GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

Summary: General Electric, the venerable multinational that was founded in 1878 in New Jersey, have at their core a hugely sophisticated enterprise collaboration system that is arguably the largest in the world.I was able to see Dr Sukh Grewal, Manager of GE's 'SupportCentral' collaboration and workflow environment, present a succinct overview of this ecosystem at San Francisco's Social Networking Conference on July 10.


GeneralElectricSign General Electric, the venerable multinational that was founded in 1878 in New Jersey, have at their core a hugely sophisticated enterprise collaboration system that is arguably the largest in the world.

I was able to see Dr Sukh Grewal, Manager of GE's 'SupportCentral' collaboration and workflow environment, present a succinct overview of this ecosystem at San Francisco's Social Networking Conference on July 10. I subsequently spent an hour discussing the details of the system with him.

A major corporate culture change sponsored by Gary M. Reiner, GE Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, defined more collaboration and transparency as goals for the 21st century in the late '90's. Development of 'SupportCentral' subsequently started internally at the turn of the century in January 2000, and today the system is at the center of GE's worldwide operations. A development team of about one hundred is located in New Haven, Mumbai and Mexico.

The numbers are huge: 400,000 global users in 6,000+ locations around world, all working within a 100% web interface available in 20 languages (your user interface language is defined by your sign in permissions). The system gets over 25 million web hits a day, greater than employee usage of Google and Yahoo combined. Users have created over 50,000 communities with over 100,000 experts signed up to answer questions and manage information; experts are GE workers with full-time jobs who use the system because it helps them do their job better.

Thousands of business processes have already been digitized in an internal world where knowledge and work processes are critical. Everything is behind the firewall except for 'pinholes' to external destinations which allow external vendors, suppliers and customers to collaborate on specific projects . There are 30,000 external users who come in through the firewall pinholes to participate in specific communities.

The system is so large that GE have their own internal cloud, with hosting costs lower than Amazon's S3. There is also available for all users, including those with no IT background, a mature and sophisticated mashup system to develop simple to complex business applications with just point and click.

The system is entirely created by GE engineers . Using Agile development methods, the software is updated every two weeks. Despite this hectic pace, last year the system had an enviable uptime of 99.9% including scheduled maintenance.

There is a clear understanding that process is separate from the data layer when defining process models for subsequent architecting: in essence GE is engineering highly optimized processes that map to specific team business needs. Because of the self-service interface, processes can easily be refined and improved, or even removed, as needed. Although these touch databases from large enterprise vendors downstream - currently SupportCentral interacts with over 2,000 external systems - there are no generic vendor frameworks and interfaces imposed over SupportCentral.

As an early professional networking platform, SupportCentral has provided sophisticated means for GE workers to connect to one another through their personal profile page, as well as communicate expertise. Everyone has access to a shared web storage system that they use to access their files and documents from any browser anywhere on the internet. With the personal and shared web file and document system in place, they are beginning concerted efforts to shift to using online documents, with no recent desktop office suite software purchases for individual employees.

The cost savings are so many millions a year that GE, despite being a famously metrics driven company, doesn't require an ROI justification model for SupportCentral budgeting. As CIO Gary Reiner said in a recent Fortune interview, SupportCentral "is becoming...the heartbeat of the company."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Collaboration, Software


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • support central at ge

    Chcuk Hollis from EMC just wrote another equally laudatory blog on what looks like the same thing:

    Does anyone know where we can get more information? Have any of the Gartners and Forresters written about Support central?
    • Gartners and Forresters

      I think the Gartners and Forresters can address a product or products that can be used to achieve what GE has. And though I haven't check, they are probably addressing cloud computing infrastructure.

      But it appears that secret (if there is one) to GE's success are the people and processes that drive the development and improvement of their environment.

      Not sure if the Gartners and Forresters address those things.
      Fozzie Bear
    • I can share with you more info

      let's talk because I may be able to shed some light on things...

      What's your application or work project?
  • The article doesn't say...

    what is the core OS, or if it is in house OS.
  • More information please...

    I'd like to see details and some examples of how GE is using this Enterprise Collaboration Backbone to continue doing business with the terrorist regime of Iran as well as avoiding its responsibilities to clean up PCBs in the Hudson River and other Superfund sites.

    Why don't they look at a way use it to collaborate to remove Immelt, a man with no care about anything but the bottom line and his compensation.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    This system appears to be light years forward since I was a plant manager with GE in the mid-70's...

