Beyond the Hype: 4 Ways to Drive Real Business Value in the Metaverse
It’s not every day you’re greeted by a tiger in a bank.
But that, along with a digital portrait of Jamie Dimon, is what you’ll find when you enter the lounge that JPMorgan Chase’s blockchain unit set up in the virtual world of Decentraland.
The financial institution’s foray into the metaverse — a term that encompasses a wide array of digital constructs where people gather to socialize, play and work — is part of a broader effort by JPMorgan to extend its physical-world capabilities into the virtual realm, whether that’s facilitating cross-border payments and housing financial assets, assisting with account validation and fraud, or lending money to content creators.
Like numerous other businesses, the bank has good reason to enter the space. There are already 1 billion active augmented reality (AR) users worldwide. Fifty-four billion dollars is spent on virtual goods each year, nearly double the amount spent buying music. Roughly nine in 10 executives in our recent survey see some or significant business value in the metaverse for their industry in the next one to five years. As Mark Spykerman, CIO at AmerisourceBergen bluntly told the Wall Street Journal this January, “The metaverse is going to play a role in business.”
But what will that role be, and where can business leaders seize opportunities? The specifics can be hard to grasp in this nascent, evolving and exorbitantly hyped space.
To help executives get started, we’ve outlined four ways that companies can drive business value in the metaverse in industries such as consumer and industrial products, financial services, healthcare and life sciences, high-tech and software, and energy and utilities.
Collaboration in the Metaverse
In an upcoming West Monroe survey of more than 200 executives, the main concern with a hybrid working model was maintaining company culture and employee engagement. Collaboration is critical in this respect.
“You can’t keep 20 people engaged in the flat 2D environment of a video call. Some people don’t like appearing on camera; you’re not simulating a real-life scenario,” Pushpak Kypuram, founder-director of NextMeet, a startup offering virtual workplace solutions, said in a recent Harvard Business Review article. “That is why companies are turning to metaverse-based platforms.”
Software startup PixelMax, for instance, is in the process of developing a virtual workplace for a group of 40 manufacturers in the interior design sector. As the company’s CEO told HBR, “It’s about community building, conversations and interactions. We want to enable worker avatars to move between a manufacturing world and an interior design world.”
PixelMax’s virtual workplaces allow workers to walk around their digital office and see colleagues’ avatars in real time, thereby recreating the experience of “bumping into one another” at their physical workplace. Microsoft is also expected to move into the budding space, and will leverage its Mesh platform to thread avatars and immersive spaces into collaborative environments like its Teams platform.
Building collaborative environments on the metaverse can work for various industries. For example, scientists in different locations could use technology to simulate work that would otherwise be logistically arduous. High-tech and software companies could deploy mixed-reality platforms that allow remote colleagues to build, test, and even sell digital products more effectively.
Fortunately, employees are more ready for this shift than not. A Lenovo survey found that nearly half of respondents (44%) are prepared to work in the metaverse; only 20% say they’re unwilling to do so. Forty-four percent also think the metaverse will improve their work productivity.
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Learning and Development in 3D
Companies are already using AR/VR technologies to accelerate skills development in their workforces. Surgical technology company Medivis is deploying Microsoft’s HoloLens to train medical students with interactive 3D anatomy models, while Ford is training technicians on electric vehicle maintenance with an Oculus Quest VR headset. In the energy and utilities sector, workers are walking through virtual representations of physical infrastructure to design, inspect and test new industrial equipment.
The growing adoption of the metaverse will only create additional opportunities. Gamified learning can lead to easier and quicker acquisition of skills. Virtual coaching can put customer-facing teams into interactive, real-world scenarios to hone their customer engagement capabilities. AR-enabled apps, glasses or drones for utility inspections, field service and maintenance can overlay a physical view of the part in question with an AR view of what it is “supposed” to look like — all to provide faster diagnoses, reduce downtime and support employee safety.
