The industrial internet – where machines talk to each other and humans — will  grow into a $225 billion market by 2020. For industrial giants like GE, that represents a huge opportunity.

With so much focus on the consumer internet many commentators have missed the transformative impact of digital on industrial markets – and on companies like GE as well as ABB, Schneider and Siemens who might well challenge the marketing tech companies like Google and Facebook as the internet leaders of the future.

But for now  just getting industrial assets connected to the internet and visualising their performance is a big win for Australian companies, argues GE Digital’s Australian country manager Belinda Vassallo.

Vassallo says one of the biggest things she has noticed in the market is there is so much data out there, that just getting assets connected and visualising their performance, creates a huge amount of value for businesses. From that starting point, the performance of machines wired with sensors can be optimised and maintenance predicted ahead of time.

“We talk about it in terms of: get connected, get insights, get optimised. That’s the journey,” Vassallo said.

GE Digital, which connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics, provides industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. The goal, Vassallo says, is for anyone that owns an asset to have it “in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time.”

“The fact is that they now understand what this piece of equipment is actually doing at this point in time means if is manipulated or optimised by default they can get a one per cent gain in something,” she says.

A one per cent improvement may not sound like much, but in the industrial context incremental improvements add up to big savings quickly.

“When you look at a number of big conglomerates, one per cent makes a significant difference. For example, if we can make a freight train travelling across the Pilbara go one per cent or one mile faster on average, the return on the investment for that turns into mega millions.”

GE itself says it has made $500 million of productivity savings in 2016 from using industrial internet applications.

On top of its traditional business, GE is adding a layer of intelligence powered by Predix, its cloud-based software platform for industrial applications. It has also been described as the operating system for the internet of things.

A challenge for GE is overcoming the trepidation surrounding the new technology and processes. Scarred from unsuccessful large IT projects, corporations are wary that an OT implementation like GE’s platform may make the same big promises with lack of delivery as past IT projects.

However Vassallo believes the market is at a “tipping point” and adoption of the technology will accelerate in the coming months. GE has several proof of concepts underway with large Australian companies which are yet to be made public.

One digital tie up the company announced in October last year is a collaboration with Qantas to open a digital collaboration centre in Austin, Texas. Through the partnership, data scientists, engineers and software designers from GE and Qantas are working together to distill some of the ten billion data points produced by the aviation sector annually into practical actions to help Australia’s national carrier reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions.

Opportunities

GE Digital is exploring how its new software-powered capabilities can extend beyond GE’s traditional lines of business. Vassallo said her team is having conversations with companies in construction, real estate and transportation (beyond mining transport which is GE’s pedigree).

The software play — GE wants to be one of the top 10 software companies in the world by 2020 — requires GE to establish an ecosystem of developers and partners.

GE has created developers forums and hackathons to bring the next generation developer community on board to realise the industrial internet. They’ve also established partnerships with the likes of Microsoft, Intel and Accenture.

“The market potential for any end-developer, any start-up or any business that wants to commercialise around the industrial internet is huge,” Vassallo says.

“We’ve been trying to communicate that in market with digital marketing and awareness campaigns within the ANZ market.”

Hear more about GE Digital at the Industrial Internet Summit 2017, 15 – 16 February 2017 at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney.

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