Accenture, the 60,000 helmets and the metaverse

Don’t try to cut short a meeting with Marc Carrel-Billiard on the metaverse. Do not try to force the director of innovation at Accenture, at the head of a team of the size considered a company secret, to speak French worthy of the French Academy. In a rapidly changing world, those who have lived in the United States for a long time are hybrids: one foot in reality, one foot in the metaverse, one foot in the United States, one foot in Europe, one foot in French, one foot in English. And above all, passionate.

Metaverse, a buzz word that will deflate on its own?

Marc Carrel-Billiard. – “It’s not going to deflate. The metaverse is here and it will evolve. There’s a huge buzz around this, but it’s been around a while.

I still have an account on Second Life…

“Exactly! We’ve been working in it for 15 years, but we didn’t have all the ingredients we needed.

What were we missing?

“The bandwidth was not good, the ‘devices’ were not up to par and are not yet extraordinary. There will be an evolution of devices.

Eyeglasses? Smartphones?

“It’s going to be multi-device. The experience will be in augmented reality with the smartphone, there will be a mix of realities and hybrid devices to do virtual reality. A worker who works in a mine or refinery. He wants to do immersive learning. We will put a virtual reality helmet on him and he will learn to work in the mine or the refinery. Afterwards, when he has understood everything, we will parachute him into the platform where he will have augmented glasses, where he will recognize the environment in which he trained with additional information.

It is a use. But which ones do you believe in and which ones do you not really believe in?

“There are plenty of them! Customer driven or business driven. The latter is everything that is ‘workplace’ of the future, ‘immersive learning’, and more generally around ‘digital twins’. What interests me is to see how I can control a factory remotely using a digital twin. I’m going to put on a virtual reality helmet, I’m going to be immersed in the factory, I’m going to be facing the twin of a machine with levers and buttons. There will be the view and the activation of the machine. If it smells burnt and it breaks down, I need to smell it. The machine itself will be connected to the real machine and we will drive remotely. We are working on teleoperation and this will be fundamental in the company of the future.

The second important thing is ‘scenario-planning’, using the modeling of complex systems. To take another refinery, I’m going to do some scenarios. That, that breaks down, I’ve got a shortage of this, what’s going on? Etc. It allows me to optimize my environment and upload everything to the real machine, as if it were programmed for all scenarios.

From industry 4.0. Not from the metaverse like this buzz word…

“I think the business part is more important to us. More than any consumer part, entertainment. Not everyone will be able to see the Eiffel Tower. Instead of clicking on pictures or a website, people will put on glasses and walk around to see what it looks like. This will be important for merchandising. Or to test new stores. We worked with Procter & Gamble on planography. You are in a store and you want to know what will sell. The best is to put these products at the head of the gondola. You have a product map. It allows you to decide what you will wear or not. Today, to test it, we send people to place the products and we see what happens. Tomorrow, we’ll do that in the metaverse.

I heard that you use the metaverse to welcome your new recruits. In Luxembourg, we see the Big Four immortalizing the arrival of hundreds of “new joiners”…

“Yes! It’s kind of my fault! For a long time, I digitized our seven labs in the world. I told myself that it was not always normal to have to take planes to go somewhere else and that when a client sees a lab, he cannot see the second, the third or the fourth. How to see four or five labs in the day? Why not digitize the labs? With 3D scanners. In the end, we can do the demos, we take our customers there and they visit. We had more visits during the pandemic than before in our labs. During the pandemic, we recruited 150,000 people. How are we going to ‘onboard’ them? Usually they go to the Q-Centre in Chicago, which is kind of our academy. We explain to them what Accenture is. We thought we were going to do a One Accenture Park. People will come. We will have seniors like me to explain to them. They will have tests, all those things. And that’s what we did. 60,000 helmets. It’s one of the biggest VR projects of a company.

I’m fresh out of business school, what’s going on?

“You receive a helmet at home. At the price of a headset, it’s cheaper than a laptop… You have a first step with someone explaining how you’re going to use it, the joysticks, the approach… and you’ll have sessions of different types, learning or fun, where we celebrate. We also hold meetings with clients. Even our CEO, Julie Sweet, uses this technology.

But human interactions… You know these interactions brandished by those who are generally opposed to teleworking, what do you do with them?

“It’s still very important! The corporate culture is very strong here. A face-to-face culture, of people helping each other. It was a bit like Accenture’s secret sauce. We’re not going to lose it. You have to empower people and we push a lot on ‘responsible metaverse’. We have a person dedicated to this issue who reports directly to the CEO. They are told not to expect everything from the metaverse. We invite people to come back to the office, at least partially. The people themselves are seekers. I had so many meetings in Teams, it’s depressing!

What is this manager paying attention to?

“How inclusive! Everyone can have access to it. That it’s ‘safe’.

Safe, what does that mean in the metaverse?

“There may be insults, people who attack you. Even in the metaverse there are people it affects and you need to respond. It is also necessary to manage this notion of anonymity. Companies need to explain who they are, what their visions are, what their responsibilities are. We also work with Goodwill, with the Association for Inclusivity, with the World Economic Forum on issues of governance, standardization, policy. XR Association and XR For All. We are 710,000 people at Accenture and we need to lay the right foundations.

Among the challenges, I imagine that the arrival of a self-sovereign identity that will belong to each European modifies the ecosystem of the metaverses, right? Where it was possible when you were a runt to take on a very muscular avatar…

“Yes, but in the real world, we all have passports, identity cards. There are people who cheat. There will be people who cheat in the metaverse. This is the law of large numbers.

Interoperability is also a challenge, with more than 200 metaverses…

“265! There will be convergence. It’s hard to say how much. Will there be a Chinese metaverse, an American metaverse and a European metaverse? Mystery. But we have no choice. It’s so frustrating to buy an ‘asset’ in a metaverse, say a sword, and not be able to take it anywhere else! Many games can be moved to multiple metaverses.

So, do you understand that companies, say Gucci, embark on a metaverse, at the risk, for the moment, that their assets cannot move there?

“They don’t want to be wait-and-see, but rather test and see how to capitalize on it. We go back to the 1990s, when people made their own web page, their own site…

What do you recommend to companies?

“Two things. We need to work on two use cases that are not too risky and that allow employees and employers to understand the interest of the metaverse. The ‘workplace of the future’. How we can expand your workplace, have a little more scalable Zoom with a bit of metaverse or a Teams with mesh or things like that. And see how employees feel about it. Before working on real discussions on the share of the metaverse versus the face-to-face place, the different devices. The second thing is immersive learning, to train through the metaverse. Retention is much better, understanding too. A lot of people will learn trades. We have a big company with whom we worked on repairing electric poles and even the older ones immediately adopted the trick. But there will always be people who will not support it.

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