Evolution rather than revolution

Interview: Why the metaverse is (still) a distant prospect for Swiss SMEs

Patrick Labud and Marco Ravicini have seen many IT trends come and go over the course of their careers. In this interview, the co-authors of bbv’s Technica Radar tell us, among other things, why they favour ethical software development over the metaverse, where energy could be saved and which IT topic should take centre stage in every company.

12.12.2022Text: bbv0 Comments
Technica Radar Vol. 3

The interview was conducted by Michel Vogel from “Swiss IT Magazine”

Mr. Labud and Mr. Ravicini, what led two Swiss software consultants such as yourselves to develop a tool like the Technica Radar?
Patrick Labud:
We have been creating technology forecasts for many years and coordinate with one other internally on a regular basis as to which technologies we would like to experiment with, which of our customers might be open to trying something new and what we should focus on in terms of employee training and development. At some point then we wondered if we should also bring this knowledge and our work to bear in the Swiss market, too.

Are similar offers and services not already available from well-known market researchers, like Gartner?
Patrick Labud:
Half of the major trends identified by Gartner are not relevant for Swiss SMEs, because they only impact companies over a certain size. One option, of course, would be to take these concepts and try to adapt them to your own company.
Marco Ravicini: That’s not so easy, however, because Gartner focuses on companies that operate internationally and employ upwards of 10,000 people. That’s why we decided to use the Technica Radar to highlight these trends.

Definitely not an easy task. Did particular challenges arise when you were creating the current Technica Radar?
Patrick Labud:
The greatest challenge we faced was being constantly asked what the next big trend would be – and we came to the conclusion that an evolution rather than a revolution is taking place at the moment. So while there is no mega trend, various topics have become bigger and more complex.

So what about the metaverse? Is that not the “next big thing”? It doesn’t seem to be on your radar.
Patrick Labud: That’s true. On the one hand, this is due to the gap we mentioned between major international trends and the Swiss SME landscape. On the other hand, the “right” metaverse – in other words a highly immersive and connected online parallel world – is still a long way off in our view.
Marco Ravicini: It is important for Swiss companies, however, not to miss the metaverse train and get left behind. The metaverse and Web 3 technologies will become highly commercialised and the technology will therefore advance very quickly.
Patrick Labud: There are still many challenges to overcome, however. For example, the metaverse needs skills and resources that are not yet that widely available on the market – for instance in terms of creating 3D content. At the same time, virtual reality (VR) technology is not yet accessible to everyone. Depending on the study, 10 to 18 per cent of the population are currently still excluded due to factors like epilepsy or limited cognitive abilities.
Marco Ravicini: While VR hardware continues to improve and become more widespread, we’re still a long way away from everyone being able to afford the metaverse. Nevertheless, in Switzerland we can see that some companies are starting to carry out experiments in the metaverse. These include providers with a special focus on the metaverse and larger companies, including banks.

Half of the major Gartner trends are not relevant for Swiss SMEs.”

Patrick Labud

Are there other special features or developments in the Technica Radar 2022 you would like to highlight?
Marco Ravicini:
Apart from the metaverse, there is currently no hype topic that everyone is talking about. However, companies have picked up on certain trends and are using them intensively, such as cloud computing or the Internet of Things (IoT). Various new challenges are emerging in these areas that need to be resolved.
Patrick Labud: Incidentally, not every IoT project is also necessarily a cloud project. But we can see that various interface topics, such as edge computing, are gathering momentum at present. In addition, distributed clouds and multi-clouds, cloud governance as well as all legal aspects or questions about efficient management in connection with cloud computing are becoming increasingly important.

Among the more than 80 trends you have listed and weighted, IT security is one of them. A topic no company can ignore.
Patrick Labud: Precisely, because it doesn’t matter which IT project you undertake, the first thing to take care of is security. The next thing is to make sure that the security is right. And if I want to be absolutely sure that I haven’t forgotten anything, I check the security again (laughs). Joking aside: In times when cyber attacks are the order of the day, IT security is an extremely important topic. It’s no wonder we are focusing so intently on it at the moment at bbv.
Marco Ravicini: We are already supporting our customers today using threat modelling, in other words risk analysis, to systematically search for security vulnerabilities in their software. In the future, we will also offer additional IT security services.
Patrick Labud: At the same time, it is not easy for SMEs to enhance their internal security know-how and find specialists. That’s why we are seeing a major trend towards partner networks and collaboration in such specialised areas as IT security.

 

Technica Radar Vol. 3
Marco Ravicini (left) and Patrick Labud from bbv’s CTO Board. Axel Hohnberg is missing.

