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The more things change, the more they stay the same -- at least when it comes to creating technology strategy.
While the metaverse may sound like the Wild West of technology, creating an organizational strategy to use this new concept requires many of the best practices used in any technology initiative. That means thinking of business goals and people, not leading with technology.
The metaverse as a persistent, interoperable digital platform providing immersive experiences and supporting economic transactions isn't a reality. However, companies are using some of the building block technologies -- such as AI, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and blockchain -- to provide metaverse-like experiences.
Using them well requires honoring best practices. To that point, here are seven metaverse tech strategy do's and don'ts leaders need to remember.
1. Don't lead with tech
Like any other technology project, a metaverse project should support overall business strategy.
Valentin CogelsExpert partner, head of EMEA product and experience innovation, Bain & Company
Although the metaverse is generating a lot of buzz right now, it is only a tool, said Valentin Cogels, expert partner and head of EMEA product and experience innovation at Bain & Company. "I don't think that anyone should think in terms of metaverse strategy; they should think about a customer strategy and then think about what tools they should use," Cogels said. "If the metaverse is one tool they should consider, that's fine."
Approaching with a business goals-first approach also helps to refine the available choices, which leaders can then use to build out use cases.
Serving the business goals and customers you already have is critical, said Edward Wagoner, CIO of digital at JLL Technologies, the property technology division of commercial real estate services company JLL Inc., headquartered in Chicago.
"When you take that approach, it makes it a lot easier to think how [the products and services you deliver] would change if [you] could make it an immersive experience," he said.
For example, corporate real estate could potentially use the metaverse and its blockchain-based economy to research and record real estate transactions, he said. Meanwhile, corporate tenants may need reconfigured conference space to accommodate in-office workers using the metaverse to meet and collaborate with others. And retail clients may likewise require a redesigned space to accommodate a future where shoppers use a combination of metaverse and in-world experiences to make their buying decisions.
Understanding where the opportunities lie requires a cross-functional approach.
"Talk to your business peers and look at what the potential use cases will be for your company," said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst on the Future of Work team at Forrester Research.
Operations may have a need for digital twins, for example, or HR may see a benefit to onboarding workers using virtual reality, he said.
Takeaway: Focus on business goals when creating a metaverse strategy.
A real estate company embraces metaverse possibility
As a commercial real estate services company, JLL Inc., headquartered in Chicago, may seem firmly grounded in the world of brick and mortar. But the company is already looking past the physical world and thinking about not only its place in the metaverse, but its clients'.
"Take everything you can think about the physical world and ask: How do we enhance, enable and even change the experience by leveraging the metaverse?" said Edward Wagoner, CIO of digital at JLL Technologies, the property technology division of JLL.
JLL needs to ready itself, Wagoner said. He's considering how JLL Technologies could use metaverse-type platforms to work differently, and how it could deliver new products and services to tenants.
"It's not saying we're going to replace the physical world with the metaverse, just like my ability to buy groceries online didn't replace the grocery store," he said. "But it does mean real estate is changing."
2. Don't forget about the humans or risk
Putting people at the center of any technology strategy is key and that need doesn't disappear when creating a metaverse strategy.
"I'm weaving real estate into this whole conversation, but I'm putting people first," Wagoner said.
Technology projects are destined to fail without an understanding of how people use the technologies.
"That's driving how we think about not just the metaverse concept, but all the other technology we're using," Wagoner said.
As part of that focus on people, CIOs and business leaders cannot forget about the many risks of metaverse platforms. Leaders must address environmental concerns, potential legal issues and other risks before forging ahead on projects.
Takeaway: Put people first.
3. Don't believe the hype
The metaverse concept is arguably the most hyped technology concept around today. Technology and business leaders who decide it's worth exploration should proceed strategically. For example, definitions vary about whether metaverse is even a meaningful term. So leaders need to agree on what technologies are under discussion and then define what they mean. As part of that, they need to experiment with those technologies.
"If you're going to talk about [the] metaverse, then use it," Wagoner said. "Go buy a headset today. Do a virtual meeting with your team and learn. That's probably one of the easiest opportunities to see what's different [about this technology]."
Takeaway: Try metaverse platforms so you can understand what they encompass.
4. Don't be stingy with tech experiences
As an extension of trying metaverse-associated technologies themselves, technology leaders also need to offer that experience to others.
CIOs can help their colleagues envision the potential of a metaverse by building digital assets and digital twins that organizational leaders can then put to use, said Samantha G. Wolfe, adjunct professor of media, culture and communication at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
"So even if there isn't this wide infrastructure for the metaverse yet, you can still benefit from the technologies," she said.
A digital library can help executives and their teams better understand the existing technology components that will create a more fully developed metaverse, Wolfe said. That, in turn, can help them develop ideas on how the organization can use the metaverse.
"If you understand, for example, what VR and AR are and how they apply to your business today, you can then start understanding the potential [of a metaverse] as all the technologies that underlie the metaverse start to come together," Wolfe said.
Takeaway: Consider building a library of digital technologies.
5. Don't skip the metaverse planning stage
Like any other technology initiative, a metaverse initiative requires forethought.
Once enterprise leaders figure out the scenarios and use cases, they should identify what technologies and talent they'll need to move their projects forward and whether it's better to build, buy or manage those resources, Gownder said.
CIOs, for example, may want their teams to build skills around Microsoft Mesh or Meta's Presence Platform, or they may want developers who can use Unity's Real-Time Development Platform and Unreal Engine 3D creation tool, he said. CIOs will also need to consider their hardware needs and invest in new technologies, such as goggles, and speed up refresh cycles to add computers with the capacity to deliver good metaverse-type experiences. And they must consider integration requirements, so they can deliver the data employees, partners or customers need to engage as the metaverse develops.
Takeaway: Identify required technical resources.
6. Don't forget the vendor ecosystem
More vendors are adding metaverse-like experiences to their products or focusing in other ways, and that's something technology leaders should understand.
CIOs should consider how their existing vendors plan to add or support metaverse-like experiences now and in the future, Gownder said. For example, Microsoft has said it will bring its mixed reality collaboration and communication Microsoft Mesh features to Teams starting this year.
"Whether you're ready or not, some of the vendors you're already working with will deliver metaverse-like experiences," Gownder said. "So then you will have to work with your users to maximize the value of those as they arrive."
That will require CIOs to not only have the technical hardware, software and skills in place, but will necessitate a good change management program.
"You have to enable people to interact with these tools," he said.
Takeaway: Understand vendors' metaverse roadmaps.
7. Don't forget the myriad of metaverse platforms
There is no single metaverse and there may never be, but thinking about which type of extended reality platform makes sense for the company's goals is another aspect of developing a metaverse strategy.
Metaverse-type platforms range from independent offerings customized to each company's needs to those that are mainstream, such as Decentraland and Roblox, Cogels said.
Cogels offered the following questions for CIOs and other leaders to consider as they develop their metaverse strategy.
- Do I want to go with a public environment or a more targeted audience?
- How interconnected do I want my experience to be?
- What kind of experience do I want?
- Do I want a high level of control for the experience, or do I want to just go with what the vendor offers?
- Do I want to decide how, where and when people can interact?
Companies should investigate and understand the terms of each platform, such as whether the platform owns and uses data collected from the experiences they host and the users on them, he said.
"You may get [customer] acquisition for free, but what you're giving up is data," he said.
Takeaway: Do your research to understand the different types of metaverse platforms.