The metaverse can also help onboard remote employees and bring others together for company- or department-wide learning and development opportunities. “What we’re aiming for is sort of a reflection of a physical world in a virtual world that brings forth the conversation, the training, the simulations, the interactions where a few people leaving a conference room can have a hallway chat with something like an avatar or a hologram or something that you can project and look at,” Rajat Taneja, president of technology at Visa, explained to the WSJ.
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A New World of Digital Products
As noted above, business in metaverse worlds — which have their own currencies and GDP — is booming. Cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs, or unique creations traded and secured on a blockchain), and physical goods purchased in these virtual worlds will all drive its continued economic growth.
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It’s no wonder that brands like Nike, Meta and Disney are establishing their own metaverse business units. For its part, Nike is looking to build virtual retail environments to sell its virtual goods and recently acquired RTFKT, which creates virtual shoes and collectibles. Sotheby’s is opening a metaverse gallery for curated visual art. And Gucci has initiated several projects, including one that is “a virtual floating ‘New Tokyo’ world, fashion accessories for purchase by profile picture NFT owners and a fictional character called Wagmi-San.”
Other consumer brands will open virtual stores of their own that feature digital-only products that consumers can use to decorate their own virtual homes, offices and spaces. Banks like JPMorgan will power cryptocurrency transactions in the metaverse. And high-tech and software players will begin to offer Blockchain-as-a-service, metaverse-as-a-service, and NFT-management platforms that allow organizations to inventory, audit, and manage new assets or build their own internal blockchains and metaverses.
Innovating Customer Experiences
With new technologies come new opportunities for improving customer experiences. In banking, branches in an immersive VR environment can provide customers in the metaverse with a more convenient, highly-personalized experience. In healthcare, mixed-reality experiences could provide tech-savvy seniors with more seamless Medicare purchasing and navigation processes than buying those service though phone calls.
Vittoria Cretella, Proctor & Gamble’s CIO, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that the metaverse will be a common way companies interact with their customers. Case in point: The consumer-products giant hosted its second annual virtual experience, LifeLab, inviting visitors to create avatars and move through a digital exhibit to learn more about its products. “When we talk about metaverse and immersive experience, I think, for me, it’s about engaging with the consumers at the right time, on the media channel they prefer and with the right content,” Cretella said.
To that end, metaverse platforms can empower businesses to deliver experiences and information in innovative ways. That could mean virtual shopping experiences, automakers offering test drives in an extended reality environment, or a ski resort providing a virtual guide and personalized, real-time information to skiers as they descend a mountain.
It’s also about telling new and engaging brand stories. As Katrina Klier, PROS CMO, said in an April CMSWire article, “People will be able to choose not just the classic channel where they want to learn more information or experience a product or service, but more specifically how they want to consume it. This takes CX much further down the ‘choose your own adventure’ path than we’ve ever been able to do before.”
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The Immediate Opportunity for Businesses
Capturing business value from the metaverse poses significant obstacles, from technological requirements to privacy and human-resources issues. But future-looking executives shouldn’t be intimidated.
In fact, they can begin developing a metaverse strategy by asking one big question: What can you do to make your products, services, and experiences markedly better and more valuable — not just different — for customers and employees?
- Can you more seamlessly blend your physical and digital products and experiences?
- What technologies could you deploy that would add value to, and reduce friction within, the user experience?
- How quickly are you able to react to changing customer needs and desires?
- Do you analyze data about how, why, and when people use your products and services, and use these insights to boost engagement and usability?
All this may not mean you’ll have a tiger in your virtual office space right away. But answering these questions and understanding how and where to drive business value in this exciting new space can be an important first step in your organization’s metaverse journey.
About the Author
Kaumil Dalal is a Senior Partner in West Monroe’s Product Engineering practice and a national leader focused on delivering world class, impactful industry-leading digital products. He partners with organizations to establish strategy and deliver tailored experiences to enable employee and customer experiences, and power intelligent, adaptive, and hybrid digital workplaces.