It’s no secret that business leaders are excited about the metaverse. Tech companies are in a frenzy of anticipation over this immersive digital utopia and executives are scrambling to secure their place in this new world. There is just one problem: The metaverse does not exist yet.
Right now, the majority of metaverse investment amounts to homesteading: staking a claim in uncharted territory and hoping things will work out. This puts CIOs and IT leaders in the difficult position of preparing the enterprise to participate in and profit from something that has yet to be fully defined, much less realized.
Even so, certain metaverse-enabling components are available today. Platforms for immersive streaming enable collaboration in a shared virtual space. Design tools for creating three-dimensional and environments are now within the skill level and financial reach of even casual content creators. User experience hardware, such as VR headsets and haptic gloves, are moving from gaming curiosity to business necessity.
Each of these tools and the emerging standards they are based on can be used now to prepare and position the enterprise to prosper as the fully realized metaverse emerges. Here are the steps that CIOs and IT leaders can take now to prepare for the metaverse, moving beyond hype into real-world applications to position their enterprise for future success.
Understand Where We Are Today
Gartner defines the metaverse as “a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. The metaverse is persistent; providing enhanced immersive experiences.”
This definition introduces subtle but important features. First, the metaverse is not necessarily a fully immersive, VR environment. Rather, it consists of both enhanced physical and digital reality. While some experiences may indeed be fully synthetic, immersive VR experiences, others may simply overlay digital information on the user’s current physical environment as viewed through metaverse-enabled glasses or goggles.
Second, the metaverse is a collective space, not a monolithic environment. It will consist of numerous independent but interoperable applications and experiences. The metaverse will be a diverse ecosystem encompassing all these enhanced experience applications, which can be thought of as metaspheres.
While the metaverse may not yet exist, a wide variety of metaspheres are already in place and delivering value. A metasphere is an application that exhibits the characteristics of the metaverse, but largely in isolation. Current use cases range from fully immersive training routines to process instructions projected into the lenses of safety glasses. Metaspheres currently being utilized fall into one of three categories: augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR). Metaspheres can serve as a great starting point for CIOs to explore future metaverse applications.
Start By Looking Internally
Today, companies are preparing for the metaverse by looking internally — exploring how metasphere tools can benefit their employees, their operations and ultimately their bottom line.
Creating internally facing metaspheres has advantages over attempting to field public-facing services. The enterprise is a controlled environment. Most of the failures with public-facing metaspheres involve scalability and capacity issues, with services being overwhelmed and crashing. Keeping metaspheres in-house allows you to throttle demand and scale computational resources as necessary.
Using metasphere technologies with employees also helps keep mistakes and failures out of public view while the organization gains competence and experience. Employees can test various approaches to a solution and provide feedback, allowing the enterprise to learn, at its own pace, the tools and how they can most effectively be applied. While the market sorts out how to monetize public metaverse offerings, internal metaspheres can provide immediate, practical benefits to the enterprise and potentially identify services that can indeed be made public and monetized.
Select Use Cases to Enable Future Opportunities
As more metaspheres emerge, they will converge and coalesce, becoming more interconnected and interoperable, and the metaverse will emerge. But this can only happen if enterprises wisely select and properly implement use cases today.
The first and most important question to ask is: “What will a metasphere enable us to do that can’t be done with a laptop and webcam?” Too many business leaders succumb to fear of missing out when new tech trends emerge and demand the new tech be implemented immediately, leading to wasted investment, missed opportunity, and disillusionment.
Consider each type of metasphere currently available — AR, MR and VR — and align them with scenarios that will improve business operations and employee effectiveness. Training applications are the best place for most enterprises to start, given that metaspheres for training are the simplest, least expensive point of entry to the metaverse. They are also the most effective at delivering high impact and immediate value, requiring only basic consumer-grade headgear. Training in a metasphere can be faster, lower cost and lead to stronger retention than traditional training.
The value of immersive training is to place the user in a situation that would be impractical or inadvisable in the real world. For example, police forces have used immersive environments for training in de-escalation and crisis intervention, as well as field and tactical training. Training in a metasphere does not need to be restricted to high-stakes situations; it can also be effective in helping employees cultivate soft skills. When business can be won or lost in a single interaction, it is wise to let employees practice in front of an angry avatar before putting them in front of an angry customer.
When considering use cases, focus on current and future value. Reserve metaspheres for high-value scenarios that would not otherwise be practical or possible.
Begin With a Minimum Viable Approach
Perhaps the greatest unanswered question about the metaverse is “How do we make money with it?” Beyond narrow slices of gaming and entertainment, practical ways of monetizing the metaverse have yet to be identified. There are many unsettled issues and unanswered questions about the metaverse, and its eventual form and function remains to be seen. Therefore, it is risky to invest solely for a potential entry into the public metaverse when it emerges.
However, metasphere technologies are generating value by improving business efficiencies and expanding capabilities. Applications for training, collaboration, support and digital twinning are in use across industries and have proven their worth in employee-centric scenarios. Keeping experimentation focused on such applications within the enterprise can considerably mitigate metaverse risk.
For now, CIOs should take a minimum viable approach. Once a promising metasphere use case is identified, select a small, well-defined and contained set of capabilities and set of initial users. Not only will this simplify implementation and deployment, but it will also ease adoption. As developers or administrators and their users become more familiar and comfortable with the metasphere and working within it, new possibilities will be identified that can be added in subsequent iterations of the product and eventually, support a future realization of the metaverse.
About the Author:
Darin Stewart is a Vice President Analyst at Gartner, Inc., advising digital business leaders and technical professionals on how to create, manage and utilize knowledge resources. Gartner analysts are discussing the metaverse and other emerging technologies at Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2022, taking place this week in Orlando, Florida.