Is the Metaverse the Future of Communications With Stephen Tong (Transcript)

Episode 2 of the .metaverse podcast explores how the metaverse could transform the way we communicate in the future, with special guest Stephen Tong, Senior Director at the Modern Workplace Center of Excellence at Avanade. Full transcript below!
Metaverse Podcast
March 16, 2022
15 mins
Stephen Tong
The Touchcast Team
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The following is a transcript of the .metaverse podcast episode, Is The Metaverse The Future Of Communications, with Stephen Tong, Senior Director at the Modern Workplace Center of Excellence at Avanade.

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Edo Segal: Hello, welcome to the dot metaverse podcast. I'm Edo Siegel, CEO of Touchcast. We're leading the metaverse into the enterprise realm. Join us every week as we explore key themes and ideas surrounding the metaverse. This week I'm joined by Stephen Tong. He's the Senior Director at the Modern Workplace Center of Excellence at Avanade.

Before we jump into the exciting themes that we want to talk about, I would really love to hear a bit about your journey so far. I know that you spend time at Microsoft as well. Many of our listeners are probably not that familiar with Avanade. So this is really interesting to hear a bit about your journey and what brought you into this incredible role you're facilitating at Avanade.

Stephen Tong: Sure. Maybe I'll start by saying that during my experiences and time at Microsoft, I spent a lot of time in a number of different roles.

A lot of it was in the collaboration, messaging, and facilitation space with our telecommunication partners and really focused around some of the largest global customers that Microsoft had at the time in this area and this space of technologies. You get to experience a lot of the interesting challenges and dynamics of organizations trying to adopt this on a global scale and then dealing with the regional nuances.

But I joined Avanade about eight and a half years ago, really coming over to help, build out their portfolio of real-time communications and collaboration capabilities. Avanade has been involved in this space for quite some time, but back then we were really investing heavily to accelerate that. Avanade, for the listeners who are not familiar, originally started off as a joint partnership and a venture between Accenture and Microsoft.

And that relationship evolved over the years to the point where today it is largely owned by Accenture, but you can think of Avanade as a Microsoft specialized arm of Accenture that focuses on Microsoft-based solutions. And in that capacity, we've been working in the space of real-time communication, collaboration, collaborative applications, and, other types of solutions based on the span of the different technologies that are available for Microsoft.

ES: I think for those that are not familiar with the intricacies of selling and supporting big enterprise, I think it's very much an acquired skill that takes many years of honing. And sounds like those are the types of experiences you've had. What are some things that jumped to mind to you as really big transformations that you've witnessed in this journey of the future of communications, and maybe you had a front-row seat to some of those examples?

ST: Absolutely. I've had the privilege to witness the different chapters that are being written in this journey. And it varies a lot. There's not a simple path that everybody follows because of all the different nuances. Why I'm still doing this, and what excites me every day, is really about the fact that if all this was, was creating technology for machines, it'd be kind of cool, but not particularly interesting. What's really fascinating is this interesting fusion between very high-end technologies, which are really meant to facilitate an increase in capability, amplification of collaboration, and productivity, but there are other nuanced things at a regional level, at a cultural level, at a personal level and everyone adopts that differently. Over the years, we've witnessed a lot of different transformations as to how this journey takes place across the world and how people absorb it. And it is both at the same time, systemic because you've need organizations to need to figure out orchestrating this at a global scale, but it's also deeply personal and how each individual deals with everything from the constellation of devices that you may have in front of you and how you interact with that. 

How are you interfaced with the social environment? Because collaboration is inherently a human-to-human experience and the technology is meant to help facilitate that. And sometimes it doesn't, it gets in the way and some of those adoptions become very rocky. You hear a lot about the amalgamation of both synchronous and asynchronous communications that certainly everyone's had the pleasure of using over the last couple of years and how each person is able to maintain their productivity, how they learn, how they reach out to others.

That's very powerful, but the solutions that are being presented, more often than not, it's been a tough journey. I'll summarize it this way, getting the device to ring from one place to another place with great fidelity so that it's a natural motion to use.

That's not been easy, being able to have a universal accessibility. So location truly is transparent. That's not easy. There's a whole host of technologies from the network stack all the way through to the endpoint devices all the way through to the actual, codex that you want to use. That's not a non-trivial exercise for a lot of organizations.

