GE to IBM: Watch your data, we are coming

It sure looks like General Electric(s ge) — the conglomerate that builds stuff ranging from appliances to jet engines — is spending a ton of time and resources to boost its profile in high (as opposed to “low”) tech. In fact it looks like it’s waging a massive PR campaign to show that it is not some grimy industrial relic but a force at the cutting edge of big data and “the internet of things.” If you don’t believe it, just download its November report on the industrial internet, which we covered here.
The latest evidence of this push? An interview with William Ruh, VP of software for GE Research, in In the piece, Ruh appeared to take a veiled swipe IBM — which loves to portray itself as the thought leader in bleeding-edge tech and the kingpin in tech patents. (For the record, in 2012 GE came in ninth in patents with a total of 1,652 compared to IBM’s 6,478 — but who’s counting?)

GE CEO Jeff Immelt

Ruh said the airline industry has gathered tons of data about how jet engines have performed over the past two decades and that historical data should help guide predictive maintenance going forward. Ruh told ComputerWeekly:

“In emerging markets, we are seeing dirt and sandy environments … How are these affecting aero engines? [Business intelligence] cannot answer this. Nor can a supercomputer … Watson cannot tell me when this machine part will break.”

Watson is IBM’s much-hyped computer that boasts human-like thought processes and beat the human champion in Jeopardy a few years back.
GE is banking on the growing acknowledgement that machine data — information generated and collected by the types of industrial gear it makes — gives it an entry into the booming world of big data. That’s probably why GE CEO Jeff Immelt has been cropping up in a lot of interesting venues, including in an interview with Om Malik last month. And why GE came to San Francisco to announce its “Industrial Internet Quests” and tap into the wealth of software and data expertise there. As my colleague Katie Fehrenbacher put it at the time, the quest “calls on developers, data scientists and designers to make algorithms and applications that can increase productivity for the health and aviation sectors” — all sectors where GE plays.
It may be easy for folks in the valley to forget that GE has thousands of its own software developers on staff and builds sophisticated medical imaging and other high-tech gear: it does have credibility. And, at a time when the emphasis on making and building actual products is more valued, GE has lessons to teach.
The conglomerate obviously wants to be seen as a leader in this realm and won’t be content to let the likes of IBM hog all the glory in the internet of things era. After all, it builds an awful lot of those “things.”
Swept blade photo courtesy of Flickr user Bleucho