At a time when Facebook was renamed as Meta, the so-called Metaverse (check Merriam Webster’s definition) is on everybody’s lips. Whereas experts are still wondering whether there is such a thing as a Metaverse for consumers and Forrester states there aren’t any applications for that yet, I turned towards the famous independent analyst group to shed a bit of light on what might or might not happen in business to business. My guest today is JP Gownder from Forrester who shares his thoughts on how the Metaverse could be evolving across industries and what the future has in store for B2B in that area. I found this discussion utterly enlightening, here are JP’s thoughts on the subject.
What could be the potential applications for the Metaverse in B2B?
Metaverse technologies seem to be relevant in workforce management. We will have a permanently more distributed remote workforce than we used to.
Also, the technologies we have been using, Slack for example, is like a persistent chat room. It has the qualities of a virtual world where people spend time either synchronously or asynchronously.
But it’s not a rich and immersive version of a virtual world.
There are the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom that are more visual and a broadcast-style representation of people.
The opportunity here is to get away from these existing paradigms and move to something that ‘s a little bit more life-like
One could for instance have a group of people who can get together in a variety of ways. These could include individuals being able to walk around a room in a naturalistic way and interact with each other. They could also break off into subgroups, and immerse themselves in an experience that reflects what it’s like to be together in the real world.
There are certain unmet needs of workers who are trying to collaborate remotely. Let me add one more reason why the B2B Metaverse might be powerful.
Collaboration is an important scenario, but the other area is really operational: the visualisation of digital twins, of operations or places
B2B Metaverse: the example of BMW’s factory digital twin
Let’s understand more through an anecdote. In BMW’s factory digital twin, you have an incredibly well-instrumented understanding of the entirety of the factory. People can spend time understanding the digital twin in this very visual way.
They can go in and inspect different parts of that process and improve it over time. There will be this kind of private use of of metaverse technologies that is focused on the acquisition and modeling of data.
Some of that also could be simulation. A lot of companies are developing driverless vehicles using physics engines and trying to figure out what it’s going to look like in this 3D world.
So, I would say collaboration, digital twins and simulation are three powerful ways B2B can use Metaverse technologies
B2B industries where metaverse is going to play a more important role than others
For something like collaboration, it’s going to be industries like financial services that employ a considerable number of knowledge workers. Functions like marketing where people don’t need to be present in person could join the league too.
That said, it can also be used in a hybrid mode, but it takes a little bit more to figure out how that works exactly.
For example, you may have a conference room that is well equipped with cameras that allow you to have joint experiences between metaverse and reality.
The second group is going to be industries like manufacturing, engineering and ones with a lot of factory-oriented operations deemed suitable for the digital twin.
We’ll eventually see companies that have been making traditional products move into that environment as well.
Why are people talking about metaverse now, is it because of Zuckerberg?
I think Mark Zuckerberg has broken open that conversation and in a very damaging way. This is because people are not very fond of Facebook due to their privacy concerns. Hence, it’s getting a little too associated at the moment with Metta.
In fact, Satya Nadella has talked about the Metaverse as a growth area for them. Also, companies who are very focused on industrial kinds of metaverse have been talking about it.
Applications of metaverse in B2B
There are little bits and pieces present. Let’s look at the three different buckets within communication technology. We only see just the very beginning of this.
The Meta horizon workspace is not being used yet and is pretty new. But what you’re going to see by the end of 2022 is that Microsoft has said they are going to take their Microsoft mesh experiences and integrate them into Teams.
This means hundreds of millions of people will be accessing slices of it. Like avatars, they’ll have the ability to create a virtual room and use digital whiteboards.
It will mostly be encountered in more of a 2D screen environment. But that’s how games work today. We do lots of 3D gaming on a flat screen, and it’s still immersive. So you’re going to experience a similar kind of Metaverse in a B2B environment.
Microsoft Teams is about to be a Trojan horse for some of these things. More specialised projects like digital twin and simulation require a lot of investment in customised environments. They need a lot of data, and are big projects
So when BMW does it, they haven’t done it except in one factory so far. They need to spread that out more deeply. Other automakers who are designing these big factories will need time, investment and computing power.
But it’ll start to happen over the next few years. This is because in many cases, it’s clear that digital twins of this sort can create a certain amount of value to your operations.
It’s just it’s not something you do overnight
Apparently it seems like in the metaverse, nobody has legs
There’s a sound reason behind it, and that is rendering these things takes bandwidth, computing power and electricity. If something is not sort of inherently important to the experience, it becomes optional.
Thus, you’re going to see a lot of different experimentation here. If people really decide that legs are essential, perhaps you’ll see them.
I am more focused with the avatars because a. you can move them around space in a more naturalistic way, and b. you’re not always on camera, which can be very challenging for people.
Is the military ahead with metaverse already
It’s a little bit hard to say. Different militaries around the world are doing things that are not clear.
The U.S. military, for example, has been working toward purchasing HoloLens devices from Microsoft. It was a publicly expressed interest to invest in HoloLens as a mechanism for use, I guess, in battle, as well as for training.
We do know that VR training has been very common in the military. Different kinds of simulations for flight and other kinds of logistics, as well as for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment
Companies are starting to use augmented and mixed reality in the field. The German elevator maintenance and manufacturing company Thyssenkrupp Elevator, for example, is using HoloLens very extensively to be able to visualise one of thousands of different elevators that might be in need of service.
The aim is to visualise it before they go out in the field and bring everything they need.
This ensures that when they get to the site, they can superimpose the schematic over the real world. Ultimately, it cuts the time of fixing the elevator from two hours on site to 20 minutes, adding a little bit of prep time.
It’s not about moving into an entirely virtual world, but transporting an experience from one place to another.
For B2B field service technicians, this can really be transformative. You may also do remote assistance. You call the person at the headquarters and they see what you see, they can draw on your reality and you can solve problems faster.
These scenarios mean that you make fewer errors in your work, have faster time of completion, offer better customer experience, and higher uptime for the equipment because it gets fixed faster
Oftentimes in field service, you must send more than one person into the field to solve a problem. So the first-time fix rate is very important, and if you can raise that, you can build a business case for this technology.
Can the B2B Metaverse be just a fad and fizzle out after sometime
There is absolutely a risk. Even right now, we can witness a lot of blowback against the term Metaverse. People don’t like what they see initially. There are always these hype bubbles that happen. The Internet itself was considered a bubble by some, and after the financial crisis in 2001, the Internet became everything.
I’m not saying that the Metaverse will become everything, but it’s not unexpected that this would be a frenzy. What we need to get down to is, who are the real players doing real work creating real value. Some of it will just happen without us calling it the metaverse. You are going to experience it if you use Microsoft Teams later this year.
On the B2B side, solving problems economically and in a way that workers can embrace will be key