Digital set to drive industrial growth across Europe says General Electric Digital CCO

Speaking at a Paris event where the company announced it will open a “digital foundry” – the first of new GE Digital centres set to open across Europe – CEO Jeff Imelt said in his opening keynote that Europe is now set to be a growth area.

CCO Johnson acknowledged that the economic climate has been tough following the shockwaves that permeated through the world in 2007 and 2008. “I think now from a productivity perspective you’re seeing, finally, Europe as a whole at the same rate as it was in 2007,” Johnson said, speaking with Computerworld UK, "which really speaks to the end of the recovery and from here on out it’s a bit brighter.”

General Electric is the fourth largest company in the world. With a heritage in making big machinery, it spotted an opportunity for also creating the platforms that make the most of the data gleamed from those machines, whether that’s jet engines or turbines.

The business created General Electric Digital to run in parallel, creating a full offering from the factory floor to analytics more generally. GE Digital has just launched two new products for the Asset Performance Management suite running on its cloud-based PaaS (platform as a service) offering Predix, Brilliant Manufacturing for analysing production and the Digital Power Plant, designed for helping to control emissions and reduce greenhouse gases. Read next: 5 things you need to know about General Electric's IoT cloud service: Is GE's Predix the platform for industrial IOT?

“Manufacturing is undergoing an incredible transformation,” Johnson said. “All this new technology, 3D printing for example, is transforming the way manufacturing is being done. Instead of the centralised approach of scale as everything – having one big plant pump out everything – it’s now transforming where you can have smaller plants, smaller lots, and to be more dispersed and decentralised. It’s just a gigantic opportunity.

“I think that’s going to continue and manufacturing is going to be a key element of the European economy.”

Now “all the pieces are coming together” to extract useful data at every level of production or in the management of a big asset, Johnson added.

“Today you see a lot of companies optimising a line – there’s supply chain inputs, then there’s the end-product outputs, shipping on the other end,” Johnson said. “Technology is oriented around maximising the productivity of that line. But there’s very few companies that are able to look at all of their lines or all of their plants to maximise production against demand.” Read next: GE Digital CEO William Ruh interview - How to unite the digital with the physical in big business

She cited a consumer company, Amazon, as an example. It has a sophisticated enough global operation that it can pinpoint demand, where people are clicking, what they’re buying, why and at which time.

“But that information is not yet available to the producers of that line to say 'we should make a big product or a small product based on demand',” Johnson explained. “Where we see the opportunity is pulling data out of all of those silos, from demand all the way through to execution, and having them under one pane of glass. Enterprise level, to achieve enterprise health.

“That’s the next wave of digitisation in manufacturing, and that’s just on the plant floor! I haven’t even talked about supply chain and all the other pieces to extend throughout the whole lifecycle of an industrial company, from design to build.”

According to Johnson, her conversations with European customers have revealed a “universal awareness of the importance of digitisation”.

“Companies are appointing chief digital officers, and that’s a very big signal that they know they need to drive transformation across the company. Many of them are setting up programmes and have gone through the process of identifying what the outcomes are going to be," she said.

“The reason I’m here a lot is because there’s a lot of that opportunity and awareness in the region – not every single country, and not every single company, but certainly many of our large customers in the region are on board and are leading transformation.”

GE Digital’s foundry will employ 250 people in Paris and aims to bridge the gaps between academia, business and government to drive adoption of the industrial internet at every level – what’s termed Industry 4.0 elsewhere. Read next: Industrial internet of things examples: IoT in heavy industry

“The foundry is going to help us connect academia to business to government so there’s three legs of the stool coming together to innovate,” Johnson said. “To solve these really big problems – whether they’re business problems, or of security, or training the next generation of digital players.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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