You’ve heard it by now: the metaverse, that immersive network of 3-D virtual environments that could either be a lot of marketing hype or an $800 billion market by 2024. Made up of virtual and augmented reality, the metaverse is a mashup of the digital and physical world, a limitless landscape for social connection, gaming and entertainment where users can interact and buy and sell goods. And while big tech and consumer brands are already jockeying for market share, the metaverse won’t be owned or serviced by any one company, creating a vast digital bazaar of disparate tools, platforms and products.
Digital supply chains are nothing new, but to date, they’ve facilitated the transportation of physical goods, whereas in the metaverse it will be reversed—a digital-first environment that is then translated onto the physical world. And because the metaverse is device agnostic, we can expect a whole host of challenges as different companies set up shop, innovate and expand. This means the normal physical supply chain stressors like geopolitical events, weather or ships trapped in canals will be supplanted by metaverse supply chain complications stemming from an explosion of data.
Feeling The Flow
Regardless of whether the metaverse comes fully to fruition, the shift to a world made up of digital products and digital experiences means the logistical structures we’ve come to rely upon in our physical world will be made redundant. The manufacturing, purchasing, shipping and warehousing of physical products is largely unnecessary in the metaverse, where items will move virtually and be stored in the cloud. Instead, data is the raw material being moved downstream. And as the digital connectedness of our systems expands, so too do the levels of data complexity, interoperability and security.
It’s a lot to unpack, but here are four high-level considerations for data in the metaverse:
1. Data Portability
Data portability is how data is able to move among different applications, programs or cloud storage services. In the metaverse, where even more people and organizations will be storing their data in the cloud, users must be able to seamlessly transfer their digital possessions from one service (or world) to another. Put a different way, data may soon be the equivalent of wealth, and you’ll want to have access to it wherever you go. Just imagine paying for a storage unit and then not being able to unlock the door.
Companies that take steps now to ensure their data is portable will be building resilience for the future, ensuring their customers don’t switch to better-optimized competitors and creating the option to shop for cheaper tiers of storage across multiple providers, thereby reducing costs.
2. Interoperable Data
Closely tied to portability is the interoperability of data, a key component to all of these new metaverse features and capabilities working together. Remember, the metaverse is a new ecosystem, and just like the physical world where a product needs to maintain its integrity from point A to point B, a successful virtual world requires the viability of assets in multiple locations. Companies need their business data to flow uninterrupted between their systems and customers/suppliers, while consumers need to be confident their personal data can move through the metaverse without the need to manage multiple wallets or create dozens of different identities.
Will the metaverse be a totally open economy? Probably not; however, the current walled garden approach to data may be abandoned as power is decentralized, shifting from big tech to people who want to explore the metaverse unencumbered.
3. Data Ownership
When any new technology is introduced and designed to scale (from mobile phones to social media), privacy concerns are inevitable. And rightly so, given the speculation that the metaverse will be able to track individual behavior in a “much more intimate manner.” According to a recent data protection report, in the metaverse “companies can monitor physiological responses and biometric data such as facial expressions, vocal inflections, and vital signs in real time.” Creepiness aside, this sensitive behavioral data can be a goldmine for advertisers/marketers, and it must be protected.
Increased regulation is sure to follow, but companies need to carefully consider the security of their data (i.e., ownership, dissemination, tracking, etc.), especially during these “Wild West days” when data will be flooding the metaverse. Setting up clear guidelines about how this data will be collected and shared (both with consumers and through the data supply chain) will go a long way toward increasing widespread public adoption of the metaverse as a safe, secure environment.
4. Engineering Raw Data
It is estimated that we will have created more than 180 zettabytes of data by the year 2025. While storing this amount of data is a feat itself, it’s significantly more complex to derive value from it, information that could be gathered/used in the metaverse to make better business decisions, improve customer service and increase profitability. But all of these lucrative new data pipelines will be worthless without quality data engineers to monitor/optimize the inputs and outputs.
Data engineers will have several challenges ahead in the metaverse, similar to issues they currently face when merging the physical and digital worlds. For example, in the retail market (where brands like Nike, Gucci and Samsung have already made sizeable metaverse investments), data engineers will have to adapt to AI/machine learning, use predictive analytics to forecast supply and demand and model “what if” scenarios to minimize potential risks. The bottom line is that the metaverse will create entirely original, complex data pipelines that will require sophisticated data engineers to ensure information flows continuously and is kept up-to-date.
While speculation on the metaverse is sure to continue in the year ahead, forward-thinking companies can ensure their data is prepared, protected and portable in whatever future reality we find ourselves.