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The way we work is about to change - again, a major functional reinvention is happening in cyberspace and we’re all invited to pick up a toolkit and learn a new trade, according to Alessandro Chimera, director of digitalisation strategy at TIBCO, a business unit of Cloud Software Group.
This is the era of the industrial metaverse, a wholly virtualised and abstracted environment where people and machines are represented by avatars and graphics all performing in an orchestrated ballet of digitally encoded workflows, tasks and functions.
Due to advancements in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, but more fundamentally fuelled by a quantum leap in algorithmic logic alongside cloud-based compute power and processing, we can now enter an industrial metaverse that details a 3D virtual world as creative or specific as we can imagine. This is the age of the industry-specific or industrial metaverse and it is going to change the way many of us work at our desks, in our factories and out in the field.
The industrial metaverse
The impact of the industrial metaverse will be seen almost everywhere, from banking to baking to broadcasting and from pharmaceuticals to petrochemicals to professional services. For want of a clearly illustrative example, we can take manufacturing as a vibrant development ground.
Manufacturing plants filled with machine noise, people, paperwork and punchcards are a thing of the past. Today we still have some noise (although advancements in soundproofing are amazing), but the people-centric processes are being eroded, not just because of robots, but also because we have digitised the workflows across the factory floor to represent their execution with digital twins. As we now embrace the era of Industry 4.0 we know that manufacturers collect and use data to decide how to re-organise production and make the best data-driven decisions. This is a world where the maintenance manager maintains, they maintain rather than spend time checking machines, systems, workflows and all forms of equipment looking for potential problems. The responsibility for predictive maintenance detection, planning and scheduling is now a data-driven entity within the total workflow of an organisation; this is the manufacturing metaverse in action.
The industrial metaverse exists in and amongst the heavy crates of the manufacturing or petrochemicals plant just as it does in the chocolate sprinkles that adorn the fancy cakes produced by enterprise-scale bakery businesses.
This way of working isn’t the sole preserve of Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) and tangible products we can hold in our hands or touch. We can apply the same family of AI engines and ML models to predict production issues in a plastics factory to the way a legal services firm operates.
Beyond the video games
If we think about the way the industrial metaverse is developing now, we need to get our minds past the slightly biased skew that stems from AR’s application in games like Pokémon GO and the virtual construction zone world scenarios found in Roblox, Minecraft and so on.
From a practical point of view, we can see the potential for industrial metaverse AI and AR to connect to so many different operational entities (supply chain, procurement process, sales and after-sales) all the way down to the retailing process. A span that will extend right down to the level of which shelf a product should be on in a physical store, or which part of a web page it needs to be for virtual sales.
By applying industrial metaverse intelligence, we can also manage inventory management and ship products between stores. We know that product demand may fluctuate between seasons and based on consumer or enterprise trends, but it will also be impacted by ‘events’ in the real world. Imagine a scenario where a one-off big football match between two major clubs in a specific place might require promotional shirts to be shipped to a new location.
We are now embracing even more operational entities through the industrial metaverse and by using digital twins as key enabling foundations, we are able to improve efficiency. We can also use AI and AR to train workers on relatively complex tasks such as automotive maintenance.
Thinking even further, we know that employers want ‘university-plus-one’ (+1) trainees, i.e. where that plus-one element is one year’s experience in another organisation. We can now train trainees to give that +1 year worth of immersive exposure to task or a role wholly and completely in the virtual space enabled by the industrial metaverse.
This dilemma is of course a challenge for the organisation’s that lose their +1 talent after 365 days when they leave to work for the competition. Far better all round is a scenario where people can acquire the practical talents they need while at university inside a virtual factory or other workspace. This win-win approach produces +1 skills on day one, all with minimal investment from the employer.
Inside the working mechanics of the industrial metaverse, we see a marked increase in the amount of time and dedication companies spend concentrating on data quality, data management and data analytics.
Because the industrial metaverse is always-on, managers can access inventory reports, product quality checks, supplier status alerts, plant or workplace production bottleneck alerts and every other conceivable aspect of operations that we can ascribe a digital measurement to.
Our zero human future
As we now build out the industrial metaverse, we may be headed to a point that we can call the ‘zero human’ future. This is a state of being where products and services are built, shipped, purchased and sold all with absolutely zero human intervention. There is no shopping or procurement or purchasing at any level, there is just a higher-level of data-centric user and enterprise preference logging that enables us to know what the supply pipe has to deliver.
Whether this slightly dystopian reality flattens out our taste for change, difference and diversity remains to be seen; what it will do for sure is to ensure constancy and consistency at the supply level, so perhaps we can harness that element for positive change.
There appears to be little doubt from a technology perspective that the foundations for the industrial metaverse are already in place. The challenges we face in terms of adoption may now come down to enabling these innovations to scale and shaping users’ perceptions through various forms of change management and long-term vision evangelism.
Reality is still real, only more so now, remember to plug yourself in.