And then there's the whole journey about the actual content that you're collaborating on. I mean, the whole point of getting together so that we can work together on something. So how would you share that and the different mechanisms that you would use for co-editing and co-authoring, or just the fact that you're trying to train and learn from each other?

That journey has taken a lot of different views across as a smorgasbord of technologies that we've had to work with over the years.

ES: Can you recall an experience where you were engaging, let's say, with a big strategic client, and they just took the position that what you're proposing will never happen. It's just, this is not going to happen like this. This is way out of the realm of possibility for us. Does anything come to mind? You don't have to mention the client. I have those war stories. I'm just curious if you recall an example like that.

ST: There are so many, but I'll take two to answer your question and to frame this, there were a lot of challenges around the security of the collaboration and a lot of organizations, especially if you think about where we've come from historically, there was a time when information was protected.

And empires are built and I'm sure many of your listeners have witnessed this and enjoyed the pleasures of being in hierarchical organizations with very structured decision-making processes, where the control of the flow of information and the security of such, even internally is paramount.

And introducing collaboration concepts into that environment. That's hugely transformative. I mean, today, if you're looking back, you'd be, you'd be thinking, oh, you know, this is so natural. Why didn't we just always do it? But the reality is, that was not always enabled or desired. And so it's been an accompaniment of both the enabling technology, but also the cultural change within the organization to be willing and allowing this to kind of foster and then realize that it has enormous benefits for the business. There's that element of it. And then the other side, which is also equally transformative, more recently is we've seen the emergence of a lot of let's call it business-to-consumer type scenarios where organizations previously were trying to figure out different models that they would engage their customers.

And this spans everything from telehealth to customer care scenarios. I'm sure folks have experienced this, but really extending that collaboration into the organization and having a new way, and deeper way, of working with your customers and that creates meaningful relationships and it also creates new opportunities. But I think a lot of folks weren't prepared to realize that there's a whole new set of opportunities when you can deeply engage with the customers in this fashion. 

ES: Yeah. If we have people listening to us, they're part of a certain tribe. And that tribe is in this strange intersection between cutting-edge innovation and the enterprise world, which is not a simple place to be.

You have to be there because you're really passionate about this type of work. And you are constantly confronted with changing the status quo. From your personal experience, what advice would you have for people that are in that position, whether it's within your organization, but there might be a CEO of a startup that's listening or a practitioner, how do you help the customer see the potential impact?

How do you take them on that journey? How do you dismantle some of the concerns that they might have? You mentioned security. That's a great example. When the internet started people wouldn't imagine putting a credit card into a form. People have a very short memory of things that seem to be impossible.

We have this kind of window of memory that’s moving, that is pretty small. As we also see, unfortunately in the geopolitical realm with what's happening in Europe right now, people's memory is not very long. So we repeat a lot of the same mistakes. Do you have any advice, like if you were mentoring someone and they were someone that's kind of entered your organization and they're full of energy and they're ready to change the world and you know what they're in for, what would be your words of consult to them? 

ST: I'll start by saying that you need to be a student of humanity. And it sounds really odd, probably, to hear that coming from a technologist. I mean, that's really where I come from, but let's assume that the individual is going to be a very talented or capable technologist.

That's just base table stakes, but really in this space, if we're going to be successful and delve deeply we really need to be very good students of humanity. And what that means is understanding cultures within organizational cultures, behaviors of people, because ultimately this area of technology is where you have maximum surface contact between technology and people or enabling very deep, very social behaviors, biological responses to things.

"If we're going to be successful and delve deeply we really need to be very good students of humanity. And what that means is understanding cultures within organizational cultures, behaviors of people, because ultimately this area of technology is where you have maximum surface contact between technology and people or enabling very deep, very social behaviors, biological responses to things." — Stephen Tong

And all of that is on the table and being conversive and being mindful of the type of impacts that we're having starts first with having a deep understanding of human beings, human beings within an organization, human beings in the settings where they work — and then bringing to bear the entire massive toolkit that we have with all these technologies to unlock the things that you want to unlock.

