Accenture Exec On Metaverse: ‘Why Would The Digital World Be Flat?’

‘Don’t get hung up in the minutiae of the definitions,’ says David Treat, senior managing director at Accenture. ‘You need to look at the trend and trajectory and ask yourself, ‘Why would the digital world be flat?’

Accenture doesn’t believe that the digital world should be flat. That’s why the solution provider powerhouse is taking giant leaps into the metaverse and growing capabilities to allow businesses operate in a 3D way.

“Don’t get hung up in the minutiae of the definitions,” David Treat, senior managing director at Dublin-based Accenture, told CRN. “You need to look at the trend and trajectory and ask yourself, ‘Why would the digital world be flat?’’

In the last month, Accenture, No. 1 on CRN’s 2022 Solution Provider 500 list, has made two investments to do just that. In January, the company invested in Forma Vision, a provider of live-streamed, volumetric video technology that enables 3D holographic images of people, objects and environments to be beamed into the metaverse from any location. This month, the firm invested in the Looking Glass Factory, a hologram company that developed an end-to-end holographic platform that shows content in life-like 3D without requiring the use of a headset.

“We’re there to create a deeper relationship down to the engineering level, upwards to the business strategy level and discussions and integrations as to how the power of Accenture in our ecosystem can be applied,” said Treat. We see something special in that startup and we can really help each other drive an innovation wave.”

Forma Vision and Looking Glass are also the latest companies to join Accenture Ventures’ Project Spotlight, an engagement and investment program that invests in companies that create disruptive technologies. It also connects emerging technology startups to bridge innovation gaps and offers access to Accenture’s domain expertise and enterprise clients.

In March 2022, Accenture formed the Accenture Metaverse Connituum business group that combines metaverse-skilled experts and others with deep capabilities in customer experience, digital commerce, extended reality, blockchain, digital twins and artificial intelligence to help clients design, execute and accelerate their journey into the metaverse.

CRN spoke to Treat about the latest investments Accenture is making in the metaverse, security opportunities and challenges and how he believes businesses can use the metaverse to benefit their organizations.

A year ago Accenture held a technology vision event with CTO Paul Daugherty. Talk to me about the progress Accenture has made in the metaverse since then.

That was our external signal to be much more deliberate and form the Metaverse Continuum business group. That business group was founded upon the blockchain team that I had founded in 2015 and been running for a number of years focused on the whole internet of ownership side of things. That was the tokenization of identity, money and objects and how we bring ourselves and our things from digital place to place. Then we’ve had, for years, an extended -reality or mixed-reality practice. I’ve been managing the two next to each other for some time, and lo and behold about 18 months ago we had a word for that, which was metaverse. That public announcement for our tech vision and the tech vision itself laid out our view as to how metaverse was this important combination of innovation waves, not just blockchain plus XR (extended reality), but also cloud, security, AI, et cetera, and our deliberate focus to then build a business around it. We’ve been hiring and training like mad, building further ecosystem partnerships, engaging with clients and delivering interesting work.

What is the ultimate goal of the group?

So in 2013, in our tech vision, we announced that every business was a digital business, and that was a very bold statement back in 2013. We caught a lot of flack for that from a number of industries, like manufacturing, and other industries that still weren’t coming to grips with digital. A couple of years later, everyone recognized that every business is a digital business. It’s all about data. Our tech vision last spring made a similarly bold statement that we believe every business is going to be a metaverse business when you frame it in the way that we’re framing it. The core of that vision is we think the range of capabilities that we associate with metaverse will impact every part of every business. It impacts the customer, customer relationships, how we transact, how we shop, how we even address the nature of the cookie wars and develop relationships with brands and the like. It changes the nature of products themselves, the whole notion of having a heads-up display for every physical product that will extend the love or utility or even instruction manuals for physical products.

Now it’s the whole notion of digitally-native products that was unfortunately overweighted on things like collectibles and art with the NFT craze. But it’s the whole notion of having valid digitally-native products like the clothing that our avatars where in metaverse or the titles to our cars or homes, so there’s a product revolution underway. We’ve proven to ourselves that there’s a whole enterprise revolution underway through what we’ve demonstrated with onboarding now close to 200,000 people into our metaverse places. It’s the foundation for how we do onboarding, training and culture and community building. And then there’s the whole digital twin landscape. There’s many years of digital twins now becoming immersive and collaborative. Between how you relate with customers, the products you make, the supply chains for them and how you run your enterprises, metaverse techniques impact every part of every business. We have an ambition and a vision for it. Our growth is somewhat unlimited and we’re busy focusing and implementing and being both visionary but also actionable.

Let’s talk about Forma Vision, what makes their technology a good fit for Accenture?

Metaverse is not just virtual reality, augmented reality is also super important. It’s the whole notion of being able to capture true-to-life, hyper-realistic imagery and then able to present it in a number of different ways, anywhere, any place, any time. We just did a football fan experience where we put a professional football player in a volumetric video rig, and a fan won the chance to pull up the player in their living room, then they had a real-time interaction. The player could see them and the fan was talking to the player in real time. That’s part of what Forma Vision unlocks is this ability to be with anyone, anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

What makes Looking Glass a good fit for Accenture?

