Just a buzzword?
This was the first question which I asked in one of my sessions on the metaverse and I got some interesting answers. Someone once asked, “Is this the alternate universe?” Some consider the metaverse ‘a new kind of internet’ and some call it an VR/AR experience. Though there are different definitions coined, I have put down a plausible definition that is easy to understand:
It is a shared 3D virtual world in which actual people socialize with one another using their avatars, share digital spaces, own, and sell digital properties, and collaborate with one another from anywhere in the earth using a web browser or AR/VR headset or smartphone application.
While the term Avatar connects a layman instantly to the blockbuster by James Cameroon with the same name, they are nothing but Digital Twins in the technology world. Many tech giants have already invested heavily in the metaverse, including Microsoft, Meta, nVidia, Google, Epic, Apple, and more. SAP is also not far behind and is currently piloting the framework and will be working with its customers and partners to scale it to a wider audience. Though some consider it as the next version of internet or more of a virtual reality Immersive experience, there are strong notions that SAP could be the backbone when the Enterprise Metaverse is well-thought-out, which we shall explore below.
Not a New Concept
The metaverse has been evolving from some time now in different shape or form. Last year in Jul 2021, when Facebook was named as ‘Meta’, it became a rage amongst companies and netizens but that was never the beginning and Meta doesn’t control the metaverse. It dates to 1992, in his science fiction book - Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson describes how people escape a devastated city and enter a virtual universe known as the metaverse. This was the first time the term ‘metaverse’ came into existence, when we were still on Web 1.0.
The concept of metaverse has been there for more than 30 years now, and the pandemic was a turbo charger for the metaverse, as virtual formats experienced an extreme boom. At a time when most people were just sitting at home, a little VR was a welcome option. And it was not only limited to games and virtual shopping, but there were also virtual events as well from the likes of Travis Scott and Justin Bieber in the ‘Fortnite’ platform in 2021.
5 Attributes of the Metaverse
- Immersive: This is about the degree of digital-physical fusion offered by the metaverse experience. A VR/AR Headset comes first thing in mind of an immersive experience, along with a bodysuit might fully immerse the user’s body into a digital environment. But some say (from the likes of Second Life inventor), it can also be a browser to get the experience of the Metaverse
- Connected: To ensure a glitch-free experience, we need reliable, high speed, low latency connections along with compatible light weight devices with high-capacity portable power. The upstream connection also needs to be blazing fast to receive data from device sensors such as GPS and LIDAR, and to allow graphics to be seamlessly overlaid on the user's real-world environment.
- Social: The metaverse cannot exist without people socializing and everyone has some shape or form of ‘digital identity (avatar)’ including authorized ‘digitally items’ and ‘spaces/properties’, where they can reside
- Persistent: It must be always available and not like a browser or app which we can open and close. For instance, if you build a house in your metaverse and have bought different digital assets like a digital painting or a virtual sofa set, it will still remain in the same position after you left your house and reenter again. Similarly, if you leave your home in a virtual car to your office and choose to leave the car at office and walk home, the car will be still there at your office.
- Interoperable: Interoperability means- users on one platform can communicate and interact with users on another platform as well as share data and content. For example: if you a buy a virtual pair of shoes from ‘Nikeland’ in ROBLOX, you should be able to wear the same shoes in ‘Decentraland’ or if you go to a Daler Mehndi show in ‘PartyNite’. In the metaverse, people can buy and sell products and so interoperability is a very important attribute and so is also one of the most challenging ones.
The Enterprise Metaverse – SAP as the Foundation?
SAP is many things - It is an ERP company, database company, data analytics, user experience financial software tools company and it is, of course, a cloud company. Like they already do for so many business processes today, SAP solutions are poised to play a central role in the enterprise metaverse.
