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How will the metaverse shape the future of business?

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur3/31/2022 5:30 PM GMT+08  • 9 min read
How will the metaverse shape the future of business?
Accenture's lounge in its metaverse platform called the Nth floor. Photo: Unsplash
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Although most employees welcome the flexibility of hybrid work, some are concerned that it will lead to split cultures between home-based and in-office employees. This could result in tension in office dynamics and perceived imbalances between the two groups, such as remote employees possibly missing out on promotions partially due to the less in-person time they have with their managers.

Many companies are trying to prevent split cultures by hosting virtual social activities or informal catch-ups over video calls. However, those events seem to have limited impacts. In fact, those activities can contribute to “Zoom fatigue” and may feel forced rather than engaging as they do not differ from the usual two-dimensional (2D) work meetings.

Is there a better way of preventing split cultures? Perhaps the answer lies in building an enterprise metaverse, which is a digital twin (or simply put, virtual replica) of real-world offices. Games like The Sims, Second Life and Roblox have shown that such virtual environments can naturally encourage social interactions and foster collaborations.

Working in the metaverse

Informal coffee break meetings and water-cooler chats are perhaps what employees miss the most when they work remotely, says Quentin Staes-Polet, managing director of Unreal Engine for EMEA, India and Asean at Epic Games. “So the metaverse — a three-dimensional (3D) holographic virtual room or environment — can help recreate those interactions and provide the continuum between physical and virtual experiences.”

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Shivam Srivastava, partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, agrees that the enterprise metaverse can help improve workplace collaboration.

He explains: “In the near term, we may see rich virtual spaces that enable higher levels of interactivity and collaboration across access points and devices, with improved interactive modes (like breakout rooms), and collaboration capabilities (like virtual whiteboarding). In the long run, the lines between physical and digital worlds will increasingly blur, and we will have the ability to collaborate seamlessly across extended reality environments.”

Besides being an employee hangout place or an alternate meeting room, the enterprise metaverse can also be used for employee onboarding and training.

New employees of professional services company Accenture, for instance, now spend part of their orientation in the metaverse. On the first day of work, new joiners will receive instructions on how to create their digital avatar and access One Accenture Park, a shared virtual space that enables immersive experiences during onboarding. Thereafter, they can interact with colleagues and complete training modules on the virtual platform.

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Cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is another company experimenting with the use of metaverse for training. Last month, it launched the AWS Cloud Quest: Cloud Practitioner game, an online role-playing game that aims to equip early-career or new-to-cloud adult learners with cloud skills.

After creating their avatars, players are required to complete quests by solving technology and cloud-related issues based on real-world business scenarios. This will enable them to understand what the cloud is by exploring core AWS services and categories and building basic cloud solutions in the game.

Attracting talent

Early adopters of the enterprise metaverse are more likely to attract new talents and retain existing staff, claims Shirley Wong, entrepreneur-in-residence at Singapore Management University (SMU) Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE).

“[The enterprise metaverse] offers many creative ways to interact and engage with colleagues without being in the same physical space. The immersive experience and higher engagement level [enabled by the virtual environment] will help especially new employees to have a greater sense of belonging versus simply meeting colleagues on a 2D online platform,” she says.

She continues: “[The enterprise metaverse] can also reduce the physical and distance barriers for global talents, which might help in [attracting and] retaining talents who place high importance on work location flexibility.”

Digital twins for operational efficiency and innovation

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The enterprise metaverse can also help improve operational efficiency as it offers a digital twin that allows companies to run simulations.

“Businesses can leverage the enterprise metaverse to visualise product development or simulate possible scenarios to gain greater insights into the creation, delivery or repair of their products,” says Hakaru Morikawa, vice president, industry and advisory for Southeast Asia at enterprise software provider SAP.

He gave the example of automobile manufacturer BMW using digital twins of its assembly plants to enhance its planning processes. The move enables BMW’s global teams to design its factory floors collaboratively in real-time and test new workflows for worker ergonomics and efficiency, which are all key as it regularly reconfigures its factories to accommodate new vehicle launches.

Jon Li, CEO and founder of Vizzio Technologies — a 3D visualisation and reality capture company — adds that the enterprise metaverse can also help reduce complexities, time and costs while delivering higher-quality results.

He explains: “For instance, architects can place a 3D model of a new building in the digital twin of an area to see how it fits in or find the best position for it to get sunlight. Previously, they would have to write special software and use supercomputing power to do this.”

