The metaverse is the wild west of the internet, but pioneering businesses are laying the foundations for a new era of virtual reality
- Cliff Saran,
Published: 17 Mar 2022 17: 00
In its latest Technology Vision 2022 report, titled Meet me in the metaverse, Accenture sets out how it sees the metaverse changing business-to-business transactions and the way businesses interact with consumers.
The report describes a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds – the Metaverse Continuum – covering a set of business models that redefine how the world works, operates and interacts. According to Accenture, businesses are racing towards a future that is very different from the one they were designed to operate in, as technologies – such as extended reality, blockchain, digital twins and edge computing – converge to reshape human experiences.
In its research for the report, Accenture surveyed more than 4,600 business and technology leaders across 23 industries in 35 countries. At this early stage, 71% of executives believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organisation and 42% believe it will be “breakthrough” or “transformational”.
“The next generation of the internet is unfolding and will drive a new wave of digital transformation far greater than what we’ve seen to date, transforming the way we all live and work,” said Paul Daugherty, group chief executive for technology and chief technology officer at Accenture. “Our vision of the metaverse as a continuum challenges prevailing, narrower views and highlights why organisations must act today, or find themselves operating in worlds designed by, and for, someone else.”
Daugherty added: “As the line between people’s physical and digital lives further blurs, organisations have the opportunity and obligation now to build a responsible metaverse – addressing issues like trust, sustainability, personal safety, privacy, responsible access and use, diversity and more. The actions and choices they make today will set the stage for the future.”
WebMe, Programmable World and The Unreal
Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022 report identifies three trends related to the metaverse.
The first, which Accenture has dubbed WebMe, covers enterprise strategies that aim to overcome limitations of today’s digital platforms, which often lack interoperability and data portability.
According to Accenture, the metaverse and Web 3.0 are poised to reshape the internet. Rather than it being comprised of a disparate collection of sites and apps, Accenture predicts the metaverse will lead to a persistent 3D environment in which moving from one “place” to another is as simple as walking from one room to another.
Its research found that 95% of executives believe future digital platforms need to offer unified experiences, enabling interoperability of customers’ data across different platforms and spaces.
Paul Daugherty, Accenture
The second trend is what Accenture calls a Programmable World. The report notes that as emerging technologies such as 5G, ambient computing, augmented reality and smart materials advance, digital environments will be increasingly woven into the fabric of the physical world.
According to Accenture, these environments will not only reshape not just how people engage with worlds, but will redefine everything built in it, how people sense and interact, and the control they have over it.
The survey found that 92% of of business leaders agree that leading organisations will push the boundaries of the virtual world to make it more real, increasing the need for persistence and seamless navigation between the digital and physical worlds.
The third aspect of the metaverse is what Accenture calls The Unreal. This is the domain of fake information and how artificial intelligence (AI) can help to combat it. Businesses and environments are increasingly supported by AI-generated data that convincingly reflects the physical world.
Accenture said AI was top-of-mind for businesses, as companies and consumers alike shift away from considering what is real versus fake, to what is authentic, not just in terms of a company’s content and algorithms, but its entire brand.
The survey found that 96% of organisations are committed to authenticating the origin of their data and genuine use of AI. “With the unreal world about to become reality, now is the time for leaders to ready their businesses,” the report stated.
Identifying a business case
Michael Bliz, managing director of Accenture Technology Vision, said most companies have been through the process of assessing digital channels before, when they developed their e-commerce. When looking at the viability of metaverse projects, he said: “Now they have a better idea of the business case and can choose low-hanging fruit.”
For instance, at Disney, people will want to interact with Star Wars characters in the metaverse, while cosmetics giant L’Oréal recognises that people will want to look their best in the metaverse.
Another example is confectionary firm Mars, which is working with Microsoft and Accenture to deploy digital twins, a foundational element of the metaverse, to reduce waste, increase speed and capacity, and empower its associates to make real-time decisions across its supply chain. Mars is now extending this concept to product development, with digital simulations factoring in variability, such as climate and disruptions, and maintaining greater visibility from the point of origin to place of consumption.
Accenture said the time is right for businesses to start looking at what it means to have a presence and operate in the metaverse. The technology available to support it, such as the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset, is far superior to earlier offerings. Taste and smell will eventually be needed to make the environment more immersive and life-like.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to engage further in digital channels, resulting in rapid growth in e-commerce, which could be enhanced through the metaverse. “I think e-commerce is broken today,” said Marc Carrel Billiard, senior managing director and lead for technology innovation and Accenture Lab. “Using a screen is not the way we think. Our brain works in three dimensions.”
Billiard sees the current progress in the development of the metaverse as analogous to the stage of development in the mobile phone industry during the early 1990s. “We are at the very beginning. No one knows where it will be going,” he said.
When looking at a business case in the metaverse, Billiard said business leaders will need to think about how it can be used to interact with people. For instance, bots that interact with people will need to be auditable and traceable.