Main content

GE's mind melding to machines

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy October 9, 2013
GE is presenting a coherent and well thought out vision of the future involving machine data with the intuition that experience brings in its core vertical markets. It is a huge opportunity.

jeff immelt
Jeff Immelt, CEO GE

Earlier today, I tuned into the GE Mind and Machines keynote, led by Jeff Immelt, GE CEO. It was a stunning event at multiple levels. Most people think of GE as manufacturers of household lighting. Some think of GE as aircraft engine makers, wind turbines, hospital equipment and oil/gas exploration equipment.

Fewer still know GE is a substantial software business that has released 24 products designed to convert machine data into advanced, industry specific analytical applications. In that sense, they are at the forefront of outcome driven productivity solutions for large vertical markets. At today's keynote,  GE announced 14 new products (PDF) in asset and operational optimization. The company does not want to stop there. "We'd like to think we can double that number in the coming year," said Immelt. How are they achieving this?

productivity apps

GE has always taken a purposeful approach to software development and marketing. It doesn't sit on past success but presents a vision with which customers can identify and then delivers. It was for example refreshing to hear Immelt say:

"Big data doesn't mean much to our customers but preventing unplanned downtime is something they understand,"

Thoughout the keynote, GE hammered home the message that it is looking to deliver 'outcomes that matter' to customers. In other words. GE wants to be recognized as the company that demonstrates measurable benefit:

"We are about asset optimisation and operations optimisation. We have a shared purpose with our customers...we are measuring customer productivity progress."

What does this mean? During an hour long customer panel chaired by SiliconANGLE's John Furrier, customers from each of GEs main business segments confirmed the value they are seeing. As example Peg Van Bree, CEO St Lukes Medical Center said:

"Small changes like getting patients to a hospital bed by 3pm is a big deal. We get big productivity gains from these small changes. We have a simulation model for all of our hospital to understand the impact of change before we make a change. It's amazing how success in one project dramatically propels others. Because we have greater efficiency we've seen an absolute opportunity to improve revenue. This is only possible through showing the data to our operational people."

So what's the big vision?

GE's vision is surprisingly simple. At the core, it is about making small changes that have large impact. As an example, GE talked about integrating dispatcher data with customer data to achieve a 10.4 percent improvement in package delivery. IGE estimates that a one percent improvement in airline engine efficiency equates to $2 billion in annual savings.

It knows that much of the data it needs for its applications is already available. As Statoil affirmed: "We've been collecting seismic data forever, it's how we use it that matters." What;s different is that GE has developed an advanced, predictive analytics platform  - Predix - that can be delivered any way the business wants: cloud, shared service or on-premise. A fuller explanation:

Predix is GE’s software platform for the Industrial Internet. Predix enables asset and operations optimization by providing a standard way to run industrial-scale analytics and connect machines, data, and people. Deployed on machines, on-premise, or in the cloud, Predix combines an industry-leading stack of technologies for distributed computing and big data analytics, asset management, machine-to-machine communication, and mobility.

In getting to where it is today and setting its stall for the future, GE was smart in understanding two things:

  1. Partners: It needs partners such as Intel (sensors), Cisco (network hardware), Accenture (service delivery) and Amazon Web Services (cloud delivery.) Although the company was not specific, it hinted at a developing ecosystem of partners able to flesh out solutions. That might well include startups.
  2. Talent: It needed to bring fresh thinking to the table in order to develop applications customers want. Immelt admitted that the company only made substantial progress once it brought in much needed outside help. This contrasts directly with the ore traditional vendors who often display a 'not invented here' mentality.

Asking the right questions?

The message was compelling but how do customers get from here to there. GE has an interesting way of understanding the uses of data. Companies do need data scientists but GE believes that real value comes form being able to ask the right questions. It therefore follows that customers will need to identify those who have deep domain experience at a granular level.

The example of productivity on newer MRI machines was cited. In an initial analysis, it seemed that upgrading machines would not deliver significant value. But when the data was segmented between novice and experienced users, a different pattern emerged. This showed that the new machines delivered better results with novices as they could easily adopt simple interfaces. Experienced users didn't 'get' that as they were used to different ways of working but when they were shown benefits then they too delivered higher productivity.

As GE pointed out, success is not just about bare analysis, but also process change. It encourages business managers to get alongside the data scientists and IT to work out the biggest bang for the buck. From what we heard, they are baking that thinking into their delivery methodologies. That's something I've not seen before. At least not to the extent implied during the keynote.


GE packed a lot into its two hour keynote. Not for them the long rambling tech talk or CEO chest thumping. Instead they served up a fast paced but crisply delivered set of messages that played directly into their core vertical market strengths.

Key for me was their informal poll of customers covering topics such as readiness and adoption. Kate Johnson, chief commercial officer GE noted that 63 percent of the audience say their machines are connected but they're not yet using the data. Only 13 percent self identified as using data for competitive advantage -While 51 percent they were not ready to take advantage of the outcomes possible from an 'industrial internet.'

Having customers on stage prepared to talk to benefits and challenges is always welcome and here, GE delivered in spades. Picking Furrier with his mixture of hard(ish) and softballs didn't disappoint.

Overall, I was impressed with the complete and inclusive approach that GE is taking. It sees massive opportunity and is only at the beginning of the journey. It is in the unique position of having many customers with which it has had multi decade relationships and through which it can get access to vast amounts of data. This is one vendor from whom others can learn a great deal.

Endnote: in a later article, I will dissect a GE research piece on this topic

A grey colored placeholder image