Metaverse is the “next big thing” in the internet world, at least in the view of a number of web-watchers and analysts. A quick search could make you think it was something to help gamers invent and move about in their virtual worlds. Or perhaps to enable fashion enthusiasts to virtually “try on” clothes they’re tempted to buy. And the metaverse does offer that.
But that’s not all it can do. This technology – or, more accurately, this convergence of technologies – also provides potential benefits to companies within the business-to-business (B2B) sector as well as business-to-consumer (B2C).
From gaming to the supply chain
Let’s start by defining what the word metaverse means. It’s a portmanteau word composed of meta (as in metadata, or data that “sits above” other data and describes it), and universe. Some people see it as meaning an alternative universe created by people interacting with technologies and with each other, especially in the gaming area. Examples here include popular games like “Fortnite” and “Minecraft”. From the B2B perspective, however, the metaverse has less to do with gaming and more to do with a convergence of different technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) and digital twins.
Mix and match
In this sense, metaverse technologies can be mixed and matched to simulate, verify and streamline production and processes. For example, companies could implement metaverse technologies in their supply chain to improve and accelerate incoming and outgoing warehouse workflows or optimise hands-on training courses. Metaverse technologies clearly require huge amounts of data and processing power, but with the massive growth in cloud-based services – and the availability of computing power on demand – this is no longer unrealistic.
Connecting the dots
For supply chain and logistics processes, the metaverse could also interconnect elements in the supply chain process that are often still isolated today. For example, by analysing both supply and demand data together, companies will have a better idea of what customers want and be able to respond faster. They could see an immersive view of everything in their warehouse by using VR, AR and IoT technologies, easily pinpointing inventory location and quantities. That would enable them to send out products to customers faster, and reorder new stock automatically if necessary. Taking predictability further, they could even “walk” virtually through ports, logistics companies’ delivery depots, or rail freight stations. That way, they could check for transport availability or identify bottlenecks and take remedial action where necessary.
The virtual “walks” described above would clearly require working with the relevant port or transport organisations. Taking visual access a step further, supermarkets could create a collaborative supply chain metaverse shared by their manufacturers, suppliers, business partners, logistics firms and everyone else involved in the retail supply chain. They could share sales forecasts for certain items or details of upcoming promotions to ensure they order the right product quantities and receive them at the right time, while manufacturers can adjust production quantities to expected demand. These efficiencies save money as well as time, and perhaps wastage, for everyone involved.
Digital twins beyond the factory
Another technology under the metaverse umbrella is the digital twin. This is already in use at many engineering companies. It involves using AI-generated data to create a virtual copy of a new product – such as a car or production machine – before it is manufactured. That allows engineers to use AR and VR to run a wide range of tests on the virtual product and tweak features or attributes where necessary, saving time and unforeseen problems post-production. In the same way, companies can create a digital twin of their logistics processes or even their entire supply chain, running stress tests and what-if scenarios on it to identify potential improvements.
While the gaming metaverse involves (largely) imagined worlds, the B2B metaverse is very firmly rooted in everyday business realities – and the technologies are already available today. It will be fascinating to see how supply chains change and improve in the coming years with the metaverse leading the transformation.