I think that's probably the best place to start. And then depending on how you want to bring that message in, that's also going to serve you very well in looking at where you are and how to encourage adoption. Is that going to be something that's centrally promoted, where you're dealing with technologists and being able to converse in that language? Or are you going to be talking to facilities people or are you going to be talking to the people who are enabling training and whose main concern is productivity in the business? And again, understanding the nuances of where the pressure point is for the opportunity that the organization's looking to unlock.

ES: I guess the word that I'm thinking of, as I listen to you, is empathy, like empathizing with the humans that you're dealing with and really understanding their problems and what drives them. So the technology could be placed in that critical path. Is that a good way to articulate it? 

ST: Absolutely. At the end of the day, we are trying to make each of us who's using these technologies, be the best of us, and somehow find a way to unlock that through these tools and techniques. 

That expands from your ability to engage with your colleagues and mentor them on a problem that they may want to bring to your attention, that you may provide some insight on. 

It could be a business workflow process that you're a part of, and you want to help somebody be able to process and move that along in the most efficient way possible but also in a way that gives them some satisfaction because that's what they do professionally. Or to the way that they're engaging with the customer, through the technologies that we're providing, we have to find those, those paths.

ES: I really liked that term. I don't think I've heard it before. Each of us could be the best of us. Maybe if you can elaborate, what's a good use case example of that, that we can make each of us the best of us. What's a real-world example of that? 

ST: I don't know if I can give you an easy, straightforward representation of that. But if you think about how we've had workers, and our clients, work remotely from home, right around the world, pondering the question of — we need to have these businesses be able to survive.

These businesses are comprised of human beings, without whom these organizations are empty shells. Right? It all depends on humans, but these people are under duress. They're working at home, they're trying to do whatever it is that they're doing for their professional lives and in environments that are challenging.

So how do you maintain and give them the ability to be productive? That's a very natural question. And we've seen varying examples of success and some problems with that through the last two years. But in addition to productivity, if you look at the current trends and the labor market and where professionals are, are people not only able to be productive but are they able to find meaningful engagement in the context of the tasks that they’re doing?

That has a lot to do with the employee experience, the satisfaction that you have with your role, and that encompasses many things through these technologies and these tools that we serve up. Are you able to learn and advance in your knowledge of your professional space? Are you able to collaborate with others so that you feel good about the work that you do?

And are you able to do that in a way that is efficient for you? All of these come into play when we talk about the best of us, there are a lot of ways that people may interpret what that means to them. 

ES: I can think of a very technical example of that from the world of, let's say sales enablement, where you have a universe of people selling.

And the objective of the system is to help people scaffold each other so that they can improve, they can learn. Okay — here's a KPI that shows that this individual is being more successful. How do we take that knowledge and spread it to others? When it's connected to a system that also allows us as a group of people, I think, to become better, to float all the boats, if you will. I think you alluded to the challenges that we've recently faced. I think, again, it's great to have on this show, people that have meaningful wisdom and experience and have seen several turns — going back to even before COVID hit, working with Accenture very closely. Accenture was a very progressive company and embraced Microsoft teams and is still, I believe the biggest deployment of Teams. And at the time, working with an amazing leader, Andrew Wilson, over there as the CIO, I had this front-row seat to see how aggressively they were embracing what the possibilities are.

And even with that very passionate move into this digital approach, video conferencing was still relatively underutilized. It was, I would say less than 20% of calls were with video. And obviously, now the situation is very different. 

So I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on why it changed it, meaning there are the obvious reasons, but through your lens, how do you think of the fidelity of communications, or the bandwidth of communications, that the medium offers in terms of the evolution and because we're going to talk about what the metaverse implications are as well. We’re really interested in the way that you think about this problem. 

ST: Absolutely. Thanks for the question. It's a great one. I know that if you look around the world, different cultures, different people adopt video in very different ways. You know, you have some examples where some cultures maybe it's less prominent because people have a hesitation to be on video because of the need to express their focused attention in that meeting.

And for others, when people are on, they may just have it on and are not as concerned about whether they're being presented in that way or not. I know at Accenture, it was a heavy organizational commitment to encourage.

There are different techniques starting with training, starting with an evaluation of the internal culture of the organization, that has a lot to do from leadership on down, to what type of organization you want to be and making sure that your leaders are in fact able to share and communicate using video.

And then, of course, besides training and showing people how to use the technology, there's the platform readiness and making sure that you're ready to enable that — because when you turn on something like video, that could be absolutely brutal on your networking environment if you're not prepared for that.

