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Much like Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized printing to bring the first wave of self-education to the masses that helped spark the Renaissance, the metaverse promises to seriously transform business models and the lives of the people behind them. Gartner researchers reported executives have spent over $120 billion in metaverse-related ventures in the first half of 2022 alone. They expected 30% of organizations in the world will have products and services ready for the metaverse by 2026. To be clear, the metaverse is pure vision, predicated on the emergence of what many call Web 3.0, the next iteration of the internet where networks of interconnected real-world, augmented, and virtual experiences fuel a creator economy.

“In the metaverse, people will own everything they create, collaborating across a decentralized universe of experts,” said Martin Wezowski, chief futurist  at SAP New Ventures and Technology. “The metaverse is a new platform for value creation from human relationships and community-building. Imagine being on a business call where natural language processing catalogues the major discussion points, and blockchain technology tokenizes them for ownership by the speakers, creating immutable proof of each person’s expertise and value. Business leaders need to rethink strategies and operations to stay relevant in the creator economy.”

Definition of metaverse for business

On a recent episode of the Digital Supply Chain podcast, IDC analyst Jan Burian said that his research firm defined the metaverse as “a highly immersive future environment that blends the physical and digital to drive shared sense of presence, interaction, and continuity across the multiply spheres of work.”

Unlike today’s cloud-based platforms which centralize and silo information between the digital and physical worlds, organizations operating in the metaverse will smoothly navigate between real-world and technology-driven experiences as they develop and sell products and services. For example, sending out a smart contract within and beyond company walls, companies could quickly find qualified workers whose self-sovereign identity proves their expertise. Whether they’re designing a city, airplane, or piece of furniture, people will have the ability to collaborate using all five senses in distributed, virtual networks. Manufacturers could construct digital twins of an entire factory in the metaverse. Lorenzo Veronesi, the other IDC analyst on the Supply Chain podcast, said that companies could enroll student trainees in a virtual, fully immersive factory experience, preparing them for full productivity on day one of employment.

“Metaverse applications are expected to work across the real world, on your mobile device, in augmented reality on your goggles, and in the virtual world wherever you are, through any wearable,” said Wezowski. “Currently there are closed environments in gaming or finance where blockchain technology creates NFTs -- non-fungible tokens that have value. In manufacturing, some companies are using digital twins to capture and analyze sensor-based data from machines. The metaverse will scale distributed, verified data across billions of devices, transactions, and people.”

Contextual workforce learning

Since experts, whether employees, partners, or customers, will be connected in large communities of verified networks in the metaverse, business leaders will need to rethink workforce training and development. For example, the metaverse promises to bring hyper-personalized learning to people, putting today’s so-called intelligent algorithms to shame.

“We’re experimenting with the concept of the ‘digital ME’ that would serve as a digital representation of someone’s unique abilities, experiences, accomplishments, and ambitions,” said Wezowski. “Knowledge Packs, plugged into your digital ME, could augment whatever tasks you’re performing and decisions you’re making. Instead of just translating a different language you’re hearing from a customer, the technology provides a cultural perspective to help you better understand and respond to their concerns in the moment. If protracted budget negotiations get frustrating, the technology offers conversational topics to move the discussion along faster.”

Business metaverse could overcome consumer skepticism

Emergence of the metaverse is five to 10 years out. However, unlike the first generation of the internet that began with consumers, the metaverse could be driven by post-pandemic work anywhere norms. While a Forrester survey found less than 30% of US and UK consumer respondents thought the metaverse would be good for society, one analyst blogged that “Metaverse-style experiences have a better chance of driving near-term value in the workplace….some employees who learn how to use metaverse-style experiences at work will want to use them at home too.”

Indeed, Gartner analysts predicted 25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026 for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment. Wezowski advised business leaders to start preparing now.

“In the first phase of the internet, people had to learn technology. The metaverse turns that around as technology will learn from people who are at the center of Web 3.0,” he said. “People could be augmented to achieve their greatest creativity for themselves and the communities around them. Business networks would then act autonomously, fostering decentralized communities of innovation to their highest value. Now is the time to deploy your imagination department to envision your brand’s worth in this future environment.”

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This blog also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.