It’s poised to revolutionize how governments train employees, deliver services and manage systems.
State and local government agencies are starting to take notice of the potential benefits of the metaverse—a continuum, representing a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds and realities—for operations and service delivery. When the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a rapid move to remote work, technologies associated with the metaverse, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, computer vision, natural language processing and edge computing all supported this transformation. Organizations adapted quickly, and practices such as virtual meetings and document sharing became commonplace.
The big question now facing state and local governments is what priorities should organizations set as the metaverse begins to transform and expand opportunities for information sharing, learning and communication?
We see public sector initiatives beginning to coalesce around three major themes:
- New ways to train. The metaverse offers powerful new ways to train employees. For example, VR and AR can create safe environments in which public safety workers, such as first responders, can experience hazardous or threatening conditions. Combining VR and AR with collaborative technologies helps take simulation to the next level, with group interactions delivering highly realistic replications of crisis events. And organizations are extending this training to more basic activities, such as VR training of social service caseworkers.
- New ways to connect. Government organizations are finding that metaverse concepts can help transform customer service. Automated avatars can answer questions (in multiple languages) while AI personalizes the customer experience, “remembering” previous inquiries from the same customer and providing tailored answers and/or solutions. Similarly, the metaverse fosters intra-agency and inter-agency collaboration, making it easier not only to meet virtually but to work together in artificial environments. This delivers numerous benefits, including reductions in travel time and expense and decreases in organizations’ overall carbon footprints. We anticipate that most large organizations will eventually have their own internal metaverses to enable employees to work, meet and collaborate in previously unimaginable ways.
- New ways to manage. The concept of the “digital twin” – a virtual model that accurately reflects a physical environment – has been around for nearly 20 years. The application of metaverse technology makes digital twins hyper-real, enabling government organizations to address public sector problems ranging from crime to carbon emissions. Digital twins will soon help manage mass transit systems, spotting potential bottlenecks, and heading off maintenance problems before they become major concerns. And, while VR and AR are key to training within a metaverse environment, these technologies can also help transform the management of hazardous situations from bomb disposal to firefighting. Professionals using headsets and specialized glasses to control robots will help get these situations under control more quickly, while minimizing the danger to those involved.
Clearly, there is real value to be found in the metaverse for the public sector. But what should organizations do next?
Here are five key, next steps to realizing the full value of metaverse investments:
- Complete the digital foundation. Not all organizations have the cloud, data and analytics capabilities that are essential for expansion into the metaverse. If your organization is in the middle of its digital transition, make sure that investments in these capabilities can support the demands of the metaverse. Applications, for example, may need to be rebuilt with microservices architectures and APIs to be easily usable by and shareable with others.
- Acquire or access needed skills. The metaverse calls for specialized talent, ranging from 3D artists to game designers. Few if any government organizations will have all these skills in-house, so it will be important to identify outside resources that can supply expertise. For core functions such as customer service, it may be desirable to establish recruiting programs to develop required skills. This is a long-term problem, so consider upskilling existing employees and capabilities through training and external support in the interim.
- Identify security and/or privacy enhancements. The metaverse poses many new security and privacy challenges. For example, making full use of the metaverse may require adding access points such as VR headsets, cameras, microphones and sensors. As is the case with other devices, these will need to be safeguarded against intruders. Privacy is another concern. The rapid evolution of the metaverse is moving it into relatively unexplored realms such as biocomputing, which uses biologically derived molecules such as DNA to perform digital computations. Other devices could gather data on users’ whereabouts, daily activities and personal preferences. Organizations in both the private and the public sectors need to establish boundaries in areas such as customer experience. An example of this would be determining what information should be shared in the service or experience and what should be kept private as part of individual needs for security and privacy.
- Develop policies on synthetic content and the use of bots. Synthetic or artificially-generated data is being used to train AI models in ways that real-world data cannot. This realistic yet unreal data can be shared while protecting confidentiality and privacy. Organizations should start taking steps to authenticate the information they communicate, considering provenance, policy, people and purpose. And, if they use bots to speed processes and cut costs, they should establish policies that disclose how and why bots are used.
- Form partnerships and join alliances to build strength for the future. Forming new partnerships and joining existing alliances is critical to building the technical foundation needed to support the metaverse. Consortiums help establish greater interoperability between organizations, and they often make it possible to do so securely and without jeopardizing a group’s privacy.
Technological revolutions now take place at high speed. It took just 15 years to go from the launch of the first iPhone to a world with 6.6 billion smartphones. The metaverse is real and its impact on organizations will be enormous. People who run large public sector organizations should now be assessing how the metaverse will impact day-to-day operations as well as long-term strategy. While technologies underlying the metaverse are still in early stages of development, it holds the ultimate promise of making it much easier for governments to deliver services, provide information and interact with citizens in a secure and efficient manner.
Valerie Armbrust is Accenture’s public sector technology and cloud lead.