BEYOND THE HORIZON

Innovating with Web 3.0, NFTs, and the metaverse

We speak to three Capgemini colleagues exploring new technologies – Web 3.0, NFTs, and the metaverse – and ask them how a culture of innovation creates the space to experiment and learn.

Dream job to daily reality

For many people, it sounds like a dream job: experimenting with cutting-edge innovations such as the metaverse, Web 3.0, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), exploring how they might have a positive impact on our future. However, for three Capgemini colleagues based in offices around the world, this is a daily reality.

“I help our clients test, learn, and experiment with new technologies, models, and markets,” says Dheeren Vélu, head of innovation at Capgemini Australia’s Applied Innovation Exchange (AIE). “Often we do this by offering short ‘sprints’ that deploy the technology for the client at a small, low-risk scale, sometimes with the involvement of innovative start-ups.”

AIE is Capgemini’s network of 21 global “exchanges,” focused on emerging technology and innovation. According to Dheeren, AIE Australia has been particularly interested in decentralized technologies, such as blockchain, NFTs, and the broader concept of Web 3.0.

“Right now, we’re witnessing the birth of a new internet that’s fundamentally different from how things work today,” says Dheeren. “Web 3.0 represents a shift to a decentralized internet, powered by blockchain and NFTs.”

 

In their simplest form, NFTs are a digital record of ownership, says Dheeren. Stored on the blockchain as a “smart contract,” they are unique and non-interchangeable (non-fungible), and confer ownership of the digital item to a given person.

Fun and games

While NFTs could become a disruptive technology, Dheeren emphasizes the enjoyment his team has had in experimenting with them. “For Christmas last year, we created 100 NFT Christmas cards in the form of snowflakes for our friends and partners,” he says.

“Designed using an AI algorithm, the snowflakes were a visual representation of the person’s name, and were ‘minted’ on a blockchain, becoming a permanent record. Maybe these ‘Capflakes’ will be the most sought-after collectible for Christmas in the future, with everyone wanting to get their hands on them.”

Welcome to the metaverse

Sanjay Nand, head of innovation and ventures at the AIE team in London, has been getting to grips with this new immersive technology. “The metaverse is essentially a meta universe within which people can create, communicate, collaborate, and transact,” he says. “Currently, it’s separated into different online experiences that can be accessed with a virtual reality headset, or through a standard computer.”

Every Friday, Sanjay puts on a VR headset and hosts his team meeting inside the metaverse Spatial. “If we’re going to talk about these technologies, we need to embrace them and learn by doing,” he says. “To make it fun for participants, we’ve designed immersive sessions, more recently we conducted a virtual design session where the winning team’s creation was made into an NFT found on OpenSea.”

For Sanjay, the metaverse offers huge potential for businesses to interact with customers in new ways. “We’re currently working with our retail clients to explore how they can enter the metaverse while having a story connected to their physical products,” he says. “For example, whenever a pair of trainers is sold by a brand, a one-to-one NFT could be given to the customer as a digital ‘wearable’ to add to their online avatar. It would act as a token for the brand’s space in the metaverse.”

The virtual trainers NFT might also enable a range of offers for the customers in the metaverse, for example giving the customers’ avatars unique access to spaces, experiences, retail offers, and much more.”

Decentralized finance

Surabhi Gawde, associate director for banking and financial services digital strategy at Capgemini Invent in India, has been exploring the implications of cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance (DeFi), enabled by Web 3.0, for financial organizations.

“In a nutshell, blockchain technologies encode trust, securely and efficiently,” she says. “Decentralized finance changes the nature of lending, investing, and saving in traditional financial products and institutions. This has implications for the financial sector as DeFi will alter the future economies. Fintechs and a few banks are building new business models in DeFi, and Big Techs are building digital assets teams.”

Surabhi cites the example of a bank looking to create a customer loyalty platform that offers digital assets, enabled by blockchain. “This exciting project is one instance where I’ve helped a client understand new revenue streams using digital assets, tokenization, and a new technology landscape before building offerings for retail customers,” she says. “We’re moving beyond the experimental stage. Financial institutions must build new products, forge partnerships, and prepare to co-exist with centralized finance (CeFi) and DeFi.”

Space for innovation

Sanjay, Dheeren, and Surabhi all agree that Capgemini’s culture of innovation gives them the freedom to have fun and explore the implications of these new technologies, and to help create the future they want.

“We have the license to look beyond immediate client requirements to what I call Horizon 2 and Horizon 3 projects,” says Sanjay. “These are business models, technologies, and innovations that haven’t even emerged yet.”

For Surabhi, Capgemini’s structure is the crucial factor. “Unlike other companies with more rigid architectures, Capgemini enables a very fluid interchange between global innovation teams,” she says.

In Dheeren’s view, Capgemini provides a safe environment in which his team has the freedom to test and to fail. “This is so important when you’re working with emergent, mercurial technology trends like the metaverse and NFTs,” he says.

As the nature of innovation has changed, Capgemini has evolved to meet the challenges of tomorrow. In the words of Dheeren: “The days of monolithic R&D departments are over. No single company owns innovation – it’s happening all around us.”