Companies must rethink data sharing, says GE CEO Jeff Immelt

GE CEO, Jeff Immelt (pictured), explains to customers the benefits of sharing machine data in an industrial internet

At an event in London the CEO of GE explained to his customers the benefits of sharing machine data in an industrial internet.

Jeff Immelt (pictured) discussed his company's strategy, built around data services, where information used in the right context can enable a machine to operate more efficiency and reduce downtime. "Small changes drive big outcomes," he said.

GE's vision is an industrial internet, where sensors on machines transmit operational data in real time, allowing the business to optimise its performance and reduce mechanical failure.

It is analogous to systems management where an administrator can monitor critical parameters that can cause an Exchange server to fail, should they be exceeded. However, unlike IT – which has promised predictive management of IT systems for years – the industrial internet takes the management of machines outside the domain of IT and applies data science techniques to operational data. 

GE hopes machine intelligence, combined with high performance data analytics, will allow it to predict failures and optimise performance in real time.

This improvement could be worth billions to the economy. For GE, it represents a shift from being a manufacturer associated with jet engines, oil rigs, turbines and healthcare systems to an organisation where information is a major asset.

Such a vision requires industry collaboration to be truly successful. Iain Henderson, senior managing director of media technology at Accenture, said: “No mega corporation can survive without an ecosystem. The technology is out there, but it is  all about joining up the dots.”

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Deriving insight and creating value from the industrial internet may require a different approach to data analysis. Russell Acton, general manager at Pivotal, said: “Fortune 500 companies behave in an insular manner. To get the most out of the industrial internet we have to get used to working together.”

Joanna Shields, CEO and chair of the Tech City Investment Organisation, urged businesses to break with conventional data analysis. She said: "At big companies like Google and Facebook, it is all about analysing data. But young people have a completely different approach to data. Young people see things we don't see, because we have more established ways of thinking."

GE has a research arm looking at deriving value from analytics. Mark Grabb, GE's technology lead for analytics, said: “There is a lot of talk about providing a service to customers.” We need to share data and capabilities to empower people to develop high performance, predictive data models.”

The company is investigating new business models for data sharing, based on a standard framework, where its customers can supplement their own data with GE's to build their own analytics, specific to their business' operations.

Analyst group Forrester believes there will be a data economy to monetise the sharing of information that companies have collected as part of their normal operations. Speaking to Computer Weekly at the recent Forrester Forum for CIOs in London, Brian Hopkins, principal analyst at Forrester said: “Data is a source of business innovation. We are seeing firms innovating with data. In all industries, everyone is taking a look at what they know better than anyone else in the world. They are looking how that data has monetary value to someone else and creating information services and innovative business models.”

While it may be the global organisations that have the most data, the industrial internet offers opportunities for smaller firms and startups to innovate.

Emmanuel Desousa, global head of internet and media investment at Deutsche Bank, said the industrial internet will enable a whole new ecosystem. “All sorts of new companies will be spun out to leverage information.” He predicted Europe could be in a position to take advantage by creating companies and services, but to do so there needs to be an appetite to take risk and reward innovation, he added.

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