Why GE Digital Believes All Machines Should Have A ‘Digital Twin’

GE Digital CEO and Chief Digital Officer Bill Ruh sits down to explain the development of Predix and how the company is using it in industrial IoT

Like all enterprises large or small, GE has had to change with the times or else fade into oblivion, which has been the fate of many a formerly successful company. In the second decade of the new century, the company is facing a pivot by adding machine learning and artificial intelligence software to its steady long-term production of industrial hardware and professional services.

GE’s industrial internet-of things division, GE Digital, opened its doors in August 2015 with its own cloud network for automated apps to run in numerous industrial networks, which, in turn, work inside the industrial IoT to perform machine-data tasks.

GE describes its Predix (pronounced “predicts”) Cloud as the world’s first and only cloud solution designed specifically for industrial data and analytics. The platform-as-a-service uses GE’s own Predix operating system to capture and analyze the volume, velocity and variety of machine data generated across the industrial world within a secure, industrial-strength cloud environment.

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GE Digital on July 25-two years after the launch of Predix-will unveil a new development tool suite called Predix Studio, which GE Digital customers can use to create something called Digital Twins and customize applications that run on Predix. eWEEK will carry that news story; Digital Twins are described in this article.

The man in charge of all of this is Bill Ruh, CEO of GE Digital and the Chief Digital Officer for GE. GE Digital supports customers globally with a wide range of industrial internet applications, from asset performance management, operations optimization and brilliant manufacturing to platform-as-a-service, cloud and cyber security. As the CDO, Ruh is responsible for global IT as well as creating GE’s Digital Thread a next-generation system for streamlining design, manufacturing and support processes.

eWEEK sat down for a one-on-one interview with Ruh on July 14 at the company headquarters in San Ramon, Calif.

Q: What was GED’s path in the development of Predix?

A: We launched the Predix portfolio about 18 months ago. The company went through three stages: I’m here 6 years; I’d say the first two years were exploratory strategy. Six years ago, our Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt could begin to see that analytics and data were becoming more and more an important part of our customers’ journey in using our machines. Meaning he could see they were exploring the use of information coming off machines we sell: jet aircraft engines, wind turbines, gas turbines for power plants, CT scanners and so on. Our customers had a strong desire to get more efficiency out of those machines. He recognized early on that if we didn’t know more about our machines than anybody else, then shame on us, right?

For an industrial company, this is the hardest thing, because they don’t have digital DNA. They have IT, but not digital DNA.

Q: How would you describe that difference?

A: We, like everyone else, looked at the IT function as a back-office function–the ERPs, run the business, make sure you had everybody’s records correct, get billing done, and so on. Digital is a product-management process. You have to be thinking about how your product line of the future is going to look like.

Mechanical engineers think of future functions as mechanically oriented but thinking of future functions as digitally oriented is very different. Now there’s a gap: Your IT function isn’t really set up to build digital product, but they oftentimes have great insight into the information that you can use. The traditional product guys are not set up to know what to do with information. They view it as “take a look at it quickly, throw it away, you’re done.”

So there was a gap in the company, so we spent a few years figuring out what’s the real value here. We realized that you could come up with a whole new set of outcomes for your customers based on the use of data and analytics. The second thing is that an industrial firm has great domain knowledge, and unlocking that domain knowledge for the analytics is the differentiator.

We used the second two years doing it (using Predix) for ourselves. It wasn’t so much that we building Predix is that we were trying to understand: “Could we get value out of data and analytics, and what do you need to be able to do it at scale?” So we realized a couple of things out of that: One is that there didn’t exist a platform for connecting industrial machines at scale, for building the kind of analytics that are necessary–which we call Digital Twins–and for being able to deliver outcomes to our customers around their processes.

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Predix was born because we did it for ourselves, and there’s a real opportunity to do it for our customers. We’re a top 10 customer for almost every major vendor out there, so when you look at it, being a top 10 customer for yourself is an important thing.

We put together a business plan in that second phase, sold it inside the company, then created GE Digital (in 2015) as the business unit to take this forward. We did something unusual: We brought the IT function together with the digital function, creating a single integrated unit.

Q: That sounds awfully DevOps-like.

A: It is. I think people think the talent is different in IT versus product. It’s not. I think great companies find that these things should be integrated, you want to continue to develop your people together–they’re better together.

For us, our strategy is simply this: Do it for ourself, which we call “GE for GE”–always first. And it turns out our customers love it, because they like to see that we do it. The second thing is: Do it for our existing customers, and then take it out to the broader industrial world.

Originally published on eWeek

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