What’s next for the metaverse and what — if anything — should you do about it? Based on our experience, we’ve got six predictions to help business leaders answer that question. They cover where adoption will and won’t come next, which technologies will likely advance quickest, how you can act without putting your organization at risk and more. The short version: The metaverse isn’t fully ready for prime time, not yet. But it can already start to create real business value today and set you up for reinvention tomorrow.
A lot of metaverse talk in 2022 was about consumers, especially younger ones: activities such as games, virtual experiences or shopping with cryptocurrency and other digital assets. These activities will continue to grow, but we believe that in 2023, business applications will take the lead. One sign? In PwC’s 2022 US Metaverse Survey, the metaverse use case that business leaders said they were most likely to explore (cited by 42%) was “onboarding and training.” Tied for second place were “interacting with work colleagues” and “creating virtual content for customers,” both cited by 36%.
More and more companies are starting to simulate physical operations on the metaverse. Retailers, for example, can digitally recreate physical stores, then let customers and employees virtually try out different configurations to see what increases satisfaction and sales. Restaurant operators can do the same with kitchens and seating arrangements. Manufacturers will use the metaverse’s new data to enhance digital twins in order to improve supply chains, manufacturing and logistics.
To complete the bridge between the consumer and business metaverses in the coming years, we also expect to see more metaverse-specific products and services: avatar-driven contact center support, financial education, telehealth and new, fully immersive commerce experiences.
The most effective place to start is by putting the metaverse to work: Align your metaverse initiatives to specific, measurable business outcomes. Common outcomes that the metaverse can deliver today include brand building and customer engagement, diversifying and growing revenue streams, workforce enablement and process optimization. With targets set, develop as needed new capabilities, such as metaverse-specific pricing and partnership strategies, or new operating models and governance. Prepare too to maintain your metaverse initiatives with measures such as controls testing, project management and performance monitoring.
We believe that metaverse initiatives will rise or fall even more on trust than on functionality. After all, as a business leader, would you let your organization bring its operations or customers into a metaverse space that offers a whiz-bang experience — but minimal security? Or would you look for an opportunity that lets you feel confident that your company won’t be garnering headlines as the victim of a metaverse scam, security breach, privacy violation, data preservation sanctions or tax penalty? Some of these threats to trust are familiar, but others are brand new. The potential harm of an abusive experience for your customers (or their children), for example, may sadly be especially great in an immersive, three-dimensional digital world.
All that may sound scary, but it shouldn’t be. The metaverse doesn’t require a brand new risk management approach. Instead, you can often use what you already have in place, as long as you adapt it to manage the new risks and deepen trust. For responsible use of the metaverse, there are six main areas of new trust and risk considerations, covering new developments in economics, data, governance (including cybersecurity), digital identity, the user experience and persistence (the fact that the metaverse carries on and keeps evolving even after you leave it).
To manage metaverse risks, the guiding principle is to design trust upfront and throughout: if you embed risk management into your metaverse initiatives when they’re still on the drawing board, you’re less likely to require costly fixes later. Other key principles include:
Executive upskilling, since it’s risky for executives to make strategic decisions about the metaverse if they don’t understand it
Creating a risk taxonomy specific to your organization and its initiatives
Cross-domain collaboration, since so many metaverse risks cross functions and lines of business
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There’s been a lot of talk of VR (virtual reality) — and frankly, we are believers. VR is incredibly exciting and practical. In our own firm, we use it for onboarding, training, workplace collaboration, customer experience and more. Yet there are other paths into the metaverse, ranging from augmented reality (AR) devices to laptops and smartphones.
The technology that we believe will be foundational but is still transformational: generative artificial intelligence (AI). It can draw insights from troves of data and simulations, such as what metaverse avatars buy or do, how they play or work, who they meet and how they engage with brands. AI can make it possible even for those without technical experience to create immersive metaverse experiences. Just as you don't need to be a coder to design a web page on today’s internet, you won’t need to be a techie to make a metaverse space. Generative AI can also increasingly power “digital humans” — computer-generated avatars that look realistic and, perhaps, inspire people to interact with them as they might with fellow humans.
Naturally, these AI developments will introduce new risks and accentuate old ones, including potential bias, deep fakes and abusive experiences. They’re also almost certain to trigger new compliance challenges, with new, metaverse-specific regulations for AI highly likely in several jurisdictions.
The better way to advance with generative AI in the metaverse is to deploy responsible AI, so that it will do what you want it to do — no more and no less. The advance of AI in the metaverse may also be a good lever to upgrade data strategy and governance more generally. Most companies, after all, aren’t just unready to use AI to fully take advantage of the metaverse’s data opportunities. They’re also not fully realizing the value that they could potentially find in the data that they already have.
