Photo of big fan Source: GE

GE Digital’s Bill Ruh Sees One Big Issue With AI

Despite the technology’s promise to transform industries, GE’s digital champion says that without change management, AI will have zero impact.

There is no question that GE is bullish on its digital strategy. Its 2017 annual report stated that it expects product revenues for Predix, its software platform for the collection and analysis of data from industrial machines, will double in 2018 to $1B.

Ruh, GE's chief digital officer and CEO of its GE Digital business reiterated that forecast, telling the Boston press that much of that growth will come from a focus on the company’s installed base in industrial, transportation, aviation and power.

GE has also been doubling down on expanding its AI and machine learning capabilities, acquiring two tech startups in 2016, Bitwise.io and Bit Stew, while also quietly building up its internal skills. “It was really important for us to acquire this skill set on the inside, because if you’re not good at development, you’re not going anywhere in this market,” Ruh stressed.

Ruh sees the biggest application for AI today is in asset performance, specifically in predictive maintenance where hard-core, deep machine learning and AI toolsets have the potential to dramatically improve efficiency and performance.

As a case in point, GE’s website is showcasing a case study on its Digital RigSM solution, which provides data-driven operations support and significant efficiencies for the world’s first digital drilling. “The data backbone paves the way towards autonomous drilling, and digital technology is facilitating a new era of drilling and asset performance improvements that are unprecedented,” said Bernie Wolford, senior vice president – Operations, Noble Corporation plc.

To date, GE’s Digital Rig solution has captured multiple anomalies and has produced alerts to inform potential failures up to two months before they would occur.

But in order to realize those kinds of gains, Ruh said that organizations must be prepared to undergo massive change management. “Companies need to move away from the status quo--whereby humans tell machines what to do--to a framework by which it is standard practice for machines to tell humans what to do.”

Ruh should know all about the inherent challenges—and benefits. He spearheaded the digital transformation across hundreds of plants within GE itself, which began to apply the Predix platform internally five years before selling the product to the market.  “We now know more than anyone how these tools and technologies can be a driver of efficiency and asset performance improvement,” he said.

But technology is the easy part, Ruh stressed.

“You have to change how people think, train them differently, and create whole new workflows and processes,” says Ruh. “That’s where a management consulting company can really be your friend, because change management is one of the toughest undertakings for an organization.”

Notwithstanding the challenges, Ruh is upbeat about AI and machine learning technologies, noting that Predix Edge and Predix Private Cloud are the two fastest growing products within GE.

In a way, GE has also had to apply change management in developing a business model around AI and machine learning.  Noting that GE had to pivot as it learned how to make money from the Predix product line, Ruh said that the sustainable revenue model is “delivering outcomes as a service,” where that outcome could be anything from flight hours to percentage uptime.

“And selling outcomes,” stressed Ruh, “Is a very different value proposition than selling hardware to a customer.”

Learn from Bill Ruh at the 2018 IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo, where he will present a keynote address on May 8.

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