Insight

Everyone’s talking about the metaverse – but what could it mean for the channel?

It seems everyone’s talking about the metaverse. The metaverse promises to create an immersive, interactive and shared digital world that brings together mixed reality – augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – along with 3D holographic avatars, IoT and digital twins. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Satya are already positioning the metaverse as the future of the internet.

Now new research by Quocirca called The Future Immersive Workplace indicates that the metaverse can provide business opportunities for both customers and channel partners.

One of the biggest takeaways of the research is that 68% of UK IT decision makers (ITDMs) believe that VR/AR headsets will be mainstream in the near future. Sixty-one percent are already using at least one application of VR/AR. As such, the channel has an opportunity to capture this market as organisations look to manage the complexity of managing hybrid work collaboration.

“With Meta and Microsoft now firmly committed to the office metaverse, the channel should evaluate technology platforms that will support virtual collaboration to enhance existing collaboration workplace solutions,” Louella Fernandes, research director at Quocirca told Nuzoo.

Customer sales

In terms of customer sales, Louella says Microsoft has already put a stake in the ground for the enterprise metaverse with Mesh for Microsoft Teams, launching in 2022, which combines the mixed reality capabilities of the Mesh platform with Teams, enabling people in different physical locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences.

“As the return to the office gets fully underway, building digital twins of offices will enable businesses to create more immersive experiences,” she says. “While it may seem early days for the business metaverse, immersive and interactive technology like VR and AR looks set to change the face of virtual collaboration.”

Louella says with ITDMs expecting to use AR/VR for virtual meetings in the next two years, there is momentum to be harnessed by fast movers in the channel. However, it is not a change that will happen overnight.

“Unlike the instant shift to Zoom/Teams provoked by the pandemic, metaverse collaboration is about creating a richer collaborative experience, rather than urgently digitising the basic meeting process.  The intelligent approach is for the channel to go on the journey with customers as they explore the potential of VR/AR tech,” she explains.

“The hardware market will be very dynamic and software will evolve rapidly with new players emerging fast. Picking the winning partner from all the alternatives on offer will be a challenge, but leaving it too late could result in a missed opportunity.

“From the customer perspective, our research has shown that larger organisations are more likely to already be using or evaluating VR/AR tech, and younger ITDMs are more positive about it than older, which should inform sales campaign tactics for channel companies.

“Also worth considering are the security and privacy issues that customers will need to address around how all the data around employees’ place in the metaverse is stored and used. Channel companies should therefore ensure any metaverse offering can provide guidance around this.

Applications in channel businesses

It’s not just customers which can benefit from the metaverse. Channel companies can learn a lot by conducting their own experiments in metaverse applications to build a knowledge base from which to advise customers.

“Our research found that those organisations already using VR/AR tended to be applying it to more practical applications such as remote training and remote service; in the print industry HP and Xerox already have AR-enabled offerings, for example. Managed Service Providers in particular should be exploring the possibilities for efficiency and cost-reduction that remote servicing can deliver,” says Louella.

“Using VR for customer-facing activities such as virtual customer visits and enhancing the customer experience is less common, but it is under evaluation by a significant proportion of those we spoke to. Channel businesses should be among those exploring the potential of metaverse and its enabling technologies to engage with customers.

“Ultimately, the shape of the metaverse and its applications are still emerging and consequently rushing too far in a particular direction feels intrinsically high risk, but it should certainly be on the radar of channel companies that are pivoting their offerings to support the hybrid workplace.”

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