So you want to make sure that the infrastructure is ready. You're able to manage that — so that when people enable it, they have a great experience. So that whole piece becomes important. That along with organizational change management and then gamification and other techniques, like different leaderboards and KPIs to really make sure that you are reinforcing and landing your intention.

So that's certainly great lessons that we saw, in terms of adoption. If I think about customers that use video, it's more popular, especially, over the last couple of years. It's still not as engaging as a legacy store. This is where some of the excitement around the solutions that Touchcast is bringing to bear starts to come into play.

We have folks using a multiparty video. We'd like to take it to the next step. And the reason is that human beings are multisensory, and multi-modality, in terms of the way they want to work. And so turning on video is a great step, but we see that taking it to the next level with Touchcast and in the three-dimensional space inside the venue, brings it not only to a much more engaging environment, but that's actually a much more natural way of engaging. 

ES: So when we think about this progression from sending letters with boats and ships over the ocean and waiting a few months to hear from one another — to telegram, to telephone, to video conferencing. Do you see the metaverse as a natural progression? And if so, what do you think about that?

ST: It’s absolutely fascinating. Maybe I'll be a little contrarian and say, well, you know, the metaverse doesn't really solve anything. It's an amazing collection of technologies and opportunities. It's up to us and conversations like this, and a dialogue with your listeners.

It's in that space where we're actually going to solve things, but the technology offers a completely new medium, and it offers a completely new set of modalities that extend what we have. And there's an opportunity there and it's dual-sided. So I want to be fair and say, well, we’re very excited about the opportunities because it's never been available to us, some of these technologies.

On the flip side, there are also some significant opportunities to create a negative experience and create some real problems for the users, which is why I think this type of conversation is so critical for folks to weigh in and provide some insight into how they would adopt [the metaverse].

I don't know if anybody's written the playbook on how to be successful at this yet. It's going to be part of the human experience. And going back to the students, observing their organizations, their users, their customers, and how they engage, are probably going to be in the best position to find out other methods that they can employ and the technologies they want to bring forward to really take advantage of [the metaverse].

ES: Yeah, it's really interesting for us at Touchcast on this journey because we have been on this quest of effectively “what comes after video conferencing?” for 10 years. And for us, from a technologist's perspective, the vectors that are driving the disruption, have been AI driving very much to the reality that the pipe that you use to communicate could be with cognition, not just compression. And of course the ability to create an environment using the metaverse construct. So that is part of the conversation. 

What we've seen with COVID is so much of what we do as humans have moved, whether it's a teams call or a Zoom call. In that migration, we've lost the role that the space that we inhabit has, in that communication. When you think about the fidelity, using this analogy of going from the written letter to the metaverse, it's more bandwidth in a way, not in bytes, but in terms of what you can communicate as a human to another human, when we engage.

And we're engaging right now, with Accenture and Avanade, with some amazing companies to reimagine their relationship with their customers, constituents, and create environments in which they can do what they did in the physical world through a digital fabric. In some ways, the background removal feature, which we were working with, like five years ago, has taken the world by storm. And that was almost the first little tiny step in that direction. 

Now, in this world, where we can put you in a courtroom, or in a parliament, or in a car dealership, or in a surgical theater, and do it all over the Teams platform, as opposed to requiring for you to procure a VR headset or have a gaming PC. So there's also an element of accessibility to the technology, and not having those hurdles or the weakest links. I know that in our conversations, the weakest link problem is always a big challenge.

And I would be interested to hear your thoughts about where's that tipping point. Where the weakest link breaks the ability of an organization to embrace change versus you can get over that hurdle. You need a hundred percent mark in certain cases. In other cases, when you're on the innovation curve, you actually have to make that balance for your company.

ST: Yeah. It's a great question. And I think the topic bears treatment across a lot of different dimensions; for our organization, it really depends on where your expertise starts from and what you think you're going to get the highest benefit from. But let's look at a couple of different factors, like what you talked about in terms of the weakest link. It's going to be different for each organization as they think about their journey.

So for instance, if you're predominantly dealing with an engagement and enhanced collaboration scenario, for instance, as we talked about in a structured world where it's either a judicial application, like a virtual court, or if you're using it for a legislative application, or a crisis response center, or something like that, where it's going to be very, very important to have specialized video.

