• Ian West, Partner |
4 min read

In terms of emerging technology, this year’s buzz may be all about generative AI – but we can’t ignore the Metaverse which remains an important sphere with huge potential. Indeed, as new technologies inevitably converge, the development of AI will naturally feed across into the Metaverse too. So, where is it all heading and what do businesses need to be doing about it?

This was the topic of discussion in our latest ‘Future of’ event, where I was delighted to be joined by a panel of subject matter experts to consider all the angles: Laura Foster, Head of Technology and Innovation at TechUK, the UK’s technology trade association; Jody Gagic, Strategy and Innovation Director, and Oliver Latham, Head of Strategy and Growth for Workforce, both at Pearson; and Paul Henninger, Head of Connected Technology at KPMG.

Multiple Metaverses

One of the first points to appreciate is that there won’t be just one Metaverse. As Laura Foster of TechUK underlined: “The Metaverse can be defined as persistent 3D virtual worlds, plural. There will be multiple Metaverses connecting together. They should be seamless, interoperable and real time, creating an immersive environment where people can socialise and engage. It will also be a way to experience and view the next generation of the internet – internet 3.0. We’re not there yet – we don’t have the full compute power needed right now – but it is certainly on the way.”

The Metaverse may be in its infancy but it is certain to develop rapidly and dramatically in the coming years – so forward-thinking businesses know they need to be getting across it in order not to be left behind when it truly takes off.

We can see this in the findings of recent global KPMG research, in which 29 percent of UK companies expressed an openness to doing some level of business in the Metaverse. But while in one sense that’s an encouraging statistic, at the same time it shows that seven in ten businesses are yet to be persuaded.

Setting the pace

Early adopters to date include (needless to say) Meta, as well as other Big Tech, and fashion and luxury brands including the likes of Nike, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. By August last year, Nike had reportedly already generated over $185 million in NFT revenue selling ‘digital sneakers’ and other items for Metaverse fans to wear on their avatars. It really is a new world out there.

We are also starting to see increasing signs of cross-over between digital and physical worlds, such as through Amazon Anywhere in which players of games in the Metaverse can buy real-life goods from within virtual environments – a merging of the two worlds.

As Paul Henninger of KPMG observed: “For many clients, the Metaverse is already a significant component of their strategy. We see particular momentum in gaming, skills and education. The layers and pieces are there – it’s just a case of how quickly it will now all come together.”

Immersive training

Gaming will clearly be a big driver of Metaverse adoption, but the emphasis on skills and education is really interesting – and it’s probably where, at the moment, the Metaverse has the biggest potential relevance to the biggest number of organisations.

As the panel discussed, Metaverse-like environments are being used to great effect for immersive training in sectors like emergency services (fire and police), construction, transport and military. It’s more practical, safer and significantly cheaper to run immersive training for a firefighter, for example, in the Metaverse than in a real burning building.

At Pearson, they have been investing both within the organisation’s own Pearson Labs function and through partnerships with other businesses in the development of workforce learning and training in the Metaverse. For example, the company has taken a stake in Talespin and their ‘Where’d Everybody Go?’ training suite.

Skills shifts

As Oliver Latham from Pearson explained: “It’s about recognising that in our increasingly digital world, we need to train people differently. The Talespin programme takes business leaders through a range of immersive scenarios across multiple commercial aspects – sales, finance, HR etc – that reflect living and working in a distributed world.”

The type of skills people need will shift, as Oliver reflected. Technological and digital skills will be important, of course, but these will increasingly be “table stakes”.

Human skills that leverage the technology will be the real differentiator – and these skills will become increasingly centred around aspects such as collaboration and cultural/social intelligence, that enable people to adapt and mould their approach as the environment changes around them.

Build your experimentation muscle

And change it will. The sheer pace of change was a theme that came up repeatedly through our discussion. This was something Jody Gagic of Pearson elaborated on when he said: “Things are changing and being disrupted super-quickly – sometimes in a matter of weeks or even days, let alone months. That’s why, in this age of innovation that we’re entering, it’s so important for all businesses to be experimenting with domains like the Metaverse and building their innovation muscle. Try it out, iterate ideas, build small prototypes. Look both inside and outside the organisation for inspiration and partnership opportunities.”

As Laura Foster of TechUK put it, “it’s better to be a pioneer than a follower”, while Paul Henninger underlined that it’s only a matter of time before the technology challenges around the Metaverse (such as headset size/cost etc) are solved.

The message seems clear: don’t ignore the Metaverse, become it is coming. Analyse what potential it holds for your business, assess what’s going on around you and start leaning into the possibilities.