Podcast transcript: Are chief metaverse officers here to stay?

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Jane McCallion

Hi, I'm Jane McCallion.

Rory Bathgate

I'm Rory Bathgate.

Bobby Hellard

And I'm Bobby Hellard.


And you're listening to a slightly different version of the IT Pro podcast. Bobby, our reviews editor is fresh off the plane from MWC in Barcelona. How are you doing?


I'm very well. Thanks for having me on the podcast.


So Bobby, how was MWC? What were some of the main themes that arose throughout the week?


So MWC was good, bigger and badder than ever before, some 88,000 people. The key themes were about future technologies. They dressed it up as velocity, so things that are coming at speed. So 6G, immersive reality technology. So this is where we're getting onto metaverse, and that kind of stuff.


And I understand that Metaverse is one of the key topics that you were interviewing people about and that you were diving into while you were there.


Yeah, we really wanted to know who deals with the metaverse within a business. So I spent a lot of my time asking people about CMOs - chief metaverse officers - and getting a lot of people giving me sceptical looks. What's that? Why are you why are you talking about that? That doesn't exist, that kind of thing. And it seemed like every other session at MWC was about the metaverse in some way, like 'unleashing the metaverse' or 'how is the metaverse going to work', or 'business use cases of metaverse', and it just it seemed like 5G in 2018 where it's just everywhere you could not ignore it.


Exciting stuff. Without further ado, let's dive into your report.


What is the job title of the person at your business that handles the metaverse? Regardless of the scepticism that surrounds it, the metaverse is coming. It's already attracting billions of pounds of investment, and was also one of the key subjects of this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Across the week, the concept has been discussed in various keynotes and breakout sessions, including a panel that debated whether businesses should have a new kind of CMO. Not a chief marketing officer, but a chief metaverse officer. There are already some examples of this emerging in some of the biggest brand names in the world. Nike has a head of metaverse studio, Eric Redmond, and Telefónica has a chief metaverse officer in Yaiza Rubio. Seeing this, smaller companies may feel the pressure to follow suit, perhaps assigning someone within their ranks to take on the responsibility of navigating this emerging virtual space, or even hiring someone new. Others though, are questioning this trend. Is it something that needs its own department and its own lead executive? Should there even be a metaverse-specific job title? We put this question to Gartner director analyst, Tuong Nguyen who is part of the Gartner team that works with emerging technologies and trends. That includes all things metaverse.

Tuong Ngyuen

Gartner defines the metaverse as an immersive digital environment of independent yet interconnected networks that will use emerging protocols for communications. What it does is it enables persistent decentralised, collaborative, interoperable, digital content. That's a bit of a mouthful. So in plain speak, what that means is it's the next era of the internet. The difference between the internet of today, and the metaverse of the future, is in the definition I just talked about. Where people are, and I want to emphasise this, immersed in digital content. Whether they're being transported to another time or place, that's a digital-only interaction such as you would have would with say virtual reality, or the physical world around them is being transformed with digital. So what this immersion does then is it changes how people are going to interact with the world around them, because they're being immersed in persistent decentralised, collaborative, interoperable, digital content. So who should be in charge? The reason I think you haven't found a clear answer to this, well one of the reasons, is this is to be determined, right? In the near term, it's likely going to be a centralised, single role, but over the long term that will diverge. So for now, maybe it's someone like the head of innovation, someone who's looking on that far technology horizon. Moving forward though, I don't think it's going to be a specific role. But eventually it becomes part of the process, I don't believe you have someone within an organisation who is in charge of the internet today. It's within IT, it's within HR, it's within all these other departments within an organisation. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, or maybe incomplete understandings of the metaverse. And as such you do see a number of organisations saying, "oh, we need a metaverse head". And that's fine. Whether it's an informed decision or not, it's a new area and they want to dedicate a resource to exploring this potentially transformational area. But like we were talking about before, just like the internet over time it's just going to be part of the business.


Also, like the World Wide Web, the term 'metaverse' doesn't refer to one technology, as it incorporates a very long list of different elements that all work together much like Gartner's definition. And that can also include some things that are the result of frankly speculative guesswork. This makes a job description a little bit tricky.