And the audio experience, right? You want to be able to have a rapid, real-time decision making or a collaboration, then perhaps some of those stresses are going to be around the interfaces that you create, you know, the digital venues that you're going to put people in, but also the experience.

So one of the things we've noted is that, with Touchcast, you don't have to have fancy VR headsets and things like that. But I think it's also important to note that there's also a very natural adoption where we can place people into a digital venue, but the representation of the individuals actually that you, the video aspect where you're superimposing the video representation of the person in there versus an avatar that might be an easier transition for somebody who's entering that world today.

To be able to engage, it's a little bit more natural. And then you're in three-space where you may be having an understanding of how to interact with that. So in that model, it's going to be about being approachable, the interface, the familiarity, but also the overall experience. Right? So it's not so jarring for that user.

For somebody else, who is doing collaboration in that world — then it comes down to, what type of application and how does that application interacts with the support systems that you're using around this environment to, for instance, send in the catalog update. Or are you creating transactional entities within the interaction and you actually need to persist that somehow.

So how those systems are seamlessly integrated into the venue becomes more important. So it's really going to depend on the context, but you've got a couple of examples, of what scenarios, that we've been looking at. 

ES: And we think about statements from Marshall McLuhan talking about the medium is the message.

What is the message of the metaverse in that regard? How does that change? How does the medium change the message? 

ST: I think that's a great debate, both for the technologists, as well as anthropologists, because we're about to witness this big transition. 

I think what Marshall McLuhan was talking about was in this particular context, when we introduced the metaverse, the metaverse becomes the medium, which means that it's going to infuse or surround us with the rules of how we engage. And we haven't had too many large transitions of the medium, in the way that modern technology has enabled people to work together.

"When we introduce the metaverse, the metaverse becomes the medium, which means that it's going to infuse or surround us with the rules of how we engage. And we haven't had too many large transitions of the medium, in the way that modern technology has enabled people to work together." — Stephen Tong

So for instance, one initial transition was, if you're old enough to remember mainframes, we went to a screen that was able to present some textual information that was consolidated. And the world was sort of defined and the rules and engagement were defined by the computing system environment.

Back then we had a very different engagement model. Probably another big change in the medium was when we introduced graphical interfaces. And all of a sudden the interaction models changed, and each one of these transitions really changes the way we not only interact, but it defines the type of engagement that people have together.

And when you make this transition with the metaverse, this is a three-dimensional interaction, that's much more natural. We're going into a potentially multi-sensory, multi-modality, model. So if you imagine, if you are in the metaverse, I'll pick a really boring one cause it'll provide the contrast.

Everybody's probably worked with an ERP system in the world, in their life — 

ES: I think you should explain what ERP systems are for some of our listeners, what that even acronym means.

ST: It's to think about your operational, planning, or inventory control management type tools that you would use. The things that are essential to operate the business, how would you take something like that into the metaverse for it to be meaningful?

And that's, I think, what Marshall McLuhan’s writings teach us a little bit in terms of how to think and how to navigate this — because it’s no longer relevant to use that old text, interfaith, or whatever form you're using. That's no longer going to be very interesting or very meaningful, or certainly not a wise use of those resources.

And so as you make this transition, All of those tools have an opportunity to become better, right? And more natural in the way that we want to work. I'll pick an example probably at the highest level of empathy for any solution, is solutions that involve health care or telehealth technology. These technologies are used by either clinicians or providers to really deliver communications and help, where they have to impart wisdom, empathy, and compassion through the information that's being shared. 

When you talk about in this space, if you're using the metaverse. How would you do that? How would you share that information?

Today you'd probably do a screen-share. Oh, I have an x-ray, I have an MRI scan, I have a lab report. There's still going to be some of that, but, as opposed to doing this on just as a regular screen share, showing a flat interface, there may be opportunities to do this in a way that ties together the information in a way that's more natural for the user, and there are opportunities to take it to the next level and I'll leave it up to, you know, all the practitioners that are listening to imagine how would you do that? 

We aren't restricted by any of the rules that have been imposed on us up until now. Similarly, if you're in a judicial scenario, if you're in a courtroom. The amount of information and paperwork that's there and, and making meaning of it and being able to compose in a way that you could go through it and understand the connection between the different bits of information that you need to deal with — there's an opportunity to do that in a new and different and properly better way.