    We had an internal company wide computer "time sharing" system which was a fore runner to the internet on a private basis. This system was not linked into business data, but functioned more as online access to computer power for local application development and analysis.

    We had to beg and get in line for assistance from the IT people to get business data for analysis.

    It sounds good...
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    I wonder if GE is also rolling out low-powered thin clients as part of this infrastructure? That could significantly reduce both energy costs and the cost of adminstration.
    • Thin Clients...

      Clearly, when the workspace is so completely taken over by the Web - as GE appears to have - the Microsoft franchise is under threat and special clients, definetly thinner than the OC, are in play. Certainly a goodbye to the Microsoft desktop is inevitable.
      • The OS is the Web

        Hi - your observation is a good one. The ubiquitous operating system will become the Internet via open standards and Internet based technologies. Essentially, companies that have IP vested in client sever systems or desk top applications will find themselves disintermediated as information systems migrate to the Internet based 'eco-system'.
        • OS is the Web - is Google in the sweet spot

          Perhaps Google is in the sweet spot? My apologies for taking this convo into the equity investing space. But mind you shares of GOOG are selling for only $300 now.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    What GE has done is interesting and has obviouslydelivered benefits to GE but it is very specific to GE - it not a product. However, technology has caught up and gone beyond what GE has. There is now an off the shelf collaborative system that will deliver a 'collaborative backbone' or 'digital nervous network' with the same or perhaps enhanced capability and greater ease of use and configuration - we can all have a collaborative system. Align this to contextual information delivery system (another unique product that has emerged) and you have the makings of a new revolution is business operation.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    I and my 5 person team work with SupportCentral daily, creating applications in a Lego building block approach that has produced ~$11M in 2008 productivity for GE Aviation. What GE has IS a product that any company would greatly benefit from that is sold to outside companies. I believe GE's SupportCentral is the leading edge technology-- nothing has passed it by.
    • You Need to Look Further

      I'm sorry but you are wrong - the technology has either been equaled or exceeded. There is a technology (platform) that is based on a pure Internet architecture that is able to scale massively and do everything that the GE Collaborative solution does - it is also 'agile' in terms of how it can be developed/evolved.
      • You Need to Actually Look

        You need to actually look at SupportCentral before making an opinion. See the leader of SupportCentral speak here:

        GE SupportCentral was doing stuff before Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM... if you can do better, find yourself some VCs and you'll be a gazillionaire... else watch n learn...
    • Have you had any requests for your case study?

      If not, I'd like to be the first to request any publicly available info you have which highlights how you achieved ~$11M in productivity savings. Thank you in advance.
      • Case Study Info

        I do not believe I can give specifics to the public domain since processes are considered proprietary by GE. But an example of how SupportCentral is used is to support Six Sigma Lean Events-- events where process owners are brought together to map an existing collaborative process and then define a new process based on what they learned about what REALLY happens in their process. The new process that is defined by the process owners can be created using the SupportCentral tool suite in a matter of hours, days or weeks. The new process usually cuts cycle time by ~50% and labor costs/rework by the same order of magnitude. My team's actual 12 month productivity savings are over $29M--- The $11M savings were savings seen only in 2008.
        • Re: Case Study Info

          Thank you for the information. How many employees are accounted for in your productivity figures? In other words, by cutting time spent working through projects and processes in 2008 and before, this number of employees saved $29MM.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    I was ex-GEan. Missing SupportCentral badly in day-to-day work. Yes absolutely. GE could make money with just selling to that software to the Corporate! if it decides to sell it.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    You need to chill a bit and recognise that other similar solutions and capabilities can emerge in parallel - what GE has down in their own environment is excellent and very good for GE. It is not, however, a product or indeed unique.

    There is a COTS solution that will provide the same rich collaborative environment - all of the following can be configured within a single fully integrated highly scalable pure Internet architecture - personalised spaces, doc storage/management/vault, sophisticated 'humanistic' work flow, discussion groups, integration services, infrastructure life cycle management with full versioning, CAD/MCAD shared across the web, program/project services, content management services, ability to build and deploy business objects to extend capabilities, etc, etc.

    My last post - I don't mind contributing to debates and adding information as other companies may like the GE model and would be interested in a solution that is similar. I'm not into zealots and closed minds.
  • RE: GE's Enterprise Collaboration Backbone

    The SupportCentral tool suite operates on top of Oracle. It is an interface application layer that allows non-programmers to create very complex workflow, database, knowledge management, and data management solutions using point and click in hours/days/weeks, versus weeks/months/years. It is a game changer within GE and the other Fortune 500 companies that have purchased it from GE.