of decentralized virtual spaces.

The term decentralized is key – many tech giants will contribute to the construction of the metaverse, and they will be joined by a host of start-ups and scale-up organizations. But these players won’t necessarily be aligned on every technological concern.

The metaverse will also be the first platform to deliver what we refer to as Experience2, which is about creating integrated CX and EX, using all variants of user experience technology.

Analysts recognize that the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on employee experience. Now we all expect the same kind and level of digital experiences, whether working, collaborating, training, entertaining, undertaking social interactions, or shopping online. The metaverse will provide a container where, whether at work or play, we can enjoy deeper, immersive experiences.

Finally, the metaverse should be seen as a break from the classical world of the web that has pervaded since the 1990s. Rather than the 2D web of today, the immersivity of virtual experiences in the metaverse will be in three dimensions – and certainly even more – considering additional feelings like touch, smell, or even proprioception (kinesthesia; your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location).

The metaverse will draw on all the feelings and emotions of real-life experiences, whether that’s sense of presence in collaboration, a sense of space in retailing or online training, or a sense of touch or even smell, using haptic devices that enrich the digital experience. The metaverse should, in short, provide similar emotional and intuitive connections to those you feel in real life.

Why the metaverse matters to your business: customer experience

In the case of customers, companies will have to think carefully about how their marketing and advertising strategies fit with a shift to the metaverse. For those that get it right, the bounty is large: companies that excel will increase sales and boost loyalty.

Young people born this century will be the consumers of tomorrow. Many have grown up using online entertainment and gaming, with huge participation in online collaborative platforms, such as massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). They have strong digital appetites, with 80% of millennials saying their everyday lives depend on technology. The tech giants, already acting in this space, mostly coming from the gaming industry, understand the key role they will play in the coming years, positioning themselves tactically as front players to build the metaverse. This gamer generation will undoubtedly follow them when they, in turn, become consumers and employees.
The story of the metaverse will be told by digital-native individuals, so business leaders must consider how they absorb three-dimensional gamification experiences into real-life scenarios. To gain the full attention of the consumers of tomorrow, brands must align the services they create with the digital demands of these experience-hungry millennials.

The continued demand for massive interactive live events (MILE), in areas such as gaming, fashion, and entertainment is an obvious starting point for the metaverse. But gamification capability will extend from these domains to other areas, including retail and fast-moving consumer packaged goods (CPG). The younger generation, who’ve grown up online, will expect to buy goods and services in the same ways that they’re playing and interacting with their peers today.

This gamification in retail and CPG will lead to developments such as virtual malls, showrooms, and try-ons, with access to personalized offers, including exclusive digital goods. The recent appetite for NFT-based (non-fungible token) digital products, or even virtual lands, achieving record breaking prices, should draw the attention of the entire consumer industry, which might be disrupted. The progressive economic shift we are observing, from 100% physical goods consumption to a mix of physical and digital goods, where we are obviously at the very beginning, will deeply impact most of the brand businesses, including luxury, fashion, and arts sectors. People will dress their own avatar with clothes and accessories, as they are doing in the real world, which will be dependent on the virtual activity they do, as individuals or professionals. Another development will be social shopping, where consumers can invite their friends to immersive stores and buy things together, just as they would do in their preferred city center or real shopping mall.

The metaverse is not only for consumerism; it will also provide new opportunities for learning and development. From schools to universities, young people will use VR and other emerging technologies to enrich their education. Such interactions will extend into the social sphere too, with 3D-based gatherings becoming the new norm, rather than the existing 2D social channels that are dominant among today’s consumers.

Why the metaverse matters to your business: employee experience

When it comes to employee experiences, a lot of the foundations for the metaverse – cloud, remote collaboration, and connectivity – already exist today. The main transition will be the creation of a single container that helps people access immersive experiences online anywhere, at any time and on any device.

In manufacturing and engineering, the container will support the next level of the digital twin, relying on extended reality (XR) to support proactive design, monitoring, and maintenance for improved engineering, manufacturing, and field and customer service. Companies will use these next-stage digital twins to reduce the time to fix issues and even send products to customers for their feedback before final design.

The construction sector will also be impacted. From architecture through to the actual building process, employees and contractors will work collectively on a virtual model, together with stakeholders and clients, to refine a design and manage the construction process. The results of this joined-up approach will be increased productivity, efficiency, quality, and safety.

We can also expect heavy industries, such as manufacturing and engineering, to use the metaverse to support virtual training, learning, and onboarding. These virtual platforms will embed the employee into the educational experience, so that they quickly develop a much stronger sense of how they will work in a specific industrial setting. This will also most likely be a key to improved employee attraction and retention.

In healthcare, the virtual experiences of the metaverse will provide new opportunities for life-like training, such as assessing a patient and planning an operation. There will also be continued developments in telemedicine, with deeper patient experiences that mirror the physical presence of meeting a doctor in real life. Also, through connection to advanced robotics and low latency connectivity (5G), remote operations will be possible, allowing highly skilled surgeons to perform procedures on patients anywhere in the world.

Finally, we’ll move beyond the classical forms of collaborative working through Microsoft Teams and Zoom. People will instead create avatars that become their own digital twins inside 3D virtual workspaces, so that we can all collaborate remotely from everywhere, with a sense of presence and emotional connection.

How the metaverse will be delivered: the visible layer

The developments we describe above will begin to emerge during the next decade through a visible layer of software and hardware that delivers immersive experiences.

Many definitions of the metaverse start with people wearing VR headsets, collaborating and being fully immersed in a virtual world. This is, in many cases, a realistic picture and in the future, most virtual experiences will be delivered through a dedicated device.