So those are some of the scenarios that we could think about. And you can think about it in your own business, whether you're dealing with industrial, manufacturing lines, or in the retail sector. There are many, many opportunities.

What could we bring to bear to make this more natural for your employees? More natural for the customers working with it, and certainly take away some of the constant switchings and changing of tools. Cutting and pasting, and writing down, you know, bits of information. How can we thread this together in a way that's much more natural for our users?

ES: Yeah, that's fascinating. I think in our time collaborating, I've learned a lot from you on this front and it really gave me some insightful moments. The judicial example, made me really crystallize this intuition that we've been pursuing. As to the role of the physical space. 

Let's say a courtroom, the way the courtroom is set up physically is effectively a form of UX. It's a UI to the information. It's just like when you walk into a car and you know where the steering wheel is and where the lights are. When you walk into a courtroom, you know who the judge is and who the plaintiff is and where the jury sits.

And without that, the whole thing falls apart. Because if you just join a courtroom and it's a grid, like a Zoom call, nobody knows who's who and chaos happens. So I thought that was a really good example of the role that increasing the fidelity of the communication, the bandwidth of the communication. I'm not referring to the bits, but the type of information you can communicate, really is necessary, and it has a meaningful role to play in the future of how we can conduct many different use cases. So thank you for that moment. That was really helpful to me on my journey. 

ST: For your listeners, there's a kind of interesting set of questions that the scenario raises.

In structured collaboration, as you mentioned, there's a 3D placement, right? With engagement. Let's take a personal example. If you've ever been to a formal wedding event, you go to the head table, you get your speeches and everything.

There's usually a seating arrangement, right? But when speeches are made or when engagement is being done, it's located in a business or a collaboration setting.

Not only is this kind of formality useful, but there's also another dimension that I want to make sure that we bring attention to, which is really around cognition. We're at a point where we have so much technology and so many tools, the problem isn't that we don't have enough. The challenge is that we are imposing a significant cognitive pressure on the participants to be able to navigate this.

And in the court example, if you were a traditional video communication tool, like a Zoom or Teams, you've got the Brady bunch video and you've got to keep track of the tool, which imposes a load on all the parties. You have to manage all the things that are going on dynamically.

There's going to be content. There's going to be people coming in and out. There's going to be managing the audio and the video, and then what's being presented. Which case am I on? And what's happening next. That's a lot of load on all of them individually. At what point in time is that load going to start to impede on the purpose of this interaction, which is to have a hearing.

What we don't want to do is have the star of the show, be just the technology. It's really supposed to basically fade to the background and enable these interactions. And we need to do it in such a way that we're not imposing this cognitive decline on all the actors. And so the opportunity is to create this enhanced collaboration, which actually improves the cognition of all the participants.

ES: Right. So if you were able to graft the experience with the highest fidelity to the physical experience that people are accustomed to. And what the technology should do is enhance that, not create a new metaphor for that.

Then you don't need to reprocess all the information and put it back into the bucket, and your brain, of what it should look like. Right? It's like if we can have it as is, and then the technology should be focused on enhancing it — as opposed to trying to translate it. If you're listening to a courtroom through a radio show, you're missing a lot of fidelity.

And I think that's one of the areas that when we think about the metaverse, we think about it as an alternative space. That's the digital space. And when we think about space, we don't just think about geometry. We also think about the space of all of the ideas that are shared in that space. And then contemporary AI, when you do embeddings, which is a multi-dimensional space of maybe 1,024 vector space, it's also space.

You mentioned cognition and your close work at the cutting edge of this. As you look at large-scale systems and the cognitive services that Azure offers and Microsoft, how do you see that impacting and scaffolding what we're trying to accomplish over these systems? 

ST: On one hand, we need to find a way of helping with the cognitive load so that people can focus on what's important. And so that means that from information management, from a collaboration tool standpoint, from the actual work inside the environment, we need to make that more streamlined. Now that involves experts that are dealing with things like an industrial process, human factors, change management, right?

It's all about the employee experience at that level on the side of the tech stack. That's supporting it. We need to actually invest and actually bring forward a lot of the web 3.0 technology that will enable this and actually make it seamless. We need a really strong digital twin environment to be able to model and mock-up, and interact with things both in the real space and have the appropriate digital representation.

