Real-time decision making, e-business, and productivity could all get powerful boosts if a new company created by General Electric Co. and Cisco Systems Inc. lives up to its initial billing. Dubbed GE Cisco Industrial Networks, the company aims to help its customers add competitive value by figuring out ways for them to productively link the office and the factory floor. In other words, the new firm is in the communications solutions business. "While companies have connected their office systems, partners, and customers, the factory floor -- the heart of manufacturing -- is disconnected from the rest of the enterprise," says Lloyd G. Trotter president and CEO of GE Industrial Systems. "With a team of uniquely qualified engineers, GE Cisco Industrial Networks will provide the integral network infrastructure for true company-wide communication by combining GE's tremendous strengths in factory control and automation and Cisco Systems' expertise in the Internet," he says. Specifically, says Jeff Pompeo, president and CEO of the new company, users will have rapid access to data and be able to better exploit such applications as ERP (enterprise resource planning), remote monitoring, and VMI (vendor-managed inventory) using a standard Internet browser. Additionally, he says, machining and manufacturing cells will be able to be connected by the Ethernet open-standard network infrastructure -- and not left isolated by "islands" of proprietary networks.