One day (probably not early than a decade from now), the metaverse will offer a seamless and persistent experience across a continuum spanning the digital world, the actual world, and any layer in between. And Web3 technologies like blockchain and tokenization will change how we think about using data to interact with each other and with organizations. For companies running SAP solutions, it’s important to understand how this technological evolution will impact business systems. Today, SAP Fiori, portals, and mobile apps are used by business users to interface with SAP systems and data. These will develop into more immersive, collaborative, and enhanced experiences when they interface with core corporate workspaces and are enhanced with AI. SAP SuccessFactors, SAP’s human experience management suite that also covers recruiting, will likely evolve to enable richer interview experiences in shared virtual spaces.
Several use cases are already being explored with SAP as backbone including:
- Retail Shopfloor Level Customer Experience
- Human Capital Management
- Experience Management with Qualtrics
- Immersive SAP Demos
- Digital Twins and Converged Treatment in the Medical World
- Design Thinking
and the list is endless….
SAP is currently gearing up and has started working on the various areas overlapping with the metaverse – primarily immersive technology and distributed ledger. We have known the SAP GUI, later evolved to SAP Fiori, which has improved the UI to a more user-friendly version. And now, SAP is working on SAP Fiori launchpad with Microsoft HoloLens for the next evolution of Fiori on AR/VR.
There are use cases to create an AR user experience on top of an existing SAP application for handsfree applications offering an immersive experience along with voice commands and hand gestures. SAP Extended Reality Cloud is a SaaS service on SAP BTP that lets users create, use, and share smart assets within mobile devices running unity applications. It’s well positioned to evolve into a marketplace for exchanging B2B NFTs and smart assets in the metaverse.
Distributed ledger technologies are also being integrated included SAP GreenToken being one of them, to achieve end-to-end traceability and proof of sustainable material sourcing throughout the supply chain. SAP.iO Foundry has launched its latest startup program focused on Web3 with SAP SuccessFactors. Beem, GMetriXR, TALESPIN, veremark and bitpay are the 5 startups, which have been selected to enable SAP in the Metaverse.
Expivi (SAP.iO program) demonstrates how the SAP ecosystem is already adjusting to enable services similar to those in the metaverse. Through interactive 3D and augmented reality (AR) for ecommerce, Expivi seeks to assist businesses in growing their customer base, cutting costs, and improving customer satisfaction. Tawni helps companies understand people’s reactions in real time with emotion analysis. It offers an emotion analytics software-as-a-service solution to capture and analyze human affective states driving consumer decisions and behavior. With No Code platforms like AppGyver (renamed to ‘SAP Build Apps’), SAP is making microservices architecture possible which is another important aspect of the metaverse.
Though none of the examples are true SAP metaverse scenarios, we are in a world that is constantly changing, and technological disruptions are a reality. 5G is rolled out and though most of us in India has not experienced it fully yet, we are already talking about 6G.
Food for Thought
Is the metaverse only about virtual reality or augmented reality experience? Is it only limited to the gaming world? Is it just a hype that will die down soon? Well, the short answer is no. It is true that every VR is marketed as metaverse and every digital virtual world is currently positioned as a Metaverse, just like it was a master stroke by Facebook on changing its name to ‘Meta’, but it is far beyond the hype and is quite underestimated by few.
In all fairness, metaverse still has close to a decade to take off meaningfully. It is thought-provoking to see how the opinion about the metaverse changes, as soon as we discuss those concepts and intersecting technologies in detail, which are still evolving but, at a very fast pace. Especially when it comes to enterprise processes and the way we might work in the future, it will be interesting to see how SAP and its partners approach the metaverse in 2023. At the same time, it must be a sustainable option leading to the future of circular economy.
Pran has over 14 years of experience including both in the industry and SAP. Pran is passionate about exploring use cases in the metaverse to enable business value driven SAP sustainable transformation for clients. He is a regular blogger and has conducted numerous thought leadership sessions on the topics of metaverse, Web3, NFTs, innovations, sustainability, megatrends, and SAP. Pran has an MBA degree in Marketing and a BE degree in Electronics and Communication and an AWS certified Cloud Practitioner. He spends his free time in online gaming and exploring upcoming metaverse platforms.