Time is right for industrial-scale digital transformation, say GE Digital and Verizon
“If you are not investing in these technologies to drive your own product gains, know that your competitors are already doing so. If you haven’t started, you need to; the industrial IoT (IIoT) race has already begun.” This was the view from GE Digital senior vice president and chief commercial officer Deborah Sherry, as she rounded off a keynote at Internet of Things World Europe in London last week.
US carrier Verizon struck the same tone in a separate keynote, with Ray Underwood, the company’s head of global business development, claiming the incoming industrial revolution is about to break big. “The change over the last 15 years pales in comparison with the transformation we are about to see with IoT,” said Underwood. Market dynamics have reached a tipping point, he said. “Network device costs consistently are coming down and network technology is increasing.”
Sherry’s clairion call for enterprises to hurry up with digital transformation followed on the back of a quick-fire round of GE Digital case studies. GE Digital is pushing asset performance management and field service management software on its Predix platform. “In simple way, it is just about connecting machines and people, and we have two killer apps for that,” said Sherry.
For asset management, Sherry quoted European figures from PAC, from May, suggesting appetite for predictive maintenance is growing, with 83 per cent of companies planning investments during the next two years, and 49 per cent already invested, and going further. For field services, she quoted new figures from Vanson Bourne, claiming a four-times return, of $4.44 for every $1 invested, on service data collection and usage.
The building momentum for digital transformation in the industrial space was a fall-back theme for the London show. Sherry’s boss, William Ruh, chief digital officer at General Electric and chief executive at GE Digital, talked up the rising impact of a fourth industrial revolution in a separate address. GE is itself a “living case study,” said Sherry, telling the story of former chief executive Jeff Immelt’s reinvention of the Boston-based conglomerate eight years ago, after seeing technology companies extract more data from its machines than it could on its own
“We were being disintermiediated. didn’t see anything in industry that could help us,” she said. GE developed its own industrial IoT platform, Predix, and built a new business, GE Digital, around it. “On this platform, we have smart applications, just like you have apps on your phone, in you pocket and your handbag. And we are using this platform to boost industrial productivity.”
GE Digital delivered its parent $500 million in productivity gains across its factory set-ups in 2015, followed by $730 million in 2016 and $1 billion in 2017, the company reckons. “It worked for us so well we took it to market for all our customers,” said Sherry.
GE Digital claims over 1,000 Predix customers, from large scale deployments like with BP, which uses the system to orchestrate 650 connected oil wells, to quick-time deployments like with steel maker Gredau, which launched on a single production line in 29 days, and has since expanded at speed across 30 factories.
“Ten per cent of the world’s power is Predix power,” said Sherry. “Companies like Enel, EDF, Exelon, or the New York Power Authority are driving productivity improvements on Predix and Predix powered applications.”
Sherry included a slide on these “Predix-powered” digital transformation improvements: SSE has made £10 million of savings from unplanned outages; Deutsche Bahn has reduced service failures by 25 per cent; Noble has reduced on-rig op-ex by 20 per cent; RasGas has slashed volumetric downtime by six days per year; productivity is up 30 per cent at Topcon; operational efficiency is up four per cent at BP. There were others,
“The pace of industry is picking up. People are now implementing more. If you leave here with just one thing, walk away knowing that the race has already started. It’s here-and-now; and our customers are leading in their industries, and having real success with IIoT technologies.”
For its part, Verizon echoed Ruh in its keynote. Underwood described the industrial landscape for digital transformation, with manual processes replaced by remote sensors and analytics at every turn: tracking goods through the supply chain, from manufacturing to final distribution; machine maintenance on production lines; dynamic marketing to target users in real-time, as they pass through a shopping mall.
“I’m from Tampa Bay, and I’m a huge Lightning fan,” he said, mixing his interests in ice hockey and in intelligent transport to map out a brighter future. “It’s fun until you leave the game, and 30,000 are jammed down-town. The traffic is backed up; there are cones and police officers, and two guys fighting – and they’re Lightning fans, and we won the game.”
Underwood described a smarter Tampa Bay, with cellular technology underpinning dynamic changing LED signs and embedded signage on the roads” to keep the mood on the streets buoyant on match night, and bouncing on a cup run.
For its part, Verizon made the case it is “best positioned” to enable digital change in industry. Underwood explained the simple logic of its connectivity portfolio, offering LTE-M and NB-IoT for low-power wide-area (LPWA) jobs, and advancing LTE and 5G for low-latency jitter-free connections.
At LPWA World in London in May, Underwood’s colleague, David Vazquez, director of IoT business development at Verizon, said the carrier will launch NB-IoT by the end of 2018, although Verizon has also distanced itself from such a commitment, repeating a mantra that NB-IoT will launch when appropriate.
Underwood said new cellular characteristics and parallel technologies, including network slicing, private LTE, and artificial intelligence will spur the digital transformation of industry. Edge computing will do the same, he said, and bring the market up to the level of its doubling multi-billion forecasts.
“If you take all the intelligence off the device and move it to the network edge, then prices will start to come down to a nearly-throwaway level, which opens up the entire supply chain,” he said. “That is the single driver that moves us from millions to billions of devices.”