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GE urges telcos to follow its lead on IIoT innovation

Telecoms carriers should urgently marry innovation with new working practices if they are to capitalise on the opportunity of the industrialised ‘internet of things’ (IoT), according to GE.

Sue Siegel, the company’s chief innovation officer and chief executive of its business innovations unit, said at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that enterprises required the operator community to change its approach to business and innovation.

“We need you to start bringing to the equation the sorts of solutions that need to get unlocked in the industrial space. You have done tonnes in the consumer space – we have tap- and swipe-ease in the consumer space. We want to bring that to the industrial space,” said Siegel.

Incoming communications infrastructure should be “interoperable, reliable, and standard,” she noted. But operators must be nimbler and more open in their approaches to business at the same time if the opportunity of industrial IoT in is to be transformative.

“We will be able to unleash tremendous productivity. Think about the opportunities the industrial world can afford – in partnership – and the value we can create together. We are very excited. But we need you to approach this in partnership, and in a way that unlocks value and creates outcomes that matter.”

Siegel noted three trends in the transformation of industry: the move from centralised to distributed access to services; the move from capital to operational expenditure in terms of payment for services; and the move from “static and dumb to connected and smart” devices.

“Everything is connected – data is everywhere. Industry has to think how to process it all, and how to create value from all of this change,” she said.

In addition, she pointed to the convergence of vertical sectors, noting how the lines are blurring already between media and telecoms industries, particularly, and between transport and energy markets. The operator community, and corporations at large, must “get comfortable” with these new working methods as industrial crossover increases.

“These business models will enable us to create new value,” she said. “But none of us can do this alone. We must partner – because, all of a sudden, we are entering new ecosystems.”

She warned digital transformation will not allow for navel gazing. “Just think how fast this stuff is coming at you… The pace of change will never be as slow as this again.”

In essence, operators should follow GE’s lead, she said. After 126 years, the business is reinventing itself by marrying innovation with the latest digital technologies and new working practices. “We are dealing with the future of work at the same time.”

She described the process as “industrialising innovation”. The concept is not a contradiction, she explained. “It used to be innovation was all around invention. And it used to be innovation was the purview of startups, and big companies were quite terrified because it is eating at their core.

“That’s changed. Execs are not as fearful anymore. They are more and more comfortable with it, and they see the impact on their bottom line. But we can’t get complacent. We need to drive this discipline of industrial innovation.”

GE has itself seen productivity almost flat-line, to 0.5 percent in the past 10 years, a six-fold decline over the previous decade. “Productivity has not been unleashed like it should be, in a magnitude we would have liked.”

GE has sought partnership to foster innovation and growth. Its venture capital arm, GE Ventures, has so far invested in 100 start-ups, and has realised significant gains from a number of them, noted Siegel. Its strategy has been to invest in startups whose technology will benefit GE itself, among others.

She pointed to one investment, in a business called UpSkill, which produces software for augmented reality glasses for use in industrial settings, and allows workers to access manuals and share images with colleagues to solve problems. GE has seen a 46 percent uplift in operational efficiencies on its own factory floors by deploying the solution, claimed Siegel.

The company has also observed, from its own collaborations in the energy and transport sectors the degradation to physical assets, and the high cost of diagnostics and fixes. GE has helped partners reduce inspection times 10-fold with drone diagnostics, delivered by Avitas Systems, a GE spin-off company it established at the end of 2016.

“The pace of change is remarkable. We are going to do more of this – of industrialising innovation, and creating startups at speed, and with great alacrity,” said Siegel.

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