Why The Metaverse Matters To CIOs

The technologies, products and currencies of the virtual network known as the metaverse all fall squarely in the information chief’s domain, says Suzie Smibert, CIO of OvareGroup.

Does the “metaverse” matter? Even if it doesn’t for your company yet, the day will come, predicts Suzie Smibert, executive vice president and CIO of OvareGroup, a Los Angeles-based holding company with specialty firms in content development, marketing technology and strategic services. She argues it’s time for CIOs to consider what the metaverse means for IT teams.

OvareGroup, which operates globally with offices in Austin, Cincinnati, Columbus, Los Angeles, Louisville, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver, already has some experience. Smibert spoke with StrategicCIO360 about what’s ahead, how to shift IT from a cost center to a profit center and why tech professionals are burnt out.

How will the metaverse impact the role of CIOs?

Broadly speaking, the technologies that make up the metaverse include virtual reality, characterized by persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you’re not playing, as well as augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. The metaverse also translates to a digital economy, where users can create, buy and sell goods—and that has huge implications for CIOs.

Decisions about how and when to accept cryptocurrency as payment—and the functional realities of dealing with a rapidly fluctuating currency—will likely fall to the CIO. Additionally, CIOs will be integrally involved in the development of metaverse products, from creating them, selling them and providing for payment mechanisms, to ensuring that customers have a positive virtual experience.

Here’s an example: In the real world, you can buy a shirt from a retailer and wear it to a movie theater. Right now, most platforms have virtual identities, avatars and inventories that are tied to just one platform, but a metaverse might allow you to create a persona that you can take everywhere as easily as you can copy your profile picture from one social network to another.

What is the next big innovation in the role of IT and CIOs?

In most organizations, IT is a shared service and a cost center. But what if IT could build products and start generating revenue? When our company went looking for a tool to analyze eye patterns and couldn’t find a suitable one, we decided to create our own. We knew that this tool would be beneficial to our clients. My team identified a technology tool that was previously used primarily for research and academia and retrofitted it for agency use. The tool allows any webcam to track the eye movements of consumers who are reading or looking at a piece of advertising. This eliminated the need for specialized equipment and infrastructure.

Once the tool was built, our marketing team put together materials to sell the tool—first internally to the agency leaders, and ultimately externally to clients. The tool is now used by several agency clients to help make critical decisions on advertising layouts and campaigns. One application is to evaluate menu design for AdCucina’s restaurant clients.

What is one of the biggest mistakes you see CIOs making?

Failing to take care of our teams and focus on the more human aspects of management. Burnout rates for tech professionals are topping 64 percent—we’re in the midst of the Great Resignation and technology teams have been working long hours to accommodate remote workers during the two-year pandemic. Attracting and retaining top talent is more challenging than ever.

It used to be that when there was an IT issue, such as a cybersecurity threat or an outage, it was all hands on deck for as long as it took. If employees had to work around the clock, it was expected. If their family lives suffered, there were no accommodations made.

How do you ensure that your team is cared for?

I’m privileged to work at an organization that puts people first, but it’s my job to ensure that the rest of the organization is aligned with our priorities, especially when they need to shift quickly. I sometimes need to run interference for the team so that they can work uninterrupted on the most pressing priorities.

Additionally, I believe in building cross-functional teams where everyone can pitch in and help solve problems. It’s not unusual that we have data engineers working on a ticket or a help desk person assisting with an infrastructure problem.

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