From November 2–4, 2021, the Microsoft Ignite conference took place. During this conference, more than 100,000 global attendees across a variety of industries participated to hear about the latest and greatest Microsoft technologies while also getting a ‘sneak peek’ at new products and services that will be coming in the future. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference took place in multiple countries, like the USA (Seattle) and the Netherlands (Amsterdam), focusing on a specific theme at each location. This year, the only way to attend the conference was online, and no distinction was made between target groups/customers. Participants could follow a variety of sessions from different keynote speakers giving an overview of the trends and expectations or going more into detail on specific topics. The speakers were pre-recorded instead of speaking live and/or on a stage.
One of the keynote speakers was Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella. He explained what Microsoft sees as the future and their strategy going forward. Moreover, he announced a lot of new software, mainly Microsoft apps. All this new software is documented for free online, collected in the so-called Book of News. In this blog we share an interesesting development: the metaverse.
Hybride working is here to stay
One of the concepts Microsoft outlined is the metaverse, an interactive virtual reality world where we can have meetings and work with colleagues in 2D or 3D. This concept stems from a science fiction novel oumicmicfrt of the eighties, and it is now one of the main trends Microsoft indicated. To be active in the metaverse, Microsoft uses virtual reality technology to make an avatar for each person. You will have an avatar that looks just like you. It mimics your expressions and your facial movements. As you talk, the avatar will also do so. If you use your hands, your avatar will do so, too. You can draw and use apps. It is like a virtual reality version of you, also known as a digital twin. Besides creating a digital twin of people, a digital twin of your office can also be generated. In other words, in the metaverse, you can create office spaces. People can log in and have meetings in these virtual rooms, with the avatars meeting each other. Facebook recently also came up with this metaverse concept, but they do not yet have a real-life (business) application for this, whereas Microsoft does.
The general consensus about this metaverse is that it has a chance of working because it is a business application. Hybrid work is here to stay, and this is one of Microsoft’s significant thoughts. The way people worked before the pandemic—going to the office five days a week from nine to five—will no longer be the norm. This changed reality applies to all companies worldwide. Companies now need to figure out how to make their people talk to each other, work together and get the same benefits of being in an office together. The fact is: we are not together anymore, we are online.
One of the ideas Microsoft came up with is using this metaverse. As the metaverse is an online tool, wherever you are, you can communicate and see expressions without physically being on camera or sharing a space. ‘Even though it is a virtual reality space, it is almost like you are playing a game and you are with the people you are playing the game with,’Microsoft states. If you talk with somebody who speaks another language, the words can be translated into your own language.
In order to ensure that companies actually use the metaverse, a hurdle needs to be crossed by companies and people. They need to create an avatar and meet in an office space in the metaverse instead of meeting in Microsoft Teams or any other digital ‘meeting room’ that people use now.
There is an app written for Teams called Mesh. It is a mixed-reality update for Teams, and it gives people access to the metaverse. It provides users with personalised digital avatars and immersive spaces to meet—the digital twin of you and the digital twin of your office. ‘Hybrid work is here to stay,’ Microsoft explains. It means that people work online, are distributed, and do not work from nine to five. A lot of people experience camera fatigue, though. They are tired of staring at a camera all the time. By using an avatar, this fatigue can be released.
Since hybrid work ‘is here to stay’, it also has to work. To actually make it work, we need to use collaborative applications. Nowadays, companies and people work with a lot of different apps and systems. The business runs via Teams, but you also have many different applications. You can only see that part of the business you are responsible for, but you do not have an overview of the company as a whole. Instead, with this new software, you do not have to open Word, Excel or any other (Microsoft) program; it is all integrated in Teams and it all runs in front of your eyes.
Instead of, for example, having notice of the stages of your production process in different applications, the information from all the different applications is brought together in Teams, including where and when an order was placed, what stock you have, how much you need to order, what the stage of the order is, etc., allowing you to seamlessly follow the production and transportation processes. All those pieces of a business are created in Power BI (an interactive, graphic tool that creates charts, graphs, etc.) and Power Apps, and they come together in Teams.
Rethinking the business
This whole idea of the metaverse is not new. However, it was never as mature as it is now. Moreover, it is difficult for people to change what they’re used to. Normally, the shop floor manager would physically be in the warehouse. He or she would walk around, look at the stock, check the stock levels, and write things down on a piece of paper. In this new era of digital transformation, companies are forced to put their business processes in a digital form.
At the Ignite conference, the speakers left some breadcrumbs that will help people to become conscious. They focused on triggering people to start thinking: how do we digitalise certain processes, like walking around with a scratch pad for writing things down? How do we put it in Teams with collaborative applications? It requires thinking in a different way. People now realise that we have no choice but to digitalise our processes.
We would be happy to take a look at your organization and help you set up all processes in the right way, so that your organization is also ready for the new future. Do you want to know more? Please contact us.
Avatars in a virtual reality office