 

Leaving aside the key topic of IT security: Are there any trends that you might have personally rated differently or higher in the current Technica Radar?
Marco Ravicini:
Yes, there are. The Ethical OS framework is something of a personal favourite for us on the CTO Board and we give a lot of thought to the ethical aspects of software and technology development. Not only do we find this topic interesting, but also important. It is not yet properly recognised in Switzerland and in our SMEs, however, although there are initial initiatives in the area of data ethics, for example.
Patrick Labud: Many of us feel overwhelmed by the fact that every gadget and every great software solution can potentially be misused. Becoming aware of this risk is valuable in our eyes – and already solves a number of problems. That’s what the Ethical OS is for. My dream would be for this tool to become firmly embedded in companies. But we are still a long way off this.
Marco Ravicini: A lot could be achieved in a very short time and the effort is worth it even if just one new risk emerges from the investigation.
Patrick Labud: It’s like with software quality: Everyone thinks that you can make savings here – until you face financial consequences. Conclusion: Anyone involved in software development should definitely take a look at the free framework.

As the person responsible for IT in an SME, should I worry if I am not yet familiar with terms like Ethical OS or other trends in the current Technica Radar?
Marco Ravicini: No, not at all. You can’t possibly know all there is to know these days. Because they are trends, we have also mostly adopted the designations as they are most commonly used in the forums and communities. There are therefore definitely technical terms that you will not have heard of before. What is important in my view is to stay interested in new things, to look at unknown trends and identify areas of the company where they could be used. The reason why our technical radar is there is to introduce new topics to Swiss SMEs.
Patrick Labud: We, too, are not confronted with all trends in our everyday work. We therefore rely on our experts who are well versed in the particular topics.

“I see great potential in the area of AI and ML. This technology is ready and can also be used by SMEs.”

Marco Ravicini

Detractors could claim that you only include topics in the Technica Radar that bbv has an interest in and where you see potential for growth …
Patrick Labud:
Since we are a service company and do not market our own products, there is no danger of that. Quite the opposite: We are only successful when our customers are and remain successful. The Technica Radar is naturally coloured by our experiences and therefore makes no claim to be complete. There are definitely other trends outside our bubble. However, we have not yet missed an important IT trend for Switzerland.

So you haven’t missed anything important yet. Is there any trend you may have gotten wrong or any topic you might have misjudged?
Patrick Labud: Personally, I dismissed the metaverse as Second Life 2.0 for a long time – but recently said to Marco that I need to fundamentally reassess the topic and take it more seriously.
Marco Ravicini: Essentially, we haven’t missed anything yet. Of course, it always depends on your perspective. Somebody from the blockchain start-up scene might come to a different conclusion.
Patrick Labud: On the other hand, there have already been topics that we expected would be very big and ultimately left us feeling frustrated. Hopefully it won’t get to that point with Ethical OS. And I also haven’t given up hoping that the topic of design thinking will become even more popular.

Finally, let’s look a bit further into the future. Which topics will catch our attention in the medium term apart from the metaverse? Quantum computing?
Patrick Labud:
Quantum computing will very definitely have an impact on the topic of security – and in the very near future, too. The question here once more is when corresponding solutions will be practical for SMEs. To put it bluntly, as long as there is no Microsoft cloud service for quantum computing, SMEs will find it difficult to afford such solutions.
Marco Ravicini: Where I see great potential is in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Unlike quantum computing, the technology already exists in this case and can also be used by SMEs. AI and ML will therefore soon be more widespread. In addition, we can see a trend towards developer experience and how developers can be supported even more effectively in their work.
Patrick Labud: Another area we are watching closely and doing a lot of research in is Sustainable IT – or as it was formerly called: Green IT. For example, more and more companies are addressing the power consumption of hardware and data centres and there is enormous potential here.
Marco Ravicini: Research has also been carried out into which programming languages are more energy-efficient than others. This involved solving the same problem in different languages and then comparing the total amount of memory, CPU power and energy that was needed. There are therefore also corresponding developments in the area of software. Ultimately, however, the challenge is that the entire system always has to be considered in order to be able to draw the right conclusions.

Interview partner

Patrick Labud

Patrick Labud has been working for bbv for more than ten years. He studied computer science and specialised in content and frontend systems as well as in the area of usability, user and customer experience and design thinking. These days, he mainly works as a consultant and spokesperson for human-centric digital product development. He is a founding member of the CTO Board, which has been in existence for seven years now and defines bbv’s technology strategy and publishes the Technica Radar.

Marco Ravicini

Marco Ravicini is a trained automation engineer and worked as a software crafter for many years after studying computer science. He, too, has been working for bbv for more than ten years. As a software architect, he is especially in demand when it comes to developing the architecture of systems – from concept to design to communication with customers. He holds an MAS in Human Computer Interaction Design.

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