GE Digital builds up its global presence with acquisitions, partnerships

With an expanded partner ecosystem, and acquisitions bolstering key competencies like machine learning and edge capabilities, GE is looking to be a global IIoT leader.

GE on Tuesday announced it is acquiring Bit Stew and Wise.io, two companies that will bolster its industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offerings with new edge capabilities and machine learning -- crucial IIoT competencies.

The acquisitions were announced at the Minds + Machines conference, where GE also announced updates to Predix, its IIoT platform. They also announced a new collaborative app development program for independent software vendors on the Predix platform, which is launching with partners like Box, Pitney Bowes and Ericsson.

Through its acquisitions and partnerships, GE is attempting to build a robust Predix ecosystem that cements its status as a digital industrial leader around the globe. GE says it's quickly building up business in the industrial software market: Its software revenues are on target to increase 20 percent in 2016.

More from Mind + Machines: GE releases new suite of Predix applications, services | GE Power lands Exelon as Predix customer, co-innovation partner

GE Digital CEO Bill Ruh told ZDNet that GE's digital ambitions reach just about all corners of the globe. Its geographic areas of interest include the US, Europe (particularly the UK, Germany and France), China, Japan, Singapore, the Middle East and India.

"It's not about mature industries or emerging industries," he said. "It's about, 'How do I get a barrel of oil out of the ground cheaper than I did yesterday? How do I ensure I'm delivering electricity consistently and at the best price?'" The potential in the IIoT market, he said, simply "reflects the need to be more productive in our operations and the need to get more out of our machines."

To get the most out of industrial machinery, GE is working to build up its edge-to-cloud offerings. With that in mind, the company announced it has acquired Bit Stew, a data integration platform provider for asset-intensive industries. By integrating Bit Stew technology into GE's Asset Performance Management (APM) offering and the Predix platform, GE will be able to help industrial companies better organize large amounts of data at its source.

With the acquisition of Wis.io, a predictive intelligence technology platform, GE Digital is accelerating the development of advanced machine learning and data science capabilities in the Predix platform. Machine learning is going to be "core competency" for industrial customers looking for ways to stand out in the market, Ruh said.

To stand out, a company must organize the data it owns, Ruh said -- "that's their water rights to the valley." From there, a company has to build out capabilities from that data. By adding Wise.io's technology to the mix and opening it up as a programmable interface, GE is helping companies add their own "secret sauce," Ruh said. "That gives the customer the ability to look at the past and look for patterns of behavior they couldn't see before."

Machine learning is also helping GE add modeling and simulation capabilities to its "digital twin" offering, which is virtual twin of an industrial asset.

Along with acquiring capabilities, GE is building up its third-party partnerships. Its new independent software vendor (ISV) program will allow partners to use Predix to build new industrial applications, for functions like maintenance, content development or asset management. Inaugural partners include Box, Decisyon App Composer, Entercoms, Ericsson, Mobideo, Nurego, Pitney Bowes and OAG Analytics.

The ISV program adds to GE's Digital Alliance Program, which now has more than 270 global partners including major enterprise players like AT&T and Intel.

Additionally, GE expects to open additional foundries in 2017 in the ASEAN region, as well as in the Middle East/North Africa/Turkey region, and a second European foundry in Germany. GE Digital opened three foundries in 2016 in Paris, Shanghai and San Ramon.

GE acknowledges that building out this ecosystem of partners is crucial to a platform's success -- but embracing that viewpoint "really required a new way of thinking," Ruh said. The company adopted that perspective in part by bringing on new talent, Ruh said. For instance, Darren Haas, one of the developers of Siri, moved from Apple to GE to help build the Predix platform. Additionally, Denzil Samuels, who joined GE Digital from Salesforce.com, is helping to drive GE's ecosystem play.

"Industrial companies haven't traditionally interacted with ecosystems in the same way," Ruh said. "They don't have open platforms, they have proprietary, closed systems... We are emphasizing ecosystem in a new way."

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