We need elements to do identity. And when you're in your identity there, and you're doing business interactions, as opposed to a social engagement, you're going to care a whole lot about who's there. And if they are who they represent. And then the actual transactional engagement, having concepts like a quantum ledger or the ability to know what's happening with the transactional interactions inside the space and do it in a way that we know the integrity of that agreement, especially for doing commerce in here.

So there are a whole plethora of skills. And from on the Azure side, everything from the work that has been done with the distributed identity. In the Azure areas around digital twins. Mapping, because obviously there's a rich venue in spatial mapping that needs to happen. If you're going to do e-commerce, obviously, you're going to want to interact with this.

We talked earlier about some of the transactional interactions, which require a whole set of services there. And of course, the venue itself, which I think Touchcast would provide the venue, but then you have a business adopting something like that, which would probably want to create that experience.

And, oh, by the way, when you're in the three-space. What are the rules in The Matrix, just to quote that reference, because actually, if you think about the metaverse, it is an informed culture and engagement model in this space. Organizations actually have the opportunity to find the set of rules that you want to use, for that engagement, and how you want to place the humans in there and, and provide that interaction.

So that's going to be an important aspect as well, about how to make this transition work. 

ES: It feels to me that when you look at a company corporation that's effectively like a big biological entity made up of the cells, of which is our individual voices. When it is a kind of an organism and that organism has knowledge.

And historically that knowledge was on paper. And then on tape, and now through the internet, but it's still predominantly the knowledge that was encoded as documents. That is the knowledge that constitutes the collective intelligence of an organization. But you can argue that the more important knowledge that the organization creates every day, it's just simply not encoded in documents, it's found in conversations like the one we're having now, as it applies to, you know, understanding the needs of your customer, a lot of different use cases. 

And it does seem like these are still fundamentally siloed. Like if you look at the Microsoft graph or, in general, we haven't evolved to that point yet where the collective conversations that everyone is having right now on the planet or for every company or group of people trying to solve a problem are actually a resource. 

In many ways, they are wasted, they are flushed down the toilet at the end of the interaction and not retrievable. And that obviously presents a lot of challenges, but it would be interesting to ask you where you think we are in that continuum, of making the fast verbal knowledge become an asset or organization.

ST: I mean, I think there's a tremendous opportunity there. We've seen some emergence of capabilities to do the notes and summarize meetings and engagements. I think that's a fantastic step. One disadvantage of trying to do that with today's technology is that you have all these rich AI and machine learning capabilities.

They really struggle to understand the meaning. To understand a lot about the interaction models that we have, because you're going to be able to do that through the productivity tools. But it's very difficult to capture the interaction models. One way potentially of doing it is to have these tools extend into meeting spaces in three dimensions, to understand the nuances of human-to-human behavior.

That's tough. A lot of humans are still learning about the subtleties of human-to-human interaction. So that makes it a tough journey. One interesting aspect of the metaverse, that's as interesting for us is when we decide that we're going to go into this venue and interact in a three-dimensional world.

Some of that representation and the interaction where you're looking, how you're navigating to a piece of content that you're interested in. If you're doing a shared collaboration on a document or a piece of content that you're working on a whiteboard. You know, having the folks collect together and who's updating what — some of those actions and activities can now be captured.

That's really going to give hints and help out with some of the machine learning elements. So I think we're very excited to do that because that's going to give us additional clues and context about intent and be able to do things and understand a little bit more about the expressive power of what you're trying to do with the content, as well as the intent.

And then also how you're approaching the content. Those signals would greatly help in understanding what it is that we want to summarize and, and derive meaning from the interaction. 

ES: Stephen, I can literally sit here and talk to you for another three hours. It's so fascinating. But unfortunately, our time is up. I would love to continue the conversation in the future. And for those that want to learn more about your world and your practices is there a place they can go?

ST: If you're interested in this sort of work, both Accentra and Avanade have published links on our site. You can look for our employee experience work. That encompasses a lot of what I've been talking about around how to improve productivity, the engagement, for employees within an organization. And I think that's, that's probably a great starting point. 

ES: Thank you for your generosity with your time and your wisdom.

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