Following on from the recent launch of its Predix Industrial Internet Platform as a generally available cloud service, GE Digital has taken the next logical step and launched a worldwide partner program to identify and sign up vendors and service providers looking to move deeper into the industrial side of the Internet of Things (IoT).
According to Bill Ruh, CEO at GE Digital, the company will be spending both time and money on the new Digital Alliance Program, aiming to identify 50 new partners by the end of the year. All, he said, will have to demonstrate one clear skill set, regardless of how else they may differentiate themselves - they must be partners that understand this is all about selling business outcomes, not technologies.
We are looking for partners where we have joint customer engagement, and where we can integrating technologies and services together closely. So, for example, with Intel we can incorporate their chips and technologies into what we do, and with Capgemini we can integrate our services personnel. The other area of importance for us is to introduce common training and certification for developers.
The hoopla about IoT and its applications currently underway at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, was sufficient to provoke Ruh and his team into launching the Digital Alliance at the event, not least because all the signs are that mobile and IoT are coming closer together:
One of our partners said that the MWC is now less about mobile and more about IoT. The mobile part is becoming smaller, but it is the best connected-devices show around. Secondly, every one of our existing partners is here, demonstrating working with the service providers or working with customers on IoT solutions. I would contend that in five years this will be much more of an IoT conference than a mobile one.
The reason for a role for hard-wired connection in IoT in the future is not hard to see, as Ruh was keen to point out.
First of all, in the industrial world, most of the places IoT is required are not that easy to access, or even places where a wired connection can be used. So we do see a strong role and movement towards mobile – where mobile means 4G going 5G technologies.
Even with things like street lighting we’re finding customers preferring cellular connectivity over other kinds. But we aren’t betting on any one technology today, we’re betting on all of them. We’re letting the customers decide what is best for them and we can work with everything. It is not yet obvious which way the customers will go.
He indicated his awareness that there is a lot of hype around mobile and IoT right now, for example, it would seem that nearly every booth is showing connectivity with cars, but wondered how much of it is real. The same can be said of consumer applications:
I look at the consumer applications and ask myself `where’s the beef in this?’. There are still no really compelling consumer applications or use cases being shown. But in the industrial internet area we have a $5bn business on providing real outcomes for customers. That is what customers are buying.
Ruh is aware that to provide those positive outcomes needs more than just the technologies and solutions - and in particular the Predix, cloud based IoT platform - that GE offers. That is why the goal is to identify and partner with those vendors that can contribute to, or even lead the development of, those business outcomes.
Because it is still early days in the development of IoT, he does see the company of some healthy competition over the next for years. He does, for example, see the issue of different IoT `operating systems’ becoming analogous to the `good old days’ of Intel vs Zilog vs Motorola, PC vs Mac and Windows vs Linux. Every new major market sector seems to go through this important developmental phase:
I think there will be three different IoT battlefields. One is the consumer space, where companies like Google and Alibaba are probably best positioned to win. The second is the enterprise space, where companies like Salesforce and IBM are likely to provide the fabric for the traditional IT type of environment.
And there is the industrial space, where systems like jet engines have very different requirements from a domestic appliance. Which approach is chosen by users will depend on the type of devices and what they do with those devices. The vendors that will lose are those that try and build a single platform to cover all three simultaneously.
Ruh does, however, see a role for data-sharing bridges between these, such as domestic appliance controllers feeding consumption data to the systems of energy vendors and generators. But the big problem here will then be who owns the data:
We are clear with our customers that they own the data, but I am not sure that players in the other two areas have quite figured it out yet. There is a coming long discussion to be had on this and the result will determine the level of integration.
The new Alliance Program brings in the existing partnership agreements with Accenture, AT&T, Cisco, SoftBank and Vodafone, and rolls in new agreements with Capgemini, Intel, Infosys, Genpact, TCS, Deloitte Digital, Softtek and Wipro.
As members, they will get access to digital tools and domain expertise from across GE, while their contribution is expected to expand the adoption of Predix, now it is generally available. The company sees this making Predix the lynch pin world’s largest developer ecosystem for the Industrial Internet.
Access and information exchange will be GE’s planned network of Digital Foundries located around the world, with the first to open in Paris.
Now mobile is nearly ready for IoT, the IoT big tanks are starting to roll. Expect the build up this year to get faster and faster