In this Head-to-Head interview, Tara McGeehan, President, CGI UK and Australia discusses the current state of the Metaverse and whether business leaders should be paying more attention and investing in these technologies.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Metaverse in the past. Do you think the initial enthusiasm has waned, or is it still a prominent concept in the tech industry?
“It’s a common misconception that the enthusiasm around the metaverse has waned as it is following the normal cycle that emerging concepts and technologies face as they become introduced.
“We are still seeing organisations exploring several immersive use cases such as training, onboarding of new members of staff and digital memberships. By exploring different use cases, these organisations are building practical pathways to the metaverse – ensuring they are in a prime position to take advantage of the opportunities of the metaverse and metaverse-enabling technologies as it continues to evolve.
“CGI sees the metaverse as a digitally enabled world that allows organisations and communities to interact in real-time. A sustainable environment that facilitates meaningful collaboration, bringing people together to learn, work, shop and share new experiences.
“In terms of practical steps, we are supporting organisations to build a business rationale around use cases so the benefits of the metaverse can be quantified and stakeholder adoption secured from proof of concept to scale further.”
What major factors have contributed to any perceived decline or stagnation of the Metaverse concept, if any?
“Whilst headline investment in the metaverse from large firms opened a dialogue and sparked interest in the enabling technologies – there was a significant gap between the hype, expectations and what is practically possible today for the metaverse. All of which have contributed to this perceived decline in interest.
“There are still longer-term aspirations for the metaverse, where multiple metaverses join up and individuals have a single presence across platforms. However, there remain a number of technological challenges to be overcome to realise this long-term vision, including interoperability, standards and privacy. Consideration should also be given to enabling factors such as user adoption, device capabilities and connectivity as the metaverse concept matures.
“Many of us don’t realise we are interacting with metaverse technologies every day. These include gaming platforms, insights driven by IoT sensors and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications like Google Earth which can be accessed just by smartphones.
“It’s important for organisations to take practical steps to build pathways to the metaverse to prepare for future wide-scale availability and adoption as the concept becomes a reality.”
Are there any successful implementations or real-world applications of the Metaverse that demonstrate its potential viability?
“Business-to-consumer markets have successfully harnessed the Metaverse enabling technologies to reach new and existing audiences. For example, Bose released a collection of NFTs in 2022, which unlocked exclusive benefits for their customers. Roblox is another big player in this space, as it continues to be used as a platform to market to a younger generation, with brands such as FIFA and Warner Music Group creating a presence.
“There are also many examples of successful implementations of real-world applications of immersive within businesses – such as training and collaboration environments for employee experience and knowledge sharing and event platforms for both small- and large-scale events.
“We’re also seeing manufacturing and healthcare organisations explore the use of augmented reality, overlaying key information onto assets and bringing experts together to operate and maintain these assets. All of these are enabled by digital collaboration tools such as the metaverse.
“Here at CGI, we have already developed a Meta Hub for new employee onboarding; we also developed a metaverse for COP27, which successfully brought together key stakeholders to discuss sustainability while demonstrating the role of technology in reducing travel and its associated carbon footprint.”
What challenges or barriers has the Metaverse faced in gaining widespread adoption, and how have these impacted its development?
“There will always be challenges and barriers that impact the widespread adoption of new technologies and concepts. The concept of a single joined-up metaverse hasn’t yet been fully realised, and there is still much to work out in terms of the view of the metaverse, including interoperability, standards and governance.
“There have been unrealistic expectations surrounding the metaverse as a concept, with many expecting it to be fully realised before the technology needed to enable to development of the metaverse was available.
“As such, there remain key challenges that need to be addressed, such as the hardware and software capabilities as well as governance. But while these issues are being addressed, there is still the opportunity for organisations to utilise existing elements of the metaverse.”
How have user behaviours and preferences changed in relation to virtual experiences, and how might this affect the future of the Metaverse?
