Deloitte, ServiceNow, Zoom and more reveal exactly what they’re thinking about a business metaverse.
It seems like everybody and anybody has something to say about the metaverse right now. Recent months have seen the likes of Accenture, Deloitte, Sage and PWC all nail their colours to the metaverse mast, publishing lengthy reads and research projecting their visions of what virtual worlds will mean exactly for enterprise businesses.
While certainly ambitious and forward-thinking, there is often a muddying of the waters in such meta-missives, as more than one of these companies conflate the metaverse with the flashy tech things that Elon Musk tweets about on any given day: cryptocurrencies, blockchains, web3 and such like.
Going into the nitty-gritty can help clarify current discourse around the metaverse. Unfortunately, ERP Today was told multiple times that such an approach wasn’t possible in preparation for this article, with some of the companies refusing to provide comment. Apparently, despite all their research, several were unable to find spokespeople to answer basic questions.
But outside of future gazing, have any businesses put their money where their metaverse mouth is? Recent Sage research has nearly 30 percent of UK SMBs saying their company has already entered the metaverse, while over half (58 percent) plan to increase their presence in the realm.
Bricks and mortar will combine with the convenience of web storefronts, removing friction.” Aaron Harris / Sage
“Enabled by organisations leveraging the network architecture inherent in the metaverse to support shared ledgers and smart contracts, this evolution will undoubtedly disrupt the way we buy and sell products,” predicts Aaron Harris, CTO at Sage.
“The result will combine the intimacy and richness of bricks and mortar with the convenience of web storefronts – and in turn, removing friction and delivering insights to SMBs.”
Harris and Sage are clearly banking on a blockchain-based metaverse. But once again, we’re moving away from the core essence of what the metaverse stands to be. If some companies are viewing it as a conduit for web3 technology, then fine. But what are the majority thinking? And where is the real business value – the nails for the proverbial hammer, as it were – going to come from?
For ServiceNow, it’s all about digital twins. Representing a new frontier in business information modelling, digital twins are real-time representations of physical assets, systems or processes that can be built using mixed reality and the internet of things (IoT).
“The metaverse where digital twins take over is the most common one we can imagine,” says Jessica Constantinidis, evangelist in ServiceNow’s chief innovation office. “But today there are companies that merge the concept of the metaverse with the real world, which sees real sensors and IoT responding to virtual actions. The next phase to this would be exploring the means to build digitally, support digitally, but roll out capabilities physically. This would take us into a true hybrid world of potential.
The metaverse where digital twins take over is the most common one we can imagine.” Jessica Constantinidis/ ServiceNow
“In addition, using low-code and no-code on digital twins or the metaverse could become common in the near future. This would enable concepts to be built faster and with real predictions.”
According to Constantinidis, ServiceNow believes it can be part of the metaverse by using its “workflows and ‘digital brain’ of the enterprise to leverage and predict better routes to work.”
“The metaverse could provide organisations with the opportunity to try out new ways of doing business without any risk to their actual profit and loss, allowing them to determine in advance whether any modifications are truly for the better,” the evangelist elaborates.
“My personal belief is that the enterprise metaverse will give us an acceleration into innovation without the risks or large investments needed to prove the business value of change.”
Collaboration is key
In Constantinidis’ view, it will take around another decade before the metaverse is commonly accepted on the business side. This is as many organisations are “still struggling with the IT infrastructure and funding required to accelerate their innovation.”
While this may deflate a lot of balloons at the metaverse party, it’s a view echoed among all the insiders interviewed by ERP Today.
It’s unlikely that people are going to switch towards working
in a metaverse tomorrow.” Magnus Falk / Zoom
“It’s a myth that a booming metaverse is ‘just around the corner’,” believes Magnus Falk, CIO advisor for Zoom. “The technology may be improving, and lots of experiments are underway, but the world has just been through the ‘flexibility revolution’ triggered by the pandemic, and most businesses and employees are still digesting this.
“It’s unlikely that people are going to be ready to switch towards working in a metaverse environment tomorrow.”
Ironically, Zoom is one of the few brands out there actually involved in the metaverse’s current rudimentary form. As Zoom’s head of EMEA North Phil Perry says, this year will see Zoom Whiteboard and Zoom Meetings integrated with Horizon Workrooms, allowing colleagues to meet as avatars in a virtual space on the Meta-owned VR platform. “Consumers will be able to ‘draw’ on their physical desk or ‘write’ on a physical wall, which will be transcribed to their Zoom Whiteboard. This kind of technology aligns with the concept of the metaverse, delivering better experience than in-person meetings.”
Consumers will be able to ‘draw’ on their physical desk
or ‘write’ on a physical wall.” Phil Perry /Zoom
It’s inspiring stuff, but perhaps too ambitious when one considers most companies are still grappling with the future of hybrid and remote work. While Mark Zuckerberg may be out here talking about 3D avatars, for many bosses, ‘3D’ simply means a mandate of ‘three days in the office’.
