Figures with VR glasses

Wind the clock back two years and everyone was talking about the metaverse. Such was the hype that Mark Zuckerberg even chose to rebrand Facebook to Meta in October 2021, a decision he may have subsequently rued. Of course, all the buzz in the tech world has now shifted to AI.

Nonetheless, the metaverse concept is still alive and kicking. Many people continue, for example, to use Roblox as a medium not only for playing games but also for interacting with friends in virtual worlds – even if shares in the business have fallen more than 70% from their peak. More interestingly, your author encountered the term ‘industrial metaverse’ for the first time last week when on a business trip to Germany.

Metaverse has always been a nebulous concept at best. However, its relevance was framed to us in the following context. Consider that 80% of the global workforce do deskless jobs, implying 2.7bn de facto ‘frontline’ employees. Then take the increasing complexity of many roles (say, operating or maintaining machinery) combined with a scarcity of skilled workers, and the obvious conclusion should be that there is a higher need for efficiency. Think then of the concept of industrial metaverse as being a synonym for a holistic digitalisation of the shop floor embracing both machines and humans.

This proposition was put to us by TeamViewer, a ~€3bn business based close to Stuttgart. Readers may be familiar with the company since it sponsors both Manchester United and the Mercedes F1 team. Their IT department at work may also use some of the company’s products. TeamViewer’s Frontline product marries hardware and software to allow workers access to hands-free information and to view data in real-time, resulting in fewer task errors and higher performance. Use cases could include within logistics, manufacturing, maintenance, training and field service.

Man in augmented reality goggles at the coffee machine

Your author even got a chance see how the technology works. Sporting a pair of Microsoft Hololens augmented reality goggles, I was able to notionally repair a coffee machine without the need to call out an engineer. TeamViewer’s proprietary software allows the user (i.e., me) to see on their augmented reality goggles exactly what a remote technician would be seeing on a computer screen – in this case, the inside of a coffee machine. Within the interface of the goggles, prompt boxes come up, guiding the user how to repair it. The hardware was better than recalled – lighter to wear with almost no sense of motion sickness – and the software highly intuitive. TeamViewer cited real world case studies where blue-chip companies had achieved markedly higher picking speeds (in warehouses) or faster onboarding times of new employees using the Frontline product. While still early days, the metaverse may finally be getting a second life.

8 August 2023

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Heptagon Capital is an investor in TeamViewer. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.

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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager

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