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?