The business of the metaverse – what’s new?

As metaverse technologies continue to make massive advances and promise to disrupt the consumer experience, Chris Pottrell, above, founder and MD of Nebula explores the latest updates and what it all means for the SME market.

During 2022 it, of course, seemed that the term ‘metaverse’ was on everybody’s lips. Ever since Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s rebrand as part of his grand vision for the ‘next iteration of the web’, it appeared just about everyone was keen to let us know about their own plans to take part in a vast virtual world. No surprise, given that tech’s next ‘disruptive revolution’ is said to add $5 trillion to the value of the global economy by 2030.

The good news too is that this comes even in spite of Meta’s recent financial woes. After all, although the ‘metaverse’ conversation began with Facebook,  big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and a host of others soon followed and continue to race for the pedestal.

We now have ‘Microsoft Mesh’, a mixed-reality communication platform that’s based on holograms, using 3D captures to let people work together as if they were in the same space. It’s also reported that both Apple and Google are developing their own – soon to be announced – metaverses as they ramp up mixed reality investment behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana have launched exclusive digital clothing, Nike now sells virtual trainers and Disney offers virtual tours of their parks and rides.

The result is that, while once, perhaps, a distant vision, the metaverse – whatever form it may take – is coming.

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

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

To begin with, it’s important to first understand what the metaverse is. Broadly speaking, it can be defined 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 will 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.

Ultimately, we are, of course, at the very early stages of the metaverse conversation. It still remains to been what form it will take, how (and even if) it will work. However, that doesn’t mean that SMEs can afford to ignore it and must continue to keep a close ear to the ground. After all, like most of the biggest tech innovations leaps before it, it will most likely be the early adopters of the metaverse that will win the race.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024