They built these display devices as a means to show what their real power is, which is the underlying platform to be able to manage 3D content. We like them because they offer this ability to have a 3D image be displayed in a way that multiple people can stand around it and all experience it together. You can actually interact with 3D content, I’m able to zoom in on products, manipulate them and change them. The end displays are the physical manifestation and are wonderful. Part of the reason we’re excited about them is their underlying platform for managing and producing 3D content. This whole space of volumetric video capture, display, co-presence and working with three dimensional objects…we’re stitching together multiple partners here to be able to accomplish things like that.

It differs from a Teams call or a Zoom call because we are speaking one at a time. If we were in a digital room and there were another 15 people in the room, we could walk over into a corner and have a side conversation. That’s kind of the first thing to wrap your head around, it breaks us away from this notion of just having a flat plane of glass and one speaker at a time. It’s having the depth of a place. Whether you’re doing it in 3D, through a laptop or a headset, it’s much more like what a physical in-person interaction would be like. As you got closer to someone, they get louder, or as you move away from them they get quieter. It’s this ability to mirror some of the physical characteristics of a physical place.

According to a recent Accenture report that came out in January, the metaverse is expected to fuel a $1 trillion revenue opportunity by 2025. Talk to me more about that.

We basically were taking that data and then looking at the range of use cases and the opportunities. The result was a material amount of sales and revenue essentially being created in a metaverse context. When we applied those percentages through, it was north of a trillion dollars. Part of our positioning in the whole space is, even if our numbers are off by a factor, this is still a really big deal.

I've asked others in the channel, vendors and solutions providers, about the metaverse and when I talk to them they usually clam up, they're almost afraid of it. Why do you think some people are fearful of the metaverse?

Part of what we did in naming our group, the Metaverse Continuum business group, was to put a lot of weight on the word ‘continuum.’ I think too many people early on got caught up in the definition of metaverse, and kind of ‘metaverse, not metaverse.’ If you think about it from its broadest perspective of our physical worlds in three dimensions, why would our digital world continue to be in two dimensions only for a moment longer than it has to be? If you look at the direction of travel of everything we’ve talked about, there’s an inevitability to the technology. It can enable us to be together in three dimensions and we can be transported to another place and be there together, and all of the power of that, there’s an inevitability to it.

The other factor is of some of the brand positioning of others in this space and wanting to either associate or dissociate themselves from other brands or dynamics. We’ll naturally go through another set of months and quarters of people wrangling with definitions. Ultimately, we’re cutting our clients and the general public some slack on the whole notion of if you view it as a continuum of technologies, a continuum of experiences from 2D to 3D and consumer enterprise and all of their pieces, you easily then move on to the valuable part of the conversation, which is how can these different techniques actually drive profitable new business.

Would that be your message to those who are fearful of it?

It is. Don’t get hung up in the minutiae of the definitions. You need to look at the trend and trajectory and ask yourself, ‘Why would the digital world be flat?’

How do you think the metaverse will be used by solution providers and their customers over the next five years?

It’s going to change the nature of how we interact with customers. It’s this immersive co-presence. I’ll give you one very specific example in the fashion industry. There’s now data that strongly suggests that goods purchased in an immersive manner where you know how it’s going to fit or look will dramatically reduce the return rate. That is deeply meaningful to the consumer goods and products industries. It’s going to change the nature of customers and products, how we sell, what we sell and the like.

What is the ultimate goal for Accenture when it comes to the metaverse?

We’re always here to help our clients transform and take maximum advantage of the transformation potential of new technologies and ultimately, for the benefit of the world around us and our communities. One of the other things we haven’t talked about that we’ve done is, right off the bat, we formed a responsible metaverse group. They are solely looking at all of the dimensions of not just the security, privacy and intellectual property rights aspects of what has to be put in place for this new technology, but also the human side of it. It’s the diversity and inclusion, the safety and the trust aspects from a human perspective. A part of what we’re really after is productive, profitable growth for our clients but done in a deeply responsible manner. I think if all of us could wave a wand and go back before the rise of the social media phase of the internet and make some different choices around what we value as individual communities, societies, laws and regulations, we probably would all go back and make an attempt to make some different choices. We have that narrow window of opportunity right now to do that for the metaverse. We’re very much going after how we convene those right conversations to drive the law policy regulation and societal expectations and standards that we need.

Does this basically give a whole new challenge, or opportunity, in terms of security and how to secure the metaverse?

It does on multiple levels. The whole notion of what tokenization can do around enabling us to self-manage our tokenized identity, money and objects and bring those with us from metaverse place to place is wildly powerful. It changes the whole nature of what information companies have to hold within their firewalls and is then subject to data loss and data privacy issues. So yes, we see many benefits around being able to introduce greater levels of privacy and security. It also raises the stakes around a whole new level of security for these metaverse places where, on today’s internet, we frequently need to pull down bad content or illegal content and it’s after the fact. In the metaverse, because it’s a live environment, you need the equivalent of the lifeguard at the pool or the cop on the street to be able to take real time action. That’s a whole new level of security, concern and focus and so there’s lots of work to build those platforms and capabilities.