Welcome to the metaverse, the digital future we’ve been imagining for many years. A virtual world where we can meet, explore, shop, collaborate and create. Some fear this is the beginning of a dystopian future envisioned by the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, while many more see it as the next big evolution of the internet, opening a world of new opportunities.
The metaverse is all the rage in the world of IT and most certainly one of the latest buzzwords. While there has been hype around virtual reality before, with it not quite taking off as was expected, this time it looks different, as though the horse has bolted. To enable true interoperability and ensure a real-time experience, there will need to be lakes of data shared instantaneously across platforms and ecosystems. Legal and regulatory issues aside, businesses and vendors will need to be able to move huge workloads safely and on-demand, in real-time, every time, over and over again. A clear Modern Data Protection strategy and effective management is already crucial for any information-dependent operation. But in this world, it will become even more so.
C-suites need to start asking questions about how their organisations will exist in the era of the metaverse and how they intend to use it or build a strategy around it. Will it be for immersive workspaces, to interact with customers, to sell goods and services or to add value to or streamline their real-world operations? A good starting point would be to consider the data and then think about the infrastructure required to support it.
Facebook has changed its name to Meta, in a bet upon our future being built around the metaverse. Big tech is moving fast and investing huge amounts of resources into the concept., Microsoft’s moves and investments hint at a whole new world of business applications to come for South African businesses (not just those in Silicon Valley).
Imagine something like the full Microsoft 365 experience being augmented with virtual reality. Imagine meeting co-workers and clients from around the world in a virtual boardroom with windows opening onto the shores of the Pacific Ocean without leaving your home office. Imagine being able to interact with this world the way you would in a physical space. Imagine your customers strolling through a virtual mall, touching, and interacting with your product before buying it. Imagine selling a product that’s used exclusively in the virtual world – perhaps a new work wardrobe for your avatar.
While AI and smart glasses are already in use to guide critical workers through complex operations such as assembling power plants or jet engines, imagine all your complex manufacturing happening in a virtual twin world. Exciting or terrifying? You decide, but the metaverse race is on.
Before the C-suite can start thinking ahead and building the metaverse into its long-term strategy horizon, it needs to comprehend exactly what we are talking about. The metaverse will exist despite place and time – one can see why it was the stuff of sci-fi in previous years. Those using the metaverse will be able to interact with each other in real-time, no matter where they are physically in the world. We’re not talking about a video call, such as those the pandemic has made people very familiar with. Rather, we are talking about interacting as if they were in the real world.
While those of us with children understand games such as Fortnite, the metaverse will take this up many notches. It will be interoperable – meaning that avatars or items built or purchased in one platform will be able to be used in another, and the physical devices that are used to enter the virtual world will be able to be used anywhere – the days of vendor-locked access will be long gone.
It will spur a whole new economy where people and businesses exchange goods and services. While this is not unusual in games such as Fortnite, the value being traded will be recognised by everyone and may well be cryptocurrency based on the blockchain or flat currency transferred digitally – we just don’t know yet.
But what does any of this mean? To be frank, it means nothing without data. This is not a rewrite of the laws of computing or a rethink of reality. It is an evolution of how we generate and manage data. Yesterday (and today) the focus was on big data, efficiency, business intelligence, user experience, unified communications, and much more. Our next quantum leap in commuting – into the metaverse – will be determined by how we plan, strategise and manage data.
In other words, this potential, this dream – or nightmare, depending on your orientation – can only be possible if organisations are confident that the data being generated is available or if not, can be restored quickly. None of this is even possible if organisations do not invest in platforms that will grow and scale – most likely exponentially – with their metaverse ambitions. None of this will be possible if the data cannot be protected every step of the way.
However, as well as protecting the systems where data resides or runs across, businesses will need to protect data from their users’ standpoint too.
The first thing that springs to mind is: data privacy. Laws around data privacy are only going to become stricter. All services and products developed around, for, or in, the metaverse will need to be built around protecting the privacy of users.
If you consider that vendors would in theory be able to monitor our eyes, such as where we glance and how long we hold contact for, our brainwaves, our heart rate and blood pressure, just imagine the rich data sets that could be built around us to offer tailored experiences – including direct sales. While the concept of co-opetition is gaining popularity, where is the line drawn to demarcate anti-competitive behaviour?
Beyond privacy, cybersecurity will be magnified beyond current levels of understanding. Illusions, theft, deep fake impersonations, as well as traditional breaches and ransomware, could be catastrophic and near-impossible to identify.
Modern Data Protection, especially backup, recovery and security, has been crucial for many years. The rapid digitisation and uptake of hybrid cloud strategies have escalated the need for effective, interoperable data management. The metaverse will ramp things up several gears more. There will be no “before and after” metaverse. Platforms and applications will be developed and patched together and the metaverse will most likely be built organically and before we know it, we’ll all be in it. However, before we get carried away with high-res touch sensors and visions of how we’ll trade in virtual 3D stores, C-suites must start thinking about how they’ll manage the integrity, safety and availability of their customers’ data and the multifarious environments it’ll run over. Organisations must be thinking about ecosystems that can seamlessly scale with all this in mind. Modern Data Protection should be central to every digital strategy now and in the metaverse to come.