However, this is not necessarily what most users will experience for the next few years. We need to recognize that the metaverse is not only defined by delivering experiences through a virtual reality (VR) headset, augmented reality (AR) smart glasses, or some other wearable device.

For at least the next three years, most people will experience the metaverse through classical and flat user interfaces. And that’s not a problem – 3D immersive experiences can still be delivered through these interfaces, whether it’s mobiles, laptops, or web browsers.

The emerging metaverse will be a mix of hardware and software. It will draw on the classical interfaces that we’re all used to, and it will use new dedicated tools, such as VR or MR (mixed reality) headsets. It will include natural interfaces that will recreate the sense of presence, touch, speech, sound, and smells in the virtual world. Ultimately, it will also include neural interfaces, which are controllers that interact with the brain and our neural system, to deliver more intuitive and seamless experiences.

Crucially, all these developments will take place progressively. Across the next five to ten years and possibly longer, fully immersive experiences will be developed through VR and MR headsets, haptics controllers, and other pieces of hardware that are yet to be invented.

How the metaverse will be delivered: the invisible layer

The shift from two dimensions to three in the metaverse, including emotion-driven interfaces, will create a surge in data. For individuals, there will be a big rise in the volume of data that’s consumed on their devices. For businesses, the rise will significantly impact data gathering and analytics requirements.

Organizations will need to find a way to cope with these increases. They will need to provide consistent capability to orchestrate the transition to the metaverse in a secure manner. To ensure our clients are prepared for this shift, we, at Capgemini, are tracking a range of technology domains.

Take artificial intelligence (AI): understanding customer behavior in the metaverse means businesses will need to monitor emotions. Many of the feelings from users that companies will need to analyze when reacting to a product, environment, or service – such as tone of voice, facial expression, eye tracking – will not be captured by classical data analytic methods. Successful companies will use AI and neuroscience to analyze customer behavior deeply and provide hyper-personalized experiences and products.

Connectivity and IoT (internet of things) layers are also critical. The continued rise of 5G and eventually 6G networking, powered by edge computing, will help to ensure that from any device, the increasing volume of data, generated by those true-rendering multi-dimensional spaces, combined with data from IoT sensors, can be digested in real-time from anywhere and everywhere.

The sheer magnitude of data being collected will mean that processing at the edge will become a critical success factor to lower the latency that is the essence of seamless experiences in virtual worlds.

Strong cloud capabilities will also be crucial. Cloud platforms will need to be ready for the surge of data storage and computing that comes from a metaverse with billions of users. This surge will need to be managed to provide a high level of availability and processing capability, with organizations needing to ensure commensurate storage capacity and information security.

Across all these technological areas, the metaverse would not happen without the rise of distributed ledger technology (DLT), at the heart of the decentralized approach. Protecting user data around new asset classes, such as NFTs, ensures the authenticity and ownership of virtual land, or any digital good, independent of virtual worlds. Therefore, to secure this, as well as payment services involving cryptocurrencies, the blockchain will be at the core.

Cybersecurity will also be of the utmost importance to protect digital assets in the metaverse, and business leaders must work to create hack-proof systems that prioritize information integrity. Key to this is to ensure the privacy of customer data, with the high levels of traceability and transparency users will expect in a trusted relationship with brands.

What are the major challenges to overcome?

It’s important to re-assert that the metaverse is not a greenfield site. Many elements of the nascent metaverse – such as 3D worlds, MMOG, MILE, XR, DLT, AI, and cloud and edge computing – are already present and massively used.

However, key challenges – particularly around interoperability and standardization – will need to be overcome as we move forward. All the tech giants are now getting heavily involved in the metaverse, and their R&D and innovation will help bring deeper immersive experiences, mimicking real life.

If the metaverse is decentralized with multiple virtual worlds running on multiple technology platforms, then the key for users will be standardization. Agreed standards will mean users, their avatars, their owned digital goods, and their personal data can move seamlessly from one virtual world to another.

We believe that an open-source mindset will be crucial in helping to address standardization challenges. Every company and every individual should be able to use their own content and customize their own experiences, regardless of the platform they’re using, and without requiring the consent of the virtual world provider. This should be the foundation of the metaverse.

In addition, that broad use of content must take place within tightly defined guidelines. Brands will want to track new behavior from a consumer perspective; however the security, privacy, and ethics around data collection should be clear and transparent.

Inclusivity is another challenge. Access to high-quality technology varies greatly around the globe. To avoid creating a digital divide, every device – from classical computing to emerging technology – needs to have access to the metaverse, and that access must be maintained within enterprises too. Information systems, infrastructures, security rules, and regulations should not prevent users or employees from accessing content.

We believe Capgemini can play a key role in orchestrating all these technologies and approaches, with a sectorial translation into tangible business outcomes for our clients. Business cases studies, immersive experiences design and implementation at scale, interoperability, and integration are some of our key capabilities – and we look forward to helping to shape the metaverse that fits every business.

Conclusion: Where we go next

No one has all the answers today about the future shape of the metaverse, but we know the destination; the metaverse will definitively impact your business model, changing how your company interacts with its customers, and how your employees work and collaborate.

What’s exciting about this unique opportunity is that we can all collectively shape the metaverse from this early stage of development. The task for business and IT leaders is to think about how their organizations can work with technology partners to create the future metaverse that they and their customers want.

However disruptive it might be, most current businesses could benefit from the growth opportunity offered by the metaverse, provided that they anticipate this disruption. Many primitives or basic interfaces exist today to enable experimenting with metaverse-pluggable immersive experiences in every sector, so that early-players can be ready when the metaverse is rolled out more widely.

The message is simple: if you want to be a leading player in the long-term future of the metaverse, then you need to start preparing your transformation strategy now.