GE, the 'Industrial Internet' and radical efficiency

General Electric’s chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, addressed a crowd of innovators in San Francisco last week, talking about a new generation of products and services designed to radically improve customers’ efficiency and productivity, cut energy use and waste, and foster a new wave of innovation. He described the potential to cut billions of dollars of energy from sectors like aviation, railroads, power generation, and oil and gas development. He talked about ecosystems and intelligence and efficiency.

Ecomagination 2.0? Nope. Welcome to the Industrial Internet.

GE’s latest branding echoes its earlier, more green-focused campaign, launched in 2005. Except that this one shuns any mention of climate change or sustainability, let alone "eco." I doubt you’ll see any daisies or dancing elephants in its marketing efforts, even though the new messaging sounds a lot like the “jet engines, trains, and power plants that run dramatically cleaner” that GE’s ecomagination ads once touted.

And yet this is not a rehash of the same old thing. Something important is going on here. GE’s new focus is about “the convergence of the global industrial system with the power of advanced computing, analytics, low-cost sensing and new levels of connectivity permitted by the Internet." It's about how "the deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs.”

It’s fundamentally about data — Big Data — and how it transforms and even revitalizes the dirty work of manufacturing, transportation, and energy production.

In many ways, GE’s new Industrial Internet push — articulated in a report issued last week (download – PDF) and at a high-profile San Francisco event — meshes with (and validates) our global series of VERGE events, which cover similar ground: the convergence of systems and technologies around buildings and transportation, and how data and IT create new platforms that enable radical efficiencies, breakthrough business models, and innovative products and services. Like VERGE, the Industrial Internet has a great deal to do with radical efficiencies, primarily of energy, as our friend (and VERGE 25 award winner) Katie Fehrenbacher reported last week.

GE sees this convergence as a very big business opportunity. According to its report, connecting devices to the Industrial Internet could boost global GDP by $15 trillion by 2030. That’s roughly the size of today's U.S economy, according to the World Bank. The savings come from such things as lower fuel and energy costs; better-performing and longer-lived physical assets, like airplanes and power plants; and lower-cost healthcare. The authors claim that in the U.S. alone the Industrial Internet could boost average incomes by 25 to 40 percent over the next 20 years "and lift growth back to levels not seen since the late 1990s."

Next page: "Things that spin"