The metaverse may soon touch upon nearly every aspect of your company. In PwC’s Metaverse Survey, 82% of executives said they expect metaverse plans to be part of their business activities within three years. With the metaverse potentially everywhere, every top executive should play a role — and some non-tech executives may be especially crucial. Here are just a few examples of the new responsibilities that will arise:
CEOs and boards: Set strategic priorities, prepare the business for changing customer and employee expectations and get ahead of new threats and risks.
Chief operating officer (COO): Help operationalize new tools and technologies.
Chief marketing officer (CMO): Rethink customer engagement, experience design and brand building for an immersive digital world.
Chief financial officers (CFOs): Watch for the rising use of digital assets (such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs) in the metaverse, understand the new third parties that may be processing critical transactions, carefully assess investment allocations and update SOX controls over financial reporting.
Chief human resource officers (CHROs): Deploy metaverse tools for recruitment, onboarding, training, connectivity and collaboration.
General counsels: Respond to legal discovery for data and assets in the metaverse.
Tax leaders: Obey the fast-changing rules — and find new tax value.
These non-tech executives will need to work closely with each other and with chief digital, chief innovation, chief information and chief information security officers, who will be creating (and protecting) your company’s metaverse infrastructure, experience and data pipelines.
Many teams will need upskilling (as addressed above), but that won’t be enough. To avoid conflicts and crossed wires with so many senior leaders involved, consider giving one the authority to govern all your company’s metaverse activities. This role could be a new position or added to an existing one. Either way, one of their priorities will be strengthening lines of communication among executives. For example, your CISO and CFO may need to spend even more time together as digital asset-based metaverse transactions increase.
If your organization is like most, and cares more and more about ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives, then the metaverse can be an ally. Metaverse meetings, for example, can replace some in-person ones and slash a major source of carbon emissions: business travel. Digital twins of your operations in the metaverse can find efficiencies. Metaverse store fronts can enable consumers to try out digital replicas of physical products, reducing the need to transport returned items. With digital tokens, the metaverse can help track the provenance of raw materials to reduce environmental abuses in your supply chain.
Seeking a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and more universally accessible services and products? By making more of your operations virtual — freeing them from geographic boundaries and many bodily limitations — you can reach and include far more people. The metaverse’s realistic simulation can also help boost accountability and transparency, by enabling you to invite stakeholders anywhere to observe, participate and engage.
Yet this potential for the metaverse to be a force for good requires a determination to make it so. You may, for example, want to invest in closing the digital divide in underserved communities so that those who need the metaverse’s benefits most can access them.
To make your metaverse initiative a force for good (and an ally in achieving ESG goals) the guiding principle is the same as for risk management: Design in these priorities from the start. If you embed ESG targets (including diversity targets) and related controls early on, you’ll not only be ready for the future. You’ll likely increase support among investors, employees and other stakeholders to build it. But that will require methods to measure and report the ESG impact of metaverse initiatives and of key metaverse enabling technologies.
Any new technology demands new skills. But the metaverse and the technologies that can support it require some highly specialized ones. Some of these skills barely existed a few years ago. One example is the need to monitor and validate transactions, gather data and protect data in the web3 ecosystem, which is growing to support many metaverse activities. Other skills aren’t that new but previously only existed in specific sectors. Do you have a 3D modeler on staff, along with 3D artists and designers, to help create immersive experiences? Unless you’re a gaming company, the answer is probably no.
If you’re skeptical about this need, consider the internet and all the new jobs it spawned. Surely, a generation ago, plenty of corporate leaders were skeptical about the need for web designers and internet user experience specialists, and most didn’t even conceive of all the new cybersecurity and data science skills that operating on the web requires. With many of these skills already in short supply, it’s better not to be late at acquiring or cultivating them.
You can teach basic metaverse skills through the metaverse itself, including with off-the-shelf training modules. But for new, highly specialized skills, you may need a more aggressive approach: sending your tech specialists in adjacent fields for focused training, making new hires, and allying with third parties that can provide key skills for you. Critical too is fostering a culture that can attract and engage creative, cutting-edge technologists.
All six of our predictions help attempt to address what’s truly transformational about the metaverse: that it combines digital and physical worlds far more completely and seamlessly than before. Combining physical and digital identities, products and assets, taking them across platforms, sharing or selling aspects of them, will become more feasible than before. That’s why, yes, you should do something about the metaverse, right now. Your organization’s future may depend on it.
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The metaverse is here, and so are tested strategies to navigate it. Wherever you are on your metaverse journey, PwC’s global community of solvers can help you find success in this next evolution of our shared digital reality.