This hypothetical head of the metaverse needs to understand the breadth of the metaverse, not just a single application, a single use case, a single technology, a single trend. They don't necessarily need to be experts in all technologies, but they do need to understand how those pieces weave together and have at least a high level strategic understanding of all those technologies that you need. And I'll give you a few more, not to say that this is a definitive or comprehensive list in any way, but: AI, cloud, edge computing, augmented reality, Virtual Reality, digital twin, Internet of Things, sensing technologies, that list goes on. They do need to understand what all those pieces are at a strategic level, and how they come together to create experiences that we will expect from the metaverse. You do need to be fairly well-informed on technology. I'm not saying you need technical knowledge, but you do need that technology background in order to connect the dots between all those technologies. I think of it like being a chef. You don't need to intimately know every ingredient you're using. But you do need to be familiar with it, so when you're tasked with combining them you know which ingredients fit together and how.


The right skill sets will certainly get you places. But the world can be a tad superficial, certainly online, and sometimes a fancy-sounding job title can open a few doors. So we spoke to Tom Ffiske, the editor of the Immersive Wire newsletter, to gauge the feeling within the immersive technology industry. Tom is also a member of the Accenture global thought leadership team that deals with all things metaverse.

Tom Ffiske

If your career is going to be in immersive technologies, obviously job titles are a significant factor when it comes to that. You do get more inquiries or more interest in a certain type of title, which can be beneficial on sites like LinkedIn. But ultimately it comes down to the value you give, and my worry is that it's peacocking to an extent, people ruffling their feathers and spreading them out going "look at me, look how magnificent I am, I'm the chief metaverse officer". And my worry is that peacocking without value behind it will be a detriment to them instead, because people will look beyond the thin veneer of postulating and then realise they're talking complete fluff, which is my worry to an extent. The crux of the problem is that not all companies need a chief metaverse officer in the slightest, none. If you are more specialised because immersive technologies or blockchain technologies, maybe to an extent web3, I can understand why you want a C-suite position which is focused in that area. Because you need someone with that seniority, and then it filters downwards to run that part of the business. The fact of the matter is most businesses don't need it.


The design consultancy Journey was one of the first companies to use the title of chief metaverse officer, a role held by its founder Cathy Hackl. Hackl could have easily been the CEO - it is her company after all - but she felt that CMO would offer more opportunities to discuss the practicalities of handling the metaverse within a business. And it also lets its customers and partners know they are dealing with a metaverse-first business.


Journey is an exception, Journey is a company that has a chief metaverse officer partially because they have a whole division which is focused on the production of these immersive experiences. Her name is Cathy Hackl, I had the pleasure of interviewing her for The Drum last year actually, because we were discussing the significance of the CMO role within that piece. Her response is the fact that ultimately it is is a title which is necessary within her area, and then goes from there. But then after the discussion I remembered back in 2017, where there were people who were labelling themselves as 'chief blockchain officers', and you don't see chief blockchain officers that exist nowadays. So part of me wonders whether this is genuinely a part of a hype cycle, where people adopt that role for now. There's a lot of generative AI happening, so we might see 'chief AI officers' who will appear and then might then disappear over time as well, but who knows.


IT Pro was able to catch up to Yaiza Rubio, the Telefónica CMO at MWC. And her description of the role was very much about defining exactly what it is. The company has been working towards the metaverse since MWC 2022, and Rubio has spent much of that time researching the technical needs of the project and finding the candidates that have the skills for those needs. She has identified that it requires a team of diverse talents covering areas such as machine learning, finance, graphic design, and also web3. Metaverse job titles might not have longevity, but the GSMA is clearly quite taken with the idea of a chief metaverse officer. It is also fully behind the entire concept of the metaverse, going by the amount of coverage it has received at this year's MWC. For context, it has a similar weight to 5G in 2018, where it was simply impossible to ignore. Ironically 5G is a key technology that will enable the advancement of the metaverse and 6G is also likely to be a cornerstone of it, which arguably makes the metaverse a definitive part of future MWC events. Whether CMO stays as 'chief metaverse officer', however, is uncertain.


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