Welcome to the metaverse - Accenture brings 'synthetic realness' to the 'no rules or expectations' world
- The metaverse changes everything - apparently.
The metaverse will revolutionize the nature of B2B and B2C transactions, according to Accenture in its Technology Vision 2022 report, AKA Meet Me In The Metaverse.
The report, based on the views of 4,600 business and tech execs across 23 industries in 35 countries, found that respondents are buying into the wider metaverse pitch, with 71% of them believing that it will have a positive impact on their business and 42% deeming such impact to be “transformational”.
It certainly could be transformational for Accenture, never slow to adapt to emerging business opportunities. True to form, the firm has launched its Metaverse Continuum Business Group, led by Paul Daugherty, Group Chief Executive – Technology and Chief Technology Officer at Accenture, and David Droga, CEO and creative chairman of Accenture Interactive. The firm notes:
While we are at the early days of the metaverse, leaders that shy away from the uncertainty of the metaverse will soon be operating in worlds defined by others…As these developments challenge our basic assumptions about technology and business, we’re entering a new landscape with no rules or expectations. It’s time to build and shape the worlds of tomorrow.
As there are no rules, it’s time to lay some down, so Accenture is setting out its definitional stall of what clients need to be thinking about when the C-Suite reads about this thing called the metaverse and starts getting agitated about it.
Accenture defines the metaverse as “an evolving and expanding continuum on multiple dimensions:
- Comprises multiple technologies including extended reality, blockchain, artificial intelligence, digital twins, and smart objects – including cars and factories, and edge computing.
- Encompasses the “virt-real” – the range of experiences, from purely virtual to a blend of virtual and physical.
- Describes the spectrum of emerging consumer experiences and the business applications and models across the enterprise that will be reimagined and transformed.
There are four main planks to the Accenture metaverse - WebMe, the Programmable World, The Unreal and Computing the Impossible, all of which sound like episode titles to a sci-fi anthology series, but which form the core of how the firm wants its clients to think about this emerging phenomenon/tech revolution/hype cycle (delete as applicable, according to scepticism).
Breaking those down:
(1) WebMe is about looking at how to re-imagine the internet and how we reconcile the way the Internet has been ‘designed’ with what will be demanded of it moving forward. For those of us who’ve grown up being told that the Internet is a Wild West - (c) every politician who ever tried to jump on the Big Tech regulation bandwagon - with precious little planning behind its growth, that’s an interesting idea. This is, says Accenture, as big a shift as the growth of Amazon, Netflix and Google into “internet titans”:
Our current systems are designed for constraints that the next generation of the internet won’t have. Metaverse and Web3 innovations are transforming the fundamental underpinnings and operation of the virtual world. Instead of viewing the internet as a disparate collection of sites and apps, metaverse efforts envision a persistent 3D environment, with its own sense of place, where moving from work to a social platform is as simple as walking across the street. Building new platforms, products and services; securing partnerships and technology; and identifying the use cases and business models will take a lot of work.
What that means in more practical terms is that businesses need to (a) get to the cloud ASAP if they’re not already there and (b) start skilling-up:
Enterprises will need 3D artists, game designers and experts on the platforms on which they plan to build. Companies will need expertise in multiple blockchains and relationships with different consortiums. Because of the distributed nature of Web3, they must also find partners to go to market with.
(2) The Programmable World involves enterprises “re-inventing their own operations as the physical world becomes more like the Internet” using a three-layered understanding of this new world - Connected, Experiential and Material - with the warning from Accenture:
Businesses may prioritize one layer or another, but the full technology stack will be needed to achieve full potential.
(3) The Unreal is about “synthetic realness” which will beg some questions for the enterprise:
As synthetic realness evolves, rather than asking “Is this real?” we’ll begin to evaluate "Is this authentic?”
By this, Accenture means the rise of deepfakes, Fake News etc as well as the ongoing questions around algorithmic bias in the application of AI. Authenticity is key. But what does authentic even mean? In consulting speak:
Since we know that being real has no direct bearing on being good, being real should not be the guiding star for business or society. Rather, we propose authenticity as the new compass. Authenticity means being true to oneself and genuine in a way that others can attest to. More concretely, using generative AI in an authentic way means taking heed of provenance, policy, people and purpose.
What’s on the enterprise ‘to do’ list here? Roll out Distributed Ledger Technology is one suggestion. Take a look at your people in-house - do you have the skills there to cope? For example:
Who is responsible for having tough conversations and drafting internal policies? Which departments are using synthetic data or content, and who will be held accountable if privacy is compromised or customers feel duped? Finally, who will be the point person if a company falls prey to a deepfake or disinformation attack? Having these governance structures in place is imperative.
(4) Computing the Impossible is about Elon Musk’s bad dreams - the Rise of the Machines! Accenture notes:
A new class of machines is emerging that is stretching the boundaries of what computers can solve. These machines—including but not limited to quantum—are pushing Moore’s Law aside as they jump onto a curve of new compute capability.
For enterprises, quantum, high-performance computing and biology-inspired machines will become the suite of tools for the “post-digital business”, whatever that means in practical terms. You might need some help here:
Forging in-roads with potential partners is also a critical next step. Not only do most enterprises have skills and capabilities to gain from partnerships or participation in a consortium, many problems also require this level of collaboration. What’s more, the partnership opportunities and alliances forming today are starting to draw the outlines of tomorrow’s industry, and you don’t want to be left behind.
Accenture CEO Julie Sweet touched on this new business opportunity during an analyst call Thursday when she said:
We think the metaverse and Web3 is as significant as when, in 2013, we called that every business would be a digital business and that there will be a huge transformation over the next decade that will also be part of sort of next waves of growth.
But she was more grounded perhaps in her worldview:
At the same time, it's really important to look at where we are now, which is still extraordinarily early in the digital transformation of every part of the enterprise, right? We estimate, for example, that only about 30% of workloads have moved to the cloud. And once you get to the cloud, that's when you actually use those technologies to grow and innovate…When you look at re-platforming on the leading SaaS platform, similarly, extraordinarily early.
So everyone feels the big focus on digital because that was the wake-up call from the pandemic, but the actual transformation and just putting in the foundation is still very early stages, and then it's what you do on that foundation...So overall, like as much as we feel there's so much going on, you still have many, many companies who have not started the compressed transformation. You're very early in the platforming of what's today, let alone the next things that we can already see like Web3.
There’s nothing wrong of course with having a long, long term vision - that’s what’s made so many tech firms great and long-lasting businesses. But for most enterprises, keeping the lights on is still the number one priority and while having a roadmap is crucial, if you’re in the slow lane then looking too far ahead isn’t helpful.
With the metaverse, there’s a lot of hype and a lot of ‘Wow, it’s going to be amazing, isn't it?’ that doesn’t extend much beyond the marketing PowerPoint slide. Nothing is going to stop nearly every tech vendor on the planet pitching its metaverse worldview over the next couple of years - and nor should it in many ways. Trying to plan the next tech revolution is a worthwhile notion, although it will almost inevitably end up with rival visionaries fighting like a bag of cats over their worldviews.
But for most enterprises, as Sweet noted, the baby steps towards genuine digital transformation are still taking place. The best piece of advice - don’t run before you can walk. And when you do walk, do so at your own pace.
And you can have that one for free.