By Martin Sawtell, XR director of the Experience Innovation Group at Dell Technologies and Matt Coppinger, director of product management, VMware
The concept of the “metaverse,” at least as it is being hyped today, is divisive. Proponents dream of a fantastical new type of cyberspace—a synthetic, virtual world we can all participate in and connect to. Critics fear a future in which we are strapped into virtual reality (VR) headsets for many hours a day.
This conversation of what is real and what is hyped is moving beyond consumer experiences and into the enterprise. The reality of immersive experiences will likely fall somewhere in between the extremes. The potential to elevate today’s internet from 2D screens to an interconnected 3D space is compelling on a number of levels. But the skeptics have valid points too. Immersive experiences must be built and rolled out with people’s readiness to adopt, their preferences and of course, privacy concerns in mind.
The good news is that while the idea of a metaverse isn’t new, it’s still early days and we have an opportunity to evolve immersive experiences to be meaningful for both consumers and corporate applications.
The metaverse of tomorrow and what it means today
The present state of the metaverse is a patchwork. Today, you can customize a “Roblox” avatar, but you can’t yet bring it to a VR retail space on a different platform to shop for NFT (nonfungible token) shoes. In the future, we will need advancements in interoperability, infrastructure, security and agreed standards to achieve the grand vision of “the next internet.” Metaverses will require an open ecosystem approach, as opposed to walled gardens that limit innovation.
Dell Technologies’ global chief technology officer John Roese noted in a recent SXSW panel that immersive experiences will need to be integrated to allow for real and virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology (also known as extended or converged reality). This is being developed and enabled today, with an intelligence-driven platform and “compute everywhere” IT environment.
- Intelligence-driven platform
A digital workspace platform that can securely manage devices, applications, content and infrastructure is a game-changer. With an intelligence-driven approach, you control your experience, e.g., decide what 2D and 3D apps to launch and how they’ll “show up” in your view. And you can break free from the constraints of either a tethered VR/AR device or an untethered device with low-power CPUs and GPUs. Rather than contending with a cable or low fidelity, you can now manage compute for complex geometry, rendering, CAD (Computer-Aided Design), etc. on a server, while displaying the information via a VR or AR headset. Essentially, you can take an XR headset from novelty value to a truly immersive mobile device for common business use.
- “Compute everywhere” IT infrastructure
The pendulum swing from centralized to decentralized real-time compute is enabling the interconnectivity and interoperability that will define immersive experiences. This shift will require a “compute everywhere” strategy, featuring artificial intelligence and machine learning, 5G connectivity and a multi-cloud ecosystem at the edge. These components will be critical to supporting fluid experiences in VR, as well as the many applications that exist in a virtual world. Without this level of real-time connectivity, the compelling use cases for a metaverse will remain tantalizingly out-of-reach.
The reality of the immersive enterprise
The hyper-immersive converged reality that is often discussed isn’t ready for prime time yet. However, with an intelligence-driven platform and “compute everywhere” IT infrastructure, there are plenty of early-adopter opportunities for organizations.
- Training: Augmented Reality (AR) and VR spaces can provide a safe, replicable environment for professional development, particularly in “hands-on” technical industries where “seeing” is so impactful, e.g., healthcare and manufacturing. In traditional offices, “immersive storytelling” may prove an effective onboarding tool that facilitates better information retention than content from a 2D slideshow. In fact, studies show immersive training is 83% more effective than traditional methods.
- Collaboration: Breakthrough, a recent study conducted by Dell, found that despite the rise of remote work, 58% of respondents do not feel they have a better work-life balance than before the pandemic. Many respondents reported that they still find it difficult to collaborate remotely or build relationships. Immersive collaboration spaces could relieve this sense of dislocation by providing a way to foster deeper human connections. Immersive meetings would allow distributed colleagues to meet with more “presence,” review 3D content at human scale, collaborate on “infinite” virtual whiteboards or even conduct engaging team-building events.
- Visualization and optimization: “Digital twins” (i.e., virtual representations of objects, systems or people) have almost limitless potential. They can be used for design visualization and review, civil engineering planning such as 5G tower placement, factory process optimization, medical research and more. On a more granular level, digital twins and “assisted reality” could help optimize inventory logistics, identify paths through crowded public spaces, etc.
- Branded experiences: Organizations are tapping into virtual venues for try-ons or product demos. The immersive component would allow customers to test out products from the comfort of their homes. Gamified events could provide a whole new world of possibilities for product placements and brand activations.
- Remote support: Customer and IT support could benefit by improving access to domain experts without needing them to be physically onsite. Imagine if a piece of specialist machinery breaks. You may not have an expert onsite, but they can be virtually present to guide the novice through the necessary steps.
Investing in the right IT for immersive experiences
It’s clear there’s a lot of work ahead. Investing in digital infrastructure across cloud and edge environments gives you a running head start. The compute capacity required to run rich virtual workloads at the edge will take time to reach critical mass adoption. But laying the foundation now will make the transition easier when you’re ready.
And then there are the devices: Does your existing device management solution work with XR devices and content? Can you easily integrate XR content with existing identity systems? Is your IT infrastructure up to the task? And most importantly—are your team members ready to engage and create new experiences that help them connect and drive growth? This isn’t just about the technology, it’s about the culture of your organization as well.
Making the metaverse a viable business medium isn’t just on you. It will take a village to build rich experiences. We need common industry standards to achieve interoperability across applications and environments. And, of course, shared trust must also be woven into the foundation.
But intentionality on your part is a must. Considering whether you need a metaverse strategy is one of those times when you need to pause the job of “maintaining” and look to the near future. To navigate the virtual maze that lies ahead, you’ll need to make bold bets in technology and break through barriers to adoption.
Lead photo courtesy of Getty Images