“Looking at it in the context of business, metaverse and VR environments often require context setting and codes of conduct to be outlined upfront. CGI’s experience of onboarding employees in a metaverse environment indicated some users, who may have a gaming background, benefit from expectation setting around platforms being a professional environment with associated conduct expectations. Whilst metaverse platforms and the use of avatars can feel like gaming environments, more emphasis on conduct and inclusivity can be helpful to some users.”
Has the rise of generative AI moved business strategies away from the Metaverse?
“We’re seeing businesses explore the convergence of AI and the metaverse. Generative AI opens new possibilities for Metaverse-enabling technologies such as virtual and augmented reality and metaverse environments.
“There are many potential use cases, for example, in customer service with non-player characters able to interact with avatars and autonomously engage in knowledge sharing. Generative AI has the capability to enable autonomous building on content and environments, with endless possibilities of new experiences to suit individual users. This could, in turn, generate new and additional revenue streams for organisations.
“As organisations begin understanding and harness the power of Generative AI and the metaverse, they will be in a better position to reap the benefits of these technologies as they become fully developed.”
How does the current state of technology, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) advancements, influence the potential of the Metaverse?
“VR and AR are part of a number of enabling technologies for the metaverse and have promoted a better understanding of the potential of immersive digital environments.
“We have seen these technologies also continue to evolve, with the recent announcement from Apple of its new Vision Pro headset, which is both AR and VR, something that traditionally required separate headsets.
“Notably, Apple didn’t mention the metaverse in its launch communications, using the term ‘Spatial Computing,’ perhaps in an attempt to redefine the metaverse.
“The headset is priced at $3500 and will have its own dedicated app store. The iPhone app store is widely accredited as driving developer adoption of the iPhone and pulling through user sales as available apps became available. Although the price point is currently high, Apple is likely to be hoping for the same market adoption rates driven by native apps for Vision Pro.”
Are there any lessons to be learned from previous virtual world attempts that could inform the future development of the Metaverse?
“There are several key considerations when thinking about the development of the metaverse that is crucial to understand for the future of the metaverse to be successful.
“Like any new technology, there needs to be clear technical standards and regulations put in place across metaverse environments to protect organisations and users. The Metaverse requires large amounts of data such as user details, movements, or information consumed with data constantly flowing between environments. Regulations on data ownership, privacy and security all need to be established.
“Efforts need to be made to support large-scale user adoption; it needs to be easy to access and offer real value to individuals and organisations. User-driven, seamless, personalised content and experiences will bring that value and create the reason for the continued use of the Metaverse.”
In your expert opinion, do you believe the Metaverse is truly dead, or is it simply evolving into something different?
“The Metaverse is simply still in its infancy as the creation of a single joined-up metaverse is still a way away from being fully developed. The language around the metaverse is evolving, from the Metaverse to spatial computing to some of the enabling technologies for the metaverse, such as AR and VR.
“There are so many practical use cases that organisations are exploring as they work to build pathways to the metaverse and take advantage of the shorter-term benefits of the enabling technologies that are available today.
“These use cases have the potential to be developed around specific business needs that will result in both quantitative and qualitative benefits. The continued integration of Generative AI will also support with the growth of metaverse use cases as we move towards turning the metaverse concept into reality.
“There remains too much potential for the metaverse to be ‘dead’, with endless applications for the enabling technologies to have a real-world impact and revolutionise how we interact with technology.”
Tara McGeehan, President, CGI UK and Australia.
Tara was appointed President of CGI’s UK Operations in January 2018, and Australia operations were added to her responsibilities in May 2019. She leads a multi-national and culturally diverse team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants and is passionate about diversity and encouraging young people and women to enter the technology industry.
She is committed to leading an organisation that is a responsible business and is committed to a more inclusive and sustainable world. She is extremely proud of the work CGI does, which continues to build on a long and unique heritage, delivering some of the most complex mission-critical programmes in the UK.