IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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Industrial metaverse spurs new gains in digital transformation
Wed, 6th Dec 2023

Companies across the Pacific region have built down many digital technologies but have yet to realise the full potential of their investments.

In the world of industrial technology, there is excitement at the possibilities of harnessing digital twins, artificial intelligence, internet of things and cloud. 

Some or all of these technologies have been introduced into industrial environments, not only as part of recent digital transformation initiatives but also to help organisations plan and accelerate decarbonisation efforts.

Crucially, the excitement exists for these technologies operating in a standalone fashion: many organisations have not yet tightly integrated these technologies together. However, the rise of the industrial metaverse, as a concept and operational ‘north star’, is putting integration and interconnection on the architecture and technology strategy roadmaps of industrial firms everywhere.

When all of these technologies become interconnected, the industrial metaverse is created: an always-on world connecting real factories, machines, data and people in virtual ways. 

It promises to create a persistent virtual environment where multiple teams can collaborate in real-time across any device. Moreover, everyone within the industrial metaverse will have access to the full gamut of up-to-date operations and engineering data streams. 

Plug in the power of AI, and this information can be presented in context in the form of a common digital thread that brings together historical data, the potential for new concepts, business forecasts, and more sustainable business models.  

McKinsey sees clear potential for the industrial metaverse. Energy and resources, high tech, and the automotive industries are leading metaverse adoption today, according to the global consultancy. It said: “Some 95% of business leaders expect the metaverse to have a positive impact on their industry within five to ten years, and 61% expect it to moderately change the way their industry operates.”

A big USP is the low barrier to entry

Unlike other emerging technologies, the industrial metaverse has surprisingly few barriers to entry.

As discussed, industrial organisations may already have in place most of what they need from a technology perspective. While it’s still being defined, the technology powering the industrial metaverse includes virtual and augmented reality, digital twins, cloud computing, the internet of things and AI.

This is all technology that not only exists today but also can be found bedded down in many industrial organisations, often with a high degree of operational maturity. 

So what’s missing isn’t the core ‘building blocks’ of the industrial metaverse. It is essentially an interconnection layer. These individual technology components are often siloed for one reason or another, and so the focus is connecting the pieces together to create a metaverse environment that can support sustainable innovation within the industrial sphere.

That naturally removes a degree of cost as a barrier to entry. The investment required is an incremental addition to existing digital transformation programs. Many companies will, therefore, be able to launch pilot trials for a relatively low financial risk. 

Another way the cost barrier is lowered is because the industrial metaverse is designed to be consumed by staff on devices they already have, in the same way they already access other corporate applications. The industrial metaverse will initially be accessed as extensions to internet browsers and messenger apps, which is likely to evolve as time goes on, but there is no requirement to invest in expensive virtual reality headsets. 

Staff participating in the industrial metaverse will look, for all intents and purposes, like staff that are engaged in their digital workplace today. 

The difference is that they will have a significantly enhanced ability to engage and collaborate with each other. And they can optimise systems, processes and operations to enhance efficiency and energy use, increase output and drive revenue, compared to the level of change they can effect with many of the same core pieces of technology today.

Taking the next step

The potential of the industrial metaverse means its arrival is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. The world’s largest hyperscalers are already working on programs to identify its true potential. Unlike other, previously over-hyped technologies, the appeal of the metaverse is about how we can improve working together. That basic proposition will have plenty of takers - expect to see the first major applications being rolled out within the next 12 months.

That said, there could be concerns around data privacy, intellectual property, cybersecurity, and compliance. Industrial metaverse applications will need to adhere to the security requirements as with any enterprise-level application.

For businesses that have already implemented a digital twin, many of the identity, security, and privacy requirements will have already been discovered and met.

There is a wealth of opportunities in the industry, but we see the greatest potential for organisations that work in data-rich business environments and depend on sensor data and up-to-date information.  

We also see opportunities arising when deep and specific expertise is required at short notice to resolve issues. Such opportunities include factory operations, supply chain management, construction simulations during design, safety assessments, operations optimisation, and any time when people meet to solve design, construction or operations issues together.