GE’s Innovation Secrets Revealed; Driving Innovation in a Digital Industrial World
GE is the only company that is still on the original Dow Jones Industrial index when it was first introduced in 1896. The GE company at that time was only four years old, and this year GE has turned 125 years old, which makes it one of the world’s oldest startups.
This is not something that happened by pure luck or chance, but it’s rather attributed to the proud history of innovation at GE that helped it keep reinventing itself and finding new ways to grow. The innovation mantra at GE is best represented by a famous quote by our founder, Thomas Edison, who said “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it”. Sounds straightforward? Not quite, given the very complex, volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world that we’re living in, where what the world needs is in itself a moving target, i.e. what might be needed today or this year may not be needed tomorrow or next year.
Therefore, for companies to survive these days, they have got to be very agile, fast and flexible enough to pivot or persevere as soon and as often as needed. This also means that we don’t innovate at GE for the sake of innovation itself, rather we innovate for the sake of bringing great products to the market place that can impact people’s lives. The other key aspect of innovation at GE that we’re very focused on these days is to create a culture of embracing failures as learning experiments, and not to be afraid or ashamed of failure.
While this does not generally come natural to us as individuals or companies, it’s very critical for our survival and growth. There’s no better story to represent this culture than again the story of our founder, Thomas Edison, when he tried for 1000 times and “failed” to invent the light bulb, and only succeeded in his next attempt after that. When Journalists asked him “How did it feel to fail 1000 times?” His answer was very revealing of a mind-set that is fearless when it comes to failure, he answered “ I did not fail 1000 times, the invention of the light bulb is a 1000-step process”
One of the radical transformations that GE is going through these days to reinvent itself for the future is to become a digital industrial company (as opposed to a capital industrial company that GE has been till the very recent past). What happens when 50+ billion machines come online? A Jet engine produces 500GB of data on a single flight, sensors are being embedded into everything to create intelligent machines, on an H class gas turbine we have more than 300 sensors. What happens when your Jet engine or gas turbine can talk to another engine and to a service technician? GE is taking the lead on connecting these 50+ billion machines to the industrial internet, helping to unlock ~$700 billion in value.
To support our ambitious goal of becoming a top 10 software company by 2020 is, we’ve built the world’s first industrial cloud-based platform built exclusively for the industrial internet, called Predix . Predix has been built from the ground up with cyber security and big data handling in mind, and is also open source, which allows not only GE developers to write industrial apps for it, but also allows customers and third party developers to do the same as well. GE has made a $1 billion investment in the Industrial Internet, with more than 14K+ software professionals around the world working to connect and optimize industrial assets and operations spanning from transportation to energy to healthcare, etc. In 2016, GE made $7B worth of software sales.
One of the critical concepts in making the industrial internet successful is called the “digital twin”. A digital twin is a digital replica, or data-based model of an industrial machine or asset. The digital twin model can be used to diagnose faults and predict the need for maintenance, ultimately reducing or eliminating unplanned downtime in the asset it represents. The digital twin concept can be applied at overall plant or fleet level by combining multiple digital twins together to create an overall system digital twin.
Digital twin models continue to be automatically refined over time to ensure they remain accurately representative of the asset performance. GE already has about 750,000 digital twins and is rapidly adding more. Some efforts are out there to even develop “human” digital twins, which by the way is not quite new as the likes of Google and Amazon already have some models of us to enable them to make customized recommendations for us in terms of things to buy, read, etc. However, this is expected to ramp up to a whole different level with the advent of the industrial internet.
As with many things in life, this will create a lot of opportunities to positively impact people’s lives, but it will also inevitably lead to some concerns and challenges that we need to work together to address.
Dr. Nidal Ghizawi
Technology & Innovation Director, GE Saudi Arabia
Dr. Nidal Ghizawi joined GE in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 1st, 2015 as the Technology & Innovation Director, leading the Saudi GE Technology & Innovation Center, based in Dhahran Techno Valley.
This Center is working with and through the national ecosystem to co-innovate customer centric solutions for the unique technical challenges in Saudi and the Middle East region.
Key areas of focus at the center are hot & harsh, oil & gas, and energy systems.