“Over the decade, one of the big emerging questions will be: what does it mean to come to the office?” agrees Mike Bechtel, MD and chief futurist at Deloitte Consulting LLP.
“Currently, my clients are wrestling – thoughtfully, but wrestling nonetheless – with their approach to hybrid work. The latest challenge: the frustration of commuting two hours a day to sit in a half-empty conference room on a video call.
“Five years ago, it used to be that the remote crowd felt like they were at a real collaborative disadvantage to those in the boardroom on account of their being dialled in as faceless, ‘static-y’ voices, half-hearing and half-heard.
“Post-pandemic, remote office participants often enjoy the superior kit: boom mics, 4K cameras, and studio-grade speakers. The emergent irony is that those in the office can sometimes feel like they’re the ones at the kids’ table when it comes to collaborative fidelity. It’s plausible that the enterprise metaverse can stand to level the collaborative playing field.”
For Bechtel, if collaborative spaces gradually begin to denote virtual spaces, then all participants, regardless of physical workspace, stand to find themselves on a more even collaborative footing.
“Economically, the pandemic showed organisations the value that comes from virtually engaging ‘the best person anywhere’ as opposed to ‘the best person physically nearby.’ Organisations that put primacy on physical co-location risk tacitly acknowledging that they prize the best of who’s around as opposed to the best, period.
“This can feel like a sound culture-building play within the four walls of the organisation, but an emerging generation of high performers may choose to affiliate with organisations based on principles as opposed to real estate.”
All just a little bit of history repeating
The cultural sea change prompted by COVID-19 which led to the rise of Zoom has also opened minds up to the concept of a metaverse. While the tech may seem like the denizen of gameplay, a place where users can escape reality, for business-minds the metaverse increasingly holds potential as a place where collaboration can flourish.
“One of the myths about the metaverse is that it will replace the real world,” says Catherine Calarco, vice president of innovation evangelism at Automation Anywhere. “However, my hope is that the metaverse can make it easier to enable collaboration between human workers and their digital co-workers.”
The metaverse can make collaboration easier between human workers and digital co-workers.” Catherine Calarco / Automation Anywhere
What will slow down metaverse evolution though is, as Bechtel points out, the expenditure needed to gear up everyone in an organisation with VR headsets and AR eyewear.
The Deloitte futurist also reminds ERP Today that the very foundations of the metaverse are still not set in stone. As such, discussing wearables at the moment means businesses are at serious risk of jumping the gun.
“Another great debate afoot is the degree to which the metaverse will be an integrated, interoperable landscape rooted in open standards (think WWW, HTTP, SMTP) or a collection of ‘walled gardens’ brought to you by existing (and emerging) organisations,” he says. “These two decision points will help determine the inflection points and speed of adoption in this space.”
Bechtel is seeing history repeat in today’s discourse on the metaverse, harking back to the days of the dot-com boom. In his view, the metaverse is at heart the internet all over again – “that is, the next evolution of human-computer (and in turn, human-human) interaction.”
“As a futurist, I’m secretly an historian, which is why I can’t help but see shades of 1997 in much of this. 25 years ago, the World Wide Web had everyone understandably agog as to its business potential. We saw everyone and their uncle scrambling to buy dot-com domains and hang their digital shingle.
The metaverse is one heck of an emerging new hammer. But hammers looking for nails? Trouble.” Mike Bechtel /Deloitte
“(But) I’d caution anyone feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) that unlike the dot-com boom, there’s no clear dot-com domain equivalent that’s definitionally scarce. We’re seeing a proliferation of myriad corporate walled gardens and emergent web3 open constructs. Land grabs might not be a terribly strategic move when new digital lands are forming every day.
“Business and technology leaders would be wise to invest their energy getting conversant and developing situational awareness. Perhaps a nod to the pre-WWW bulletin boards is in order here: it’s usually time well spent lurking for a bit before posting.”
For Bechtel, some businesses may find they’re very well-suited to delivering their existing value propositions in this new-look arena.
“And, like in 1997, there will be others hard pressed to find it much more than a new place to advertise. Which is why I don’t believe it’s our job at Deloitte, as our clients’ trusted advisors, to steer anyone into the metaverse so much as it’s our job to continue to work with them to identify unmet needs to help them advance a tech-forward future.
“If 25 years up to my eyeballs in emerging technology has taught me anything, it’s that the technologies themselves, however shiny, are always simply tools. No matter how new and improved the hammer, it’s not worth a lick unless you’re using it to hit the right nails.
“To the extent that some of those nails lend themselves to next-level collaboration and immersive experiences, I’m thrilled to announce that we have one heck of an emerging new hammer in form of the metaverse. But hammers looking for nails? Trouble.”