The jobs of the future belong to data scientists and user experience designers

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Transcription details:
Date:
06-Nov-2013
Input sound file:
1003.MP3

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Session Name: Designing for Problem Solving

Announcer
Om Malik
Beth Comstock

Announcer 00:01
To the stage right now. He’s going to be talking with Beth Comstock. She’s the SVP and CMO for GE, about “Designing for Problem Solving”. Please welcome Om and Beth up to the stage.
Om Malik 00:13
Thank you. Whew, are we ready for the drinks?
Beth Comstock 00:22
It’s been a long -a good day. Right?
Om Malik 00:24
Yes, I need a drink; that’s all.
Beth Comstock 00:28
If I had one, I’d give it to you.
Om Malik 00:28
Welcome Beth.
Beth Comstock 00:29
Thanks. It’s good to be here.
Om Malik 00:30
I know. What happened? Last time I talked to you, you were running NBC. I was hoping you were going to star me in some TV show. And now you’re running [crosstalk]. What is that?
Beth Comstock 00:41
I could have gotten you a good web video at that time.
Om Malik 00:44
I know. It didn’t work. My dreams of stardom are just gone away, because you moved to the industrial internet. What’s up with that?
Beth Comstock 00:52
You can star in a video on an airline, maybe. That’s what I can deliver for you– No?. We’ll work on it.
Om Malik 01:01
That’s the other company, ‘What Brown Can Do For You’ – that’s UPS? I don’t know. I don’t do ads for GE. [laughter] Let’s talk about, GE and Design, what’s wrong with this statement?
Beth Comstock 01:17
The two don’t go together?
Om Malik 01:19
No they don’t. You guys make turbines and engines for trains and planes.
Beth Comstock 01:25
First of all, they’re marvelous machines. They’re brilliant, amazing machines that are designed in incredible ways. But increasingly, for our company’s future, you mentioned the industrial internet, we’re all about what happens when 50 billion machines come online and how do you make sense of all of that data? Design is growing in a big way in our company on two fronts. One is continue to embed design in how we make hardware. For us hardware means a jet engine. But increasingly, it’s that user interface with data, and how do you make sense of it? What happens when people use data? What happens when machines communicate with one another? How do you make sense of it? It’s pretty exciting right now.
Om Malik 02:07
How does GE think about design? That’s a very complex role you just described – machine to machine communication, machine to human communication – and these are not machines, as we know, in our pocket. These are machines which are big and bulky and they–
Beth Comstock 02:25
And important?
Om Malik 02:27
Yeah.
Beth Comstock 02:27
It’s flying a plane, driving a train–
Om Malik 02:29
You think my iPhone is not important?
Beth Comstock 02:29
It’s very important. But so is driving a train. I think there are a lot of new jobs of the future, starting to come to life. We all talk about data scientists. This user interface expert is something that we think is very much going to be part of the future. It’s about design, it’s software, it’s taking all the data and making it usable so that if you are an engineer in a train or you are servicing a jet engine, you have the data you need to do the right things. That’s what it’s all about. They just have all this complicated data, these very sophisticated pieces of equipment, you don’t have time to stop and do your calculations the old fashioned way. You’ve got to have the information right there. Maybe it’s augmented reality. Maybe it’s sensor data pointing exactly where you need. It’s GPS, it’s maps – All these things come together and make you much more efficient.
Om Malik 03:25
How are you going to make that work, because the people who are going to have access to so-called data-enabled industrial internet. Are people who have not typically worked with technology, they’ve worked in somewhat of a non-real time environment, the software tools for industrial workers are- I guess- from the last century. How do you guys think about designing for that specific demographic – the dream drivers, the engineers who maintain planes? What’s the thinking behind it?
Beth Comstock 04:03
A lot of it had their calculations have been going on in the background. You want a lot of things to happen without the person who’s using it even knowing it’s happening. It has to be somewhat in the background. Then it has to be predictive and I think that’s what you’re seeing a lot of is very intuitive, starting to know this kind of behavior. Now I know you’re going to need this kind of data. There’s a lot of data and analytics tied to how you behave. If you do this, I know you’re going to do this. You ask for this piece of data, I know you’re going to need that. Then the user interface has to be really simple and these can be very complicated things. For a long time in industrial history, we thought that to be smart means that you have to put everything in there. You have to be super smart, so you need– I think John Maeda said it very well today when he talked about– I think I’m going to get this right – his quote about, “more technology is better, but when you talk about using it, you want it to be simpler.” That is such a rallying cry for the industrial internet. It’s the right data when you need it, and only that data, because otherwise it’s overwhelming.
