In the last decade, technological innovation has reshaped countless industries and in the process irrevocably altered what many of us do when we go to work. Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, digital transformation: nary a boardroom or corner office exists where such buzzwords are not deliberated ad nauseam in the hope of fomenting the next great disruption, or to at least avoid falling victim to it. But whether we’re discussing self-learning computers, the next killer app, or even the next industrial revolution, what does it really all boil down to?
In truth, we’re all dancing around the same decidedly unsexy, old school concept: productivity.
It’s a word we regard simultaneously with great veneration and deep loathing. Veneration, because it is, after all, such a fundamental benchmark of success. And loathing, because the conversation almost invariably devolves into unhelpful abstractions and insufferable lip service. Herein lies the true promise of digital transformation — to take the notion of productivity out of the abstract and into the field, to take that lofty mission statement and translate it into brass tacks and hard numbers.
The Industrial Internet is the tool driving that transformation, and the results so far have been anything but abstract. In Germany, smart, connected wind turbines leveraging GE’s PowerUp technology are already generating a 5% increase in energy output, which equates to a staggering 20% increase in profit per wind turbine. With more than 2,000 wind turbines across the country, Germany is fast becoming a global role model in renewable energy, owing chiefly to its investments in digital transformation and the Industrial Internet.
But in the age of Industry 4.0, productivity goes well beyond simply improving the efficiency of existing capabilities — it means intelligently utilizing data to create brand new business models.
For example, at GE, our aviation division collects vast sums of flight data each day generated by jet engines around the world. We look at 5,000 distinct data parameters on every engine and use the information to build a Digital Twin that represents the physical asset. The representation is so accurate, we can predict precisely when an engine is going to break down, or how it might be affected by adverse environmental conditions. This information not only saves our customers millions in unplanned downtime, but also enables us to pivot our sales model. We no longer sell jet engines at GE, but rather, Time on Wing.
For a forward-thinking operator like Schindler, with more than a million devices connected to the Industrial Internet via Predix, benefits like improved performance and predictive maintenance only represent the first phase of digital transformation. Now, with a billion people using its connected elevators and escalators each day, the company can start asking some truly fascinating questions. What can we learn from these billion data points? Can the information be leveraged, for example, by facilities managers to align rent with foot traffic? Can it be sold to marketers who’ll use it to serve up targeted ads? For now, these are questions without answers, but in seeking to find them, Schindler and companies like it have embarked on an industrial transformational journey.