Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The metaverse – is it the real deal?

by Chris Pottrell founder and MD of Nebula 

Over a year since Facebook’s rebrand announcement, and the unquestionable reality is that life – be it the metaverse or another type of augmented reality – is going to become much more virtual. With this, it becomes imperative for businesses to begin to consider whether this is a space they should finally pay attention to. 

Of course, the recent news of Meta’s ongoing financial crisis may appear to spell bad news for its future stake in the metaverse. But that is not to say that Zuckerberg’s vision will cease to continue. By all accounts, the Meta ambition is but one of a plethora of metaverse interpretations as tech giants race to be the first to establish ‘the next iteration of the web.’

This is seen as Apple prepares to reveal its game changing mixed-reality headset earlier this year while Microsoft, having already invested billions in game developer Activision Blizzard to provide the ‘building blocks for the metaverse,’ recently announced a new partnership with Meta to bring a virtual reality overlay to Teams. And its reported that Google is building its own metaverse as it ramps up mixed reality investment behind the scenes. 

Meanwhile, Nike now sells virtual trainers, HSBC has acquired Sandbox, and Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton have launched in Decentraland.

The upshot? While once a distant, futuristic idea, the concept of an immersive, virtual shared space is coming – and it has the capacity to change everything.

For small business owners, of course, this raises all types of questions. Principally, what does it mean for business and how can I prepare my business ahead of time?

To begin with, it’s important to first understand what the metaverse is. Broadly speaking, it can be defined as an integrated network of virtual reality and mixed reality worlds where people can meet, interact and do business. And it won’t be one entity but rather an ecosystem of various online worlds which will continue to grow as the market gets more competitive. This will mean, much like a URL, any size business will be able to own a space in the ‘realm.’

The result is a huge opportunity, especially for SMEs. As we all know, it is a hugely challenging time for the SME community amid the difficult economy and shifting consumer behaviours. This becomes even more pertinent  for bricks and mortar operators who also have to contend with the ‘death of the high street.’

The good news is the metaverse have the answer. This is because it enables smaller businesses a way to  create an immersive and interactive environment without the need for costly physical infrastructure. It also offers the ability to rapidly increase visibility and reach a much wider audience.

Another major advantage is the flexibility afforded by the metaverse. Want to overhaul your customer engagement model or test out a new product before its release quickly? No problem. By enabling infinite flexibility, the metaverse presents a unique opportunity for small business to respond to evolving customer behaviours and demand at pace without the limitations afforded by the traditional business model. In this way, the consensus is that it could potentially level the playing  field with larger businesses by helping smaller enterprises to compete on a global scale.

Thus, with the commercial benefits of joining the metaverse arguably conclusive, the question begs – how can SME business owners prepare for it?

Inherently, entering the metaverse will mean different things for different types of business. For one SME, it might mean establishing a virtual remote working environment for employees. For another, it could mean building an entire new virtual environment. 

Generally speaking though, the most obvious first step for any business owner seeking to prepare for this new 3D reality should be to undertake a robust assessment of the existing digital infrastructure. 

Today, many smaller businesses still rely on traditional, often aged IT architectures based on siloed, on-premises devices. However, this approach can be hugely restrictive in terms of the limited server capacity and slow deployment times. Considering the vast amount of storage and processing required to support a virtual reality world, the reality is that remote cloud-based computing will become the only option – and is therefore something for business leaders who aren’t already doing so to consider now.  A further benefit of a consumption-based cloud infrastructure is the ability for businesses to extend their network and adjust their bandwidth in line with evolving metaverse requirements. 

Next, it’s time to think about your access to smart analytics. Already, amid the backdrop of soaring digitisation and growing cyber security concerns, ensuring full visibility into network performance should be a critical consideration for any type of business. As the metaverse pushes bandwidth and storage requirements to the edge, this will become even more important in order to detect and address any changes on the network ahead of time, predict performance constraints and make recommendations for network changes.

It also goes without saying that cybersecurity should be a major priority. From facial recognition to biometric datal, the sensitive behavioural data held in the metaverse could be a goldmine for hackers. That means having a robust, watertight cybersecurity programme complete with the  correct protection, detection and response strategy is absolutely essential – ideally developed by an expert IT consultancy in the field.

The reality is that the metaverse is still a long way off. Mark Zuckerberg estimates it as ten years from now at least. However, that is not to say that SME businesses can afford to lose sight of the conversation. Rather, by taking stock of their digital infrastructure today they can ensure they are prepared for when this new realm of opportunity arrives.