Consumer, enterprise or industrial? The 3 main ways we are using the ‘metaverse’ explained

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • The metaverse was a hot topic at Davos 2023, where the sci-fi author who coined the term joined a panel, and use cases for the ‘industrial metaverse’ were discussed.
  • But do you know your industrial from your consumer and enterprise metaverse?
  • Paul Daugherty, the Chief Technology Officer of Accenture, which is working with the World Economic Forum on purpose-driven metaverse The Global Collaboration Village, outlines the three categories of use cases for the metaverse.

The metaverse is still a work in progress, or, as the man who coined the term 30 years ago says, it’s “nascent”.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Neal Stephenson, the sci-fi author of Snow Crash told Davos in January.

“It’s really just the last couple of years that everything has come together. The cost of raw graphics processing power came down… with that you can make great games and three-dimensional experiences.

“But to network all that together into something that looks like the metaverse, you need a lot of networking capability and an ability to handle transactions cheaply, quickly, reliably and other elements which are less obvious but haven’t started to materialize until the last couple of years.”

While the metaverse is still a way off being fully interoperable (when your avatar can wander between virtual worlds carrying whatever accoutrements you’ve acquired), sci-fi is slowly becoming more of a reality, so companies are investing in the opportunities it presents.

More than $120 billion was invested into the metaverse space in the first six months of 2022, according to McKinsey, double the investment across the whole of 2021. By 2030, it’s estimated to be worth $5 trillion.

But what will people do there?

“If we are going to have a metaverse being used and enjoyed by millions of people, there will have to be experiences in the metaverse that are worth having,” said Stephenson.

There are three broad categories for the ‘use cases’ of the metaverse, according to Accenture’s Chief Technology Officer Paul Daugherty: consumer, enterprise and industrial.

Here’s what you need to know…

The Consumer Metaverse

“This is Nike or Gucci, JPMorgan Chase, that are pioneering ways to interact with customers, consumers in the metaverse,” says Daugherty, who spoke to the World Economic Forum Book Club Podcast.

Retailers are experimenting with immersive shopping experiences, such as IKEA’s virtual interior designer app on Oculus, effectively a VR showroom, where people can shop for products at home or in-store.

Gucci hosted Gucci Vault Land in The Sandbox metaverse space in October 2022, and it also has Gucci Town in the Roblox game.

In September, make-up brand Sephora held its second immersive beauty festival Sephoria, with masterclasses in different rooms and commemorative NFTs of the event.

A graphic showing projected horizons of metaverse growth and adoption.

It will take at least five years for metaverse technologies to reach maturity. Image: World Economic Forum.

But it goes beyond retail to include media, entertainment, real estate and even banking, according to the World Economic Forum and Accenture insight report, Demystifying the Consumer Metaverse.

It’s part of the Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative launched in 2022 – to shape a future metaverse that’s safe, equitable and economically viable.

There’s no one-size-fits all or linear consumer journey in the metaverse and the value consumers derive will depend on their personality type, according to a research by Nokia and Ipsos. Members of Gen Z who are more introverted, will find value in being able to go shopping from home, while others will value socialization and entertainment.

The Enterprise Metaverse

“This is how you use it in your business,” says Daugherty.

As a case in point, a pre-pandemic experiment in using virtual reality to onboard new Accenture employees, has now become an integral enterprise metaverse called the Nth Floor. In the past year, it’s been used to onboard 150,000 people.

“Employees get a headset when they join the company,” says Daugherty. “They go in for some guided experiences, orientation and training – and then there are some unguided activities they can do to learn.”

The Nth Floor has increased engagement during the process, as well as learning retention, but it’s also proving a useful tool in client meetings.

“We’ve scanned our labs and offices around the world in 3D, so I have taken clients on a tour of our labs in France, and in Silicon Valley, rather than travelling. It’s a new way of creating the experience and it’s offloading a lot of climate impact from people flying around.”

As Meta’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox told a panel in Davos “the feeling of presence” is the “essential ingredient for the user experience of something that feels metaverse-like”.

The company’s Work Rooms virtual space, which allows employees to meet in the metaverse, has been, he says, “the killer app… a meaningful reason for putting a headset on in a work context”.

The enterprise metaverse is also seen as a way to aid recruitment in certain sectors like construction, by effectively gamifying the job, as well as to close skills gaps, with Adecco Group piloting a VR programme in Belgium to train forklift drivers – one of the most in-demand job roles to fill.

And it can be used for good. The Forum has collaborated with Accenture and Microsoft on The Global Collaboration Village, a purpose-driven metaverse to enable greater cooperation between business, government and civil society to solve the world’s biggest challenges.

“For me, it’s a dream coming true because the village allows the Forum to create a larger and more open platform where everybody can participate,” said Klaus Schwab, the Forum’s Founder & Executive Chairman when the latest prototype was unveiled at Davos.

The Industrial Metaverse

Finally there’s the industrial metaverse, says Daugherty, which uses augmented reality and digital twins to bring the metaverse to the outside operations of your business.

It was the subject of a session at Davos, titled “Deployment in the Industrial Metaverse”, which touched on some of the use cases, including in the construction, logistics and healthcare industries. Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers AG, said there’s a lot the industrial metaverse can do.

NYU was using cinematic rendering to illustrate disease, so that instead of sending a report and text to the patient, they receive a link to a 3D graph.

“We see people replacing anatomy education. Instead of using human bodies, they are switching it to virtual exploring, 3D animations.”

It will completely change the surgical theatre, said Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, using the example of a surgeon putting a catheter in the heart in 3D rather than 2D, which improves the accuracy.

“I think we will look back and say do you remember when we used to do surgery without augmentation? Because it’s just a great tool for the surgeons and the outcomes are higher.”

Meanwhile, port operations are using digital twins to improve efficiency, reducing operations costs and CO2 emissions. Logistics provider and port operator, DP World, is launching DPMETAWORLD to help tackle supply chain challenges.

Across all three categories of the metaverse, there are challenges, from data privacy to trust and governance, as well as how the metaverse and other digital technologies will impact on people’s jobs.

For example, when a 3D image of a tumour displaces the role of a radiologist, who was trained on seeing a 2D slice and interpreting it as disease, the radiologist has to undergo a mindset shift, said Montag.

“‘I’m not a pattern recognition machine. I am here to bring innovations to healthcare. I am the communicator in a care team. I am the editor of the diagnostic information’. It’s a different way to look at yourself.”

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