Tech Leaders Are Jumping Into The Metaverse — Should Your Company Follow?
Oleg Fonarov is the founder and CEO of Program-Ace, a software engineering and digital transformation company.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook would become a metaverse company in July 2021, the idea had its fair share of skeptics and confused observers. Fast-forward to today, and everyone is talking about the metaverse. Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta, and multiple tech giants — Microsoft, Disney, Tencent and even Snap — have followed suit with the planned creation of their own metaverse projects.
But it’s not just tech giants that have embraced the concept of a metaverse, which represents a digital space accessed with AR and VR devices where many of our daily activities can be carried out (remotely) — work, shopping, gaming, etc. Smaller enterprises and businesses, including those in nontech-focused industries, are also eyeing participation in this movement.
So what are the upsides of jumping into the metaverse, and what are the challenges? We explore these questions below.
Current And Potential Uses For The Metaverse
The metaverse can be viewed either as a series of interconnected apps or as a single software application where everything happens. In the context of a business, the immersive features should be woven into existing business processes. Let’s look at some examples.
• Remote cooperation: Most companies already use a variety of tools to communicate, track work and store and share files, but a metaverse platform can unite all these practices. VR collaboration apps (such as Facebook’s Horizon apps) give users digital avatars so they can go about doing all these tasks while wearing a headset in any location.
• Training: There are numerous benefits to digital training, but if a training program is immersive as well and seamlessly connected to other company software, the advantages are even stronger. Just consider how workers can jump between work tasks and learning in seconds, and their immersive training programs require no instructors, on-site practice and no special equipment beyond a headset or smartphone.
• Digital twins: Digital twins are exactly what they sound like — digital replicas of real-life objects. But they can also represent components, processes and even complex systems. By implementing digital twins in AR/VR and integrating them with other proprietary solutions, companies can streamline the development of new products, reduce logistic needs and find ways to optimize business processes.
• Promotions: This use is directed outward, producing value not only for a company but also regular users and clients. We are talking about immersive experiences that represent and promote company products/services. Many businesses are already using AR mobile apps or WebAR apps in their marketing campaigns, but making immersive content a permanent fixture of your software ecosystem can help you keep deriving value for many years to come.
• Universal marketplace: Companies can build their own digital marketplace or become participants in a broader market. In the first case, they are able to offer B2B and B2C services to potential customers, while a broader marketplace can allow them to both sell and buy products/services. This can happen through a VR app with dedicated hubs for companies, industries and hundreds of business reps visualized as 3-D avatars.
What Challenges Are Involved In Building Metaverse Apps?
Though the metaverse concept has been around for at least a couple of decades, implementation has lagged behind. In fact, you could say that we are at the dawn of this technology, and there are bound to be some growing pains for those who use it.
• No single metaverse (for now): At the moment, there is no consolidation of metaverses that would combine work, gaming, etc., so companies are either building their own platforms for internal purposes or waiting for a universal metaverse to take shape before diving in.
• Resource-intensive porting: It can be quite difficult to adapt content and software into the format of VR/AR apps, and combining several apps into one adds an additional layer of difficulty.
• VR/AR hardware could use improvement: Most of today’s VR headsets are quite expensive and difficult to use for more than a few hours at a time. As for AR, it has very limited immersion due to mostly being accessed on phones. However, many AR smart glasses are in development and may improve the experience in the future.
How To Get Started With Your Own Metaverse?
Unless you want to aim for the stars and create an expansive and multipurpose digital world, your metaverse will probably be more grounded and focused on the needs of your company. To make the process simpler, we’ve listed some key considerations and tips.
• Identify your user base and set business goals: One of the key considerations of your metaverse will be who it caters to — employees, clients or both. Identify a range of activities you want performed inside and start building from there.
• Use an engine to rapidly deploy cross-platform: In my company’s long experience of building immersive apps, we have found that game engines like Unity and Unreal do a great job of shortening development time, whether we are adapting existing software to VR/AR or creating a new application for multiple platforms at once.
• Start adapting information to 3-D visuals: 3-D models are an integral part of any immersive application, so making the jump to these platforms usually involves creating plenty of content in this format and coming up with creative ways to visualize information that previously existed only in text form.
With so few completed metaverses out there, this space is obviously still in its infancy. All it takes to get started is a solid development team (programmers, 3-D artists, etc.), which you can hire locally or quickly get from a development partner with experience in this field.
Even if a global and all-connected metaverse never materializes, the digital ecosystem and immersive experiences you build should still continue to yield rewards in performance, cost reduction, brand awareness and other business aspects.
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