Besides using the metaverse to improve operations, organisations can use it to develop new services too. Taking the lead for this, JPMorgan Chase recently opened a lounge in Decentraland, a blockchain-based virtual world. The bank aims to offer services such as cross-border payments, foreign exchange, financial assets creation, trading and safekeeping through the virtual lounge, just like it does in the real world.

Meanwhile, Nike unveiled Nikeland, a virtual world modelled after its headquarters on video game platform Roblox, last November. Free for anyone to visit, the digital space allows players to outfit their avatar with virtual Nike shoes, clothes and accessories. Visitors can also play games — like tag and dodgeball — and even create mini-games on the platform.

The building blocks of the metaverse

Since the metaverse is still in its early stage, there is no agreement that virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) devices are required to transport us to the metaverse. While Meta and Samsung Electronics believe VR technology is the best way to interact with others in virtual worlds, companies like Vizzio Technologies and Epic Games think otherwise.

“To reduce barriers to entry and achieve widespread adoption, the metaverse should be accessible from browsers,” says Li. “Applications of 3D technology have typically been reserved for the elites who can afford the expertise. But in a metaverse reality where 3D becomes part of the everyday, it’s important to empower all users — from novices to digital experts — with easy access to 3D capture and virtualisation to enable everyone to co-create, virtualise and interact with digital realities on demand.”

Apart from 3D real-time rendering tools, Epic Games’ Staes-Polet identified 5G, cloud, AI, blockchain as some of the foundational technologies for the metaverse. “By combining those technologies, we’ll be able to create richer interactions, more immersive experiences, and more opportunities to use visualisations to better understand and solve problems,” he adds.

New employment stream

It goes without saying that the metaverse is heavily dependent on technology. But to truly benefit from it, organisations must also have the right skills to operate and manage the various tools powering the virtual environment.

“Businesses will require more resources and talent to develop and maintain transactions and digital twins in the metaverse. What’s more, the metaverse will potentially create a whole new employment stream as we maintain the real world and metaverse in parallel,” says SAP’s Morikawa.

However, McKinsey’s Srivastava claims that the skills required to support the metaverse will not differ vastly from the digital skills required today. “While one can clearly see the need for technical skills and expertise to build the hardware, software and supporting services of the metaverse, many of these are an extension or evolution of current technical skill sets, similar to how mobile was an evolution of the web.”

Agreeing, SMU IIE’s Wong adds: “The type of jobs around the metaverse ecosystem will still circle around research, software and hardware development, project management, creatives, and cybersecurity. What will probably be different is the need for the talents to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the expanse and the possibilities of what the metaverse encapsulates.”

“Skills that will be in demand include VR development, 3D modelling, video editing, AI app development and coding, machine learning, and wearable experience. It will not be surprising that our youths will be choosing computer science courses over medical or engineering moving forward. The challenge will be whether institutions can produce enough talents with the above-mentioned skill sets at a speed that is fast enough to meet the rising demands.”

Addressing concerns

Wong also highlights the need for laws and regulations to keep pace with metaverse developments to address ethics, safety and data privacy concerns.

However, she does not foresee it happening any time soon. She adds: “Regulations might only kick in at a later stage when the metaverse is widely accepted and when everyone is clearer on the development. If we draw parallels from cryptocurrency, we can probably expect a similar kind of timeline before any governments decide to put in place some regulations and legislation around it.”

Limitless possibilities

Epic Games’ Staes-Polet notes that we are now in a situation similar to the late 1990s, when the Internet was just taking off and businesses were exploring its potential. While there are currently no standards but many experiments and siloed experiences, he foresees the metaverse to be just as disruptive as the current Internet.

“The metaverse is still a white canvas that needs to be painted. But there’s no magic formula [for succeeding in the metaverse.] Leaders have to assess all aspects of their operations – from the back-end to product design to customer experience processes and even their people strategy – to identify areas that immersive AI and 3D visualisation can add value to,” he says.

While we may be years away from realising the full metaverse vision, McKinsey’s Srivastava states that we are at an inflection point in terms of user adoption and maturity of the underlying technology.

“Now is a good time for companies to strategically evaluate what the metaverse could mean for them and what opportunities it presents. For some, this may mean finding places to experiment to start learning, while for others, it may mean placing bigger investment bets,” he says.

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