In a world that is becoming rapidly digitized, 125-year-old GE has worked hard to reinvent itself from a company that sells lightbulbs and military engines to one that is known for providing the software that powers industrial control systems on manufacturing floors.
The Boston-based manufacturing conglomerate feels that it has a compelling enough story for its channel partners who work with operational technology to do the same.
"We've done this transformation ourselves internally at GE, so we're in a very unique position to help our partners and customers think through this digital journey," said Kevin Ichhpurani, executive vice president of global ecosystem and channels and corporate officer at GE Digital. "We know the questions like what the business model you're planning on getting at is, or what the implications are when you move to a new business model in terms of technology and the platform … we bring a unique perspective, having done it ourselves."
GE has long been one of the big brands in selling appliances, aviation systems, energy controls, and industrial solutions like circuit breakers and switchgears.
But in 2015, the company announced its first new business in 75 years – GE Digital – marking an official effort to bring together its software and IT capabilities.
At the center of GE Digital is the company's Predix cloud, which is designed specifically for industrial data and analytics as a Platform-as-a-Service, enabling operators to use machine data faster and more efficiently.
As GE continues to reinvent itself, the company hopes to work with its partners to help them transform their own companies and drive sales around manufacturing operations which, according to market research firm IDC, was the IoT use case that saw the largest investment, $102.5 billion, in 2016.
"Our goal is to co-innovate with the ecosystem," said Ichhpurani. "A first goal is to co-innovate on top of the platform, so we're doing a portfolio analysis in every industry, looking at where the significant spend is taking place, where the gaps are, where the highest market opportunity is, and proactively sharing that with the ecosystem so that we can co-innovate, build solutions in that area and jointly go to market … It's a really big opportunity for partners, because not only are we helping with the strategy of what we should build, and where the market opportunity is, but we are in many cases co-selling – and in some cases re-selling – the partner's solution."
Jim Gillespie, CEO of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based GrayMatter, said his company has been part of GE's ecosystem since 2004, when it partnered with GE to deploy automation and connectivity solutions on the plant floor.
Over the years, Gillespie said his company has been able to innovate at the forefront of IIoT thanks to GE's new products and array of modules, including Brilliant Manufacturing, an automation module, and an asset performance management module for oil and gas, which help partners build up services around IIoT applications.
"We've seen a radical increase in focus and investments around digital here in the past three years, which has been accelerating over the past 18 months," said Gillespie. "I think there's a ton of opportunities around digital transformation overall, but inside of that GE has many more opportunities around Brilliant Manufacturing, asset performance management, field service transformation, and cyber security. There's just a lot of great areas for partners."
After the launch GE Digital, GE also cut the ribbon on a formal channel program in 2016, appealing to system integrators, resellers, and independent software vendors to help sell solutions and services around its Predix platform.
Ichhpurani said GE's program for its partners includes enablement tools for IIoT like sales training, technical enablement, implementation enablement and developer landscapes.
"We're positioning [partners] to succeed by building a comprehensive enablement program, which allows them to think of not only the technical issues, but also think about the overall approach for driving business and digital transformation with the customer," said Ichhpurani. "Often when you're positioning a solution for the customer, it's not only about technology – it's about security, it's about the new business model you're creating with the customer."
GE will continue to face pressure to innovate in the industrial IoT market, particularly as more competitors – like Siemens and IBM – devote more resources to the space. However, partners like Gillespie remain confident that the company and its channel will continue to dominate the industrial IoT space.
"We really think GE will be the predominant player in the industrial IoT space," said Gillespie. "We think they're doing a lot of the right things and they're an early mover."