Om Malik 05:07
How are you guys doing that?
Beth Comstock 05:09
A couple of different things we’re doing. One we have a technology stack that our team out in San Ramon has put together, called Predex, which is our technology stack for our applications in the industrial internet. And we have something called the, Predex Reader, which is basically, micro apps. Think of them as cards for Google Glass or Google Now. Micro apps that tee up in a use case situation. They’re on your tablet, maybe they’re on Google Glass. I actually have some things I can show you later. It starts to tee up the kind of data you need when you need it, and it understands what you’re doing and tees it up. I know this is a crowd that will appreciate this, but it even gets down to what does your font look like? There has to be a certain font that says this is a machine talking now, this is a person talking now. It has to be slightly different, so you know who you’re engaging with. You have to really think through the whole process.
Om Malik 06:05
How are you changing the company to think like that?
Beth Comstock 06:10
The biggest thing we’re doing is embedding software with our hardware. So for us, these brilliant machines that have sensors and then bringing a lot of software programmers, data scientists in to take the data and analyze it, great marketing people who understand where markets are going, what questions to ask, what are customers looking for? And designers are playing a bigger and bigger role, exactly as we’ve been talking, to say, “Just because I have the data – and somebody’s asking me to do it – how do I make it easy to use?” I’d say those three things are coming together.
Om Malik 06:43
The point I’m actually trying to get to is– You know how Apple is? Apple takes a very holistic approach to take the hardware and the software and creates craft and experience – Jack this morning talked about how his team works on hardware and software data and creates this experience. Tony Earnest said the same thing. You’re essentially describing the same ideology. How do you guys do that, given that half of your businesses are spread in Asia, some research labs are all over the place. You guys are pretty distributed. This kind of collaboration from what I’ve seen works when people are working in closed quarters.
Beth Comstock 07:31
It happens in both ways. We have centers in San Ramon – We have a design center where you’re going to bring the hardware, the software, the customer together. But, you also have to go to them. Increasingly we’ve been setting up these innovations centers around the globe. A great example is what we’ve been doing in China for remote health applications. It’s in Chengdu, China – Chengdu isn’t that remote, but the Sichuan province is remote – and going out to world doctors, bringing them in, living in hospitals. I think a lot of it from the design perspective is the observation, the designer’s empathy. How do you understand what that nurse needs? And when she needs it. You bring designers and engineers and marketers and you live in that hospital. You go back, you prototype it, you come back and you say, “Try it out.” Both things happen – you’re in research labs, you’re in manufacturing and ten you go out to the field. I was in Indonesia a couple of months ago and we’re arming mid-wives with a certain light weight ultrasound, so that they understand a simple red light – green light. Is this mother in distress? Must she get to a hospital or is she okay? You get those things by getting into the market and design plays a big role in bringing the connectivity and the hardware and the use case all live in the same place.
Om Malik 08:51
How much do you think things like smartphones have actually made your job easier or tougher to design these experiences?
Beth Comstock 09:01
I think they’ve made them both easier and tougher. They’ve made it easier because people have a framework, they understand what to design. It might have been hard to get someone in the Rail industry to think more digitally until you have iPads and smartphones in a work place. It’s a little bit easier, now that it’s become a bit more the norm. It’s easier to get people to adapt, even if they’re technically savvy. In that way it’s become easier. It’s also become harder, because there are a lot of applications now on peoples devices. You have to find a way to break through and find the ones that are meaningful, and I think the onus is on us to make ours even simpler. You take all this complication and make it even simpler, so that you can compete with a lot of other things that are going on.
Om Malik 09:45
Talking about apps. If you’re a young engineer or a young designer, do you want to work for GE or do you want to work for Tender? I know where I would go.

[laughter]
Beth Comstock 09:59
I’d like to think you’d like to work for GE, I guess it depends on what your purpose is. One of the reasons we’ve come to Silicon Valley in a big way is that we think that you can perhaps do both. Not at the same time, but maybe you worked at Tender and your next job is work for GE, or you worked at Zynga and your next job is working at GE – You take all those great consumer applications–
Om Malik 10:22
That’s an easy one.

[laughter]
Om Malik 10:24
Just put up a stand outside and they will just come.
Beth Comstock 10:29
I’ll take a better example. You can take all those great consumer capabilities of software programming, design, development and now apply them to industry, where you have huge impact. We’re talking about designing applications that save fuel, save time, save the environment in a jet engine. That’s huge impact. I think you can do both – not at the same time, but you can do both.
Om Malik 10:56
I can try both at the same time–
Beth Comstock 10:58
You could. You could probably use Tender and work at GE, but I’m not sure you could work at Tender–

[laughter]
Om Malik 11:03
How many people form GE actually are on Tender?
Beth Comstock 11:06
I don’t know. We can do a little survey. It’s probably more than you think.
Om Malik 11:09
Maybe we can do like some data analysis. Stuff like that–
Beth Comstock 11:12
We should visualize the data.
[crosstalk]
Om Malik 11:17
I suspect there will be a very high number of people from GE. A lot of middle age people from Silicon Valley are on Tender. Good recruitment place. You can put adds there. [laughter]
Om Malik 11:31
I’ll let you work on that for us.
Beth Comstock 11:32
I can do that. I can come up with a product for you guys. Seriously, jokes aside, it is a big challenge – attracting talent. You’re trying to take your company – almost 100+ years old – A big boring industrial company and become an internet company, right?

How do you attract the talent to come in work? I’m being very serious. How do you attract the young minds of today to come and work for your company so that we can build this industrial internet – which is important. I don’t disagree with you. How do you do that?
Beth Comstock 12:10
We don’t say we’re big and boring. I think that starts a– [laughter]
Om Malik 12:14
Okay, big?
Beth Comstock 12:15
Big we’ve got. We’ve got big. That means resources and capability–
Om Malik 12:18
Can you just come halfway on that one?
Beth Comstock 12:21
I think we appeal to people who think big technology, big pieces of brilliant machines are really sexy. There are a lot of people who get excited by how train runs, how a plane runs. You’ll find a lot of them here. There’s a little boy inside every one of us that gets excited about how a train works and the idea to then apply software to the sensors in these pieces of equipment to create these incredible outcomes – that’s pretty exciting for people.
Om Malik 12:48
I wish you ever road a train in Bombay. You would not want to be on a train [crosstalk]
Beth Comstock 12:56
Here’s an offer; we can get you to Erie, Pennsylvania and you can drive a train around the track in Erie Pennsylvania–
Om Malik 13:01
That would be fun.
Beth Comstock 13:02
You can take your camera and get good shots–
Om Malik 13:06
I think that should be your sell – Come work for GE and drive a dream. [laughter] I can tell you half of Google is going to go.
Beth Comstock 13:15
Then we’ll work on pilotless planes and we’ll just keep going. You can fly planes– You can do a lot of simulations, though.
Om Malik 13:23
As you said, there’s a little boy in all of us.
Beth Comstock 13:26
I think it is. It’s creating the right environment, the resources to say, this is important. We want people who get excited about software, but applied in these industries. The other thing I would say, we’re doing a lot more to partner with start-ups. We’ve put our ventures team out here and partly it’s creating those opportunities to say, “Hey, this is a way to think about GE that you might not have thought about before. Making it accessible saying, “Hey, I bet you didn’t know– The other thing for a start-up to partner with us is, in many of these case we’ve already got paying customers. We’ve got the business model figured out. This isn’t the case where if you figure out something you don’t know who’s going to pay for it. We’ve got billions of dollars of backlog in services that we can say, “You figure out this application, we have a customer ready to go.
Om Malik 14:10
You know I was joking. But, I am a big believer in industrial internet. I’ve been writing about it for a while. One of the challenges of the industrial internet and all the technology we are building today, we are not aware of how this technology impacts the future employment situation. How much automation and ll this digitization will impact people – the guys who repair planes and manage trains in the future? If the devices are smarter, you don’t need many people to manage them. Do you guys think about that? How do you think about that?
Beth Comstock 14:55
We think about that a lot. I know you know some of the work we’ve done. I think for us the industrial internet is three parts. It’s these brilliant machines with all their sensors; it’s all the data and analytics that make sense of it. You can kind of predict the path before it happens. Then, it’s the outcome to people – the better work. You have to believe those three things go together and new kinds of jobs are going to come about. I mentioned the user interface expert. You’re going to have digital, mechanical engineers. You’re going to be bringing these capabilities of understanding how to use a wrench and how to use software coating together. There are going to be new kinds of jobs, there is going to be more productivity – jobs are going to be made better. The type of work that people do hopefully will change. Hopefully you’re creating productivity for these industrial industries, so that they can fuel future growth and hire more people. All those things are not going to happen at once. It’s going to be an evolution, but that’s what we believe we’re working towards.
Om Malik 15:54
What’s the role robotics will play in this industrial internet field?
Beth Comstock 15:57
Robotics is an important part of it. I think robotics is interesting– If you look at something like one of our industrial internet offerings is hospital operations management. It’s putting sensors around and it reminds people that they have to wash their hands when they’re taking care of a patient. You start to put robotics in place and in frees nurses up to do the important things they need to do, so that they’re not tracking down linen, they’re not putting certain supplies. They’re actually being able to spend more time with the patients. That’s what I mean about raising the quality of jobs. You can put those scenarios in every situation. We’ve seen robotics on rail lines, where you send a robot out ahead of the train and it’s sensing the track and sending signals back, so that that trip is more productive. I think you’re going to see robotic become the way you get data, the way that certain tasks are performed that elevate the jobs for everyone else.
Om Malik 16:56
From that perspective, do you guys think about starting a new kind of vocational school – digital vocational school?
Beth Comstock 17:03
We’re thinking a lot about that on a couple of levels. One; we’ve been investing a lot in new kinds of skills – certainly at the high school level and some of these areas. Data science is something we’ve been doing a lot with. Trying not only to recruit, but put these kind of programs in high schools. We’ve been doing a lot with challenges. We’ve had quite a bit of luck opening ourselves up to data scientists anywhere in the world. Open source design engineers who can help us rethink 3D printing of new parts. Those are ways to access new talent that we didn’t necessarily know about before.
Om Malik 17:40
If you want to rate where GE stands on a scale of one to ten in this transformation – the fact that they argue means you are that cool – that’s it. We’re going to go with that. Seriously, if you were to score card – one to ten – where do you think you guys are in this digital make-over of GE?
Beth Comstock 18:07
In one to ten in the digital make-over of GE, we’re maybe half way there. We’ve got a lot to do. For us where this starts is having this embedded base of these great machines with all kinds of sensors. It starts with amazing technology– if you’re a technologist of jet engines, it’s really amazing. You have to start there and then you can start to build the software capabilities, the data analytics on top of that. We’re just in the early stages of that. Great progress – Our team led by Bill Rue down i San Ramon is doing great work, but we’re just starting. The work at the business level is just starting. Some of these jobs we talked about– just starting to map out what they are. Maybe even 50% is optimistic. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Om Malik 18:50
When did the makeover start? When did you guys start putting these sensors and started thinking about the industrial–
Beth Comstock 18:57
I’d say sensors have been put in technology over the past decade. You start to ask the question, “What do we need to do with this data”. Then you also hear customers going, “I need to optimize my assets better, I need to track where they are. I’m in a hospital; I can’t have my nurse spending 20% of her time looking for things. Where is the CT, where is the ultrasound when I need it? You start to hear your customers saying, “Wow, I have these challenges”. You start to think, I have the data. I can actually help them solve those problems. Those things start to come together. For us it’s been in the past three years where Jeff Immelt our Chairman CEO about three or four years ago said, we’ve got to this in a big way – we’ve got to step forward, we’ve got to really make it a core competency in the company. We’ve got to move to Silicon Valley in a big way – that’s where the talent is. That’s really evolved over the past two to three years.
Om Malik 19:50
Thankfully, he came up with the idea long before McKinsey issued their report–
Beth Comstock 19:57
The good thing about being in these industries as you have a good sense. You start to see something that’s in aviation, in healthcare and in energy, and you say, “Wait a minute, there’s something happening if people in these disperse industries are asking for the same thing. We’re pretty good at connecting those trends.
Om Malik 20:14
You’re the only big company I’ve seen which does this. A lot of the other big companies are still not thinking about connectivness – they’re not thinking about sensors or making devices which are internet enabled. It seems the idea what you guys have and the rest of the industrial eco-system– there is a little bit of disconnect there, right?
Beth Comstock 20:38
I think it’s people waking up to what’s possible. That’s part of it. We live in these markets, we work with our customers, so hopefully we have good early feelers about it. I can only speak to what we do.
Om Malik 20:50
Are you going to make like a connected fridge?
Beth Comstock 20:52
We have a connected wall oven that you can actually get now. You can have it on pre-heat before you get home, or if you’re particularly OCD like me and you want to make sure you turned it off – you can do that. We’ve been doing some fun products with Corky. We’ve been doing some branded products with Corky that just hit the stores this week. So, you can get a connected egg minder, a connected sensor, a connected power strip that you can operate with your smartphone.
Om Malik 21:21
What are those things?

[laughter]
Beth Comstock 21:23
I’ll send you some.
Om Malik 21:25
I have no idea.
Beth Comstock 21:29
Go to Home Depot this weekend and you can get some.
Om Malik 21:30
What is Home Depot?

[laughter]
Om Malik 21:34
I go home and somebody comes up and fixes things. That’s how the world works for me. Tony Fadell this morning said that not everything which should be connected should be connected – you need to rethink. I was serious for a minute. What are you guys going to do about your washing machines and– I know you make ovens and microwaves and all those kind of things – How are you guys thinking about that part of your business? Can that be reinvented like Tony is trying to reinvent all these ignored devices and all.
Beth Comstock 22:13
I personally believe again it’s a trend watcher. I think we’re at an interesting inflection point on connected devices in your home – it’s happening. At first you’re going to see light weight things, just to get people comfortable with it. What is it mean? There are many reasons to have your appliances connected. One; for the user obviously, so you can check your oven. Also it gives you interesting opportunities for your business. You can start to do software upgrades. You don’t have to send as many service people for the wrong things. You can very much target their time, make sure that we know that they’re fixing your dishwasher – they know what they need – they show up with the right part in advance. Those kinds of things are coming pretty soon too.
Om Malik 22:52
From GE, I hope.
Beth Comstock 22:54
From GE.
Om Malik 22:54
Okay. Thank you Beth for–
Beth Comstock 22:56
From others too.
Om Malik 22:57
I think in my apartment everything is from GE. I think part of the process– Anyway – Thank you for coming and talking to us. Thank you for being a friend of our company.
Beth Comstock 23:08
Thank you very much. I think I had one video. Do you have time for me to show you?
Om Malik 23:11
Yes–
Beth Comstock 23:12
As I leave I have one– If you think this idea of creating proof of concepts – One of the things our design and digital guys did is to say, “How could you think about industrial applications for Google Glass. And how do you start to think about connected, mobile, industrial internet”. We just put together how we [crosstalk] in a service shop for an aircraft engine. It might be fun for people to see as I leave.
Om Malik 23:38
Cool. Let’s see the video.

[commercial]

Okay Glass recognize the park. Okay Glass engine status.

Okay bud, ready when you are.

Okay Glass [inaudible] Move right. Move left. Hey Jim can you slow down a little bit? Perfect, thanks.

Okay Glass, delivery directions. Thanks Mike.

Okay Glass, fan blade delivery complete.
Beth Comstock 25:04
I think if you’re developing apps and you want to come and do that kind of great fun things, we’re a cool place to work.
Om Malik 25:10
Excellent.
Beth Comstock 25:10
Anyway – Thanks a lot.

[applause]
S4 25:20
Okay Glass, where are my cocktails? Coming up – We looked at this earlier today. We didn’t [inaudible] we actually set it out right. The Stanford D.School has been doing some work around the perimeter today. Doing the thing about rethinking the way, the tech conference experience. Katie Fehrenbacher is going to come out and explain a little bit